Volume 16, Issue 1/2, Fall/Winter 2016/2017
Abolition as a Morally Responsible Response to Riots
Lessons on Violence from Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez
In this paper, I sketch out, following the suggestions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez, a morally responsible response to urban riots. This approach recommends that we focus our attention on two structural features of society that underlie and prompt urban riots. First, I examine how King recommends that we must understand the economic conditions surrounding such violence. Next, following the suggestion of Cesar Chavez, I argue we must attend to cultural violence, especially those social narratives surrounding the construction of masculinity and security in our culture. Chavez’s analysis builds on Gandhi’s notion of “constructive” nonviolent action. Chavez suggests intervening in culture to provide alternative accounts of safety and success in our society, as well as constructing new institutions and practices that embody those understandings. I conclude by examining two contemporary social movements--prison and police abolition--which attempt to embody this morally responsible response to urban violence.