Wealth & Poverty Review Burn It Down

Activists in Seattle want to abolish police, prisons, and courts. Originally published at City Journal

American cities are entering a period of chaos. Protests and riots have dominated headlines, but beneath the surface, activists are launching an unprecedented campaign to overthrow the traditional justice system and replace it with a new model based on a radical conception of social justice.

In Seattle, where this campaign may be most advanced, activists have crafted a narrative about police brutality, mass incarceration, and punitive justice that leads to a natural sequence of solutions: “abolish the police,” “divest from prisons,” and “defund the courts.” Over the past three decades, the city’s radical-progressives have seized control of municipal government — with the notable exception of the criminal-justice system, which they see as the final obstacle to total control. If they can dismantle it, activists believe, they can bring about their transformation of society.

The city’s political establishment has joined the campaign to “deconstruct justice.” Since the outbreak of the George Floyd–related protests starting in late May, elected officials in Seattle and King County have announced their intentions to defund the Seattle Police Department, permanently close the county’s largest jail, and gut the municipal court system. They believe that, when the oppression of the justice system is lifted, a new society can be shaped through criminal diversion, psychotherapy, and harm reduction.

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