Since October 7, Israel has killed more than 15,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 6,600 children.
Among the millions protesting Israel’s ongoing massacre—funded by U.S. tax dollars and with the blessing of President Biden—are those who seek to dismantle, reform, or abolish the American policing and prison systems.
“The Abolitionist Law Center is dedicated to ending state violence in all of its forms, whether it’s in the United States or whether it’s in Palestine,” Robert Holbrook, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based Abolitionist Law Center, told The Appeal. “When we see genocide being committed, that is in our DNA to speak up against it.”
For this week’s newsletter, The Appeal spoke with Holbrook about the long-standing solidarity among Black and Palestinian liberation movements, the close relationship between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement, and echoes of apartheid South Africa. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Appeal: What would you say to people who ask, why are you speaking out about the atrocities Israel is committing in Palestine when you work on issues related to the U.S. legal system?
Robert Saleem Holbrook: The Abolitionist Law Center—myself, Bret Grote, the legal director, and its founders—we were tremendously influenced by political prisoners in the United States and particularly, political prisoners who came out of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a tremendous amount of solidarity between the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, and the Palestinian liberation movement, the Palestinian fight for statehood and freedom.
As someone who was educated by and mentored by a political prisoner like Russell Shoatz, who was a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, he really influenced my outlook on Palestinians, Zionism, and the need for Palestinians to have statehood. It came out of that internationalist perspective. All oppressed peoples around the world should have solidarity with each other particularly when they’re fighting against colonialism and unjust governments, unjust states.
TA: How does the movement for Palestinian liberation relate to domestic movements against police violence and in favor of prison abolition?
RSH: It is state violence on an oppressed people. We have a moral obligation to speak out against it. We have an obligation to directly stop that oppression, to directly contribute to the end of that oppression as well as contribute to the liberation of Palestine, to Palestinian statehood.
TA: Can you talk about the partnerships between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement?
RSH: They both police oppressed populations. They both police segregated populations. In the United States, whether it’s Black or Latinx. And in Israel, whether it’s Palestinians who are in apartheid walled-off sections.
The Israeli police were training the Pittsburgh Police Department. The Israeli Police have been advising United States police since the 1992 riots. I was 17 years old in SCI-Camp Hill watching the LA riots and then watching the aftermath as Israeli consultants were over there and advised the LAPD on how to use counterinsurgency tactics.
TA: The Abolitionist Law Center recently tweeted, “Children most especially do not belong in cages, free them all. free Palestine.” As part of the hostage exchange deal with Hamas, Palestinian children have been freed from Israeli prisons. What does this bring to mind for you?
RSH: As someone who came up in a household that was staunchly anti-apartheid in the ‘80s it brings to mind Soweto. It brings to mind images of South African children who were gunned down and shot by police. Also too on a personal level, as someone who went into the prison system as a 16-year-old child, it brings to mind the realities of what I saw when children were sent into adult prisons and beaten by staff. It just brings to mind the horrors of putting any type of child—regardless of where they’re at in the world—in prison cages.
ICYMI—From The Appeal
The Cook County Sheriff’s Department’s house-arrest policies trap Chicago women in unsafe situations, often forcing mothers to choose between safety and their children, according to public defenders and advocates in the city.
Police in Arizona arrested a local reporter last week while she covered a pro-Palestine demonstration. It’s the second time in recent months police in the US have arrested a reporter at a pro-Palestine event.
Hannah Riley sat in on the mass “Cop City” arraignments last month in Atlanta. What she found was a chaotic mess—judges, lawyers, and court employees baffled and overwhelmed by the farcical choice to prosecute 61 protesters as a racketeering conspiracy.
A contract obtained by reporter Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg shows that Louisiana is billing taxpayers tens of thousands every month to keep children imprisoned alongside adults. The state had promised to move the kids to a new facility by April, but blew that deadline.
In the News
New York Attorney General Letitia James joined the growing cast of advocates and public officials calling for a federal takeover of New York City’s beleaguered jail system. Members of the city council, former jail commissioners, and the New York City Bar Association have argued that federal oversight is needed to address violence, neglect, and mismanagement on Rikers Island, where more than 30 people have died in the past two years. Mayor Eric Adams and the correctional officers’ union oppose a federal receivership. [Sahalie Donaldson / City & State New York]
The NYPD has used drones to monitor pro-Palestine protests. They’ve made 239 arrests so far. [Zane McNeill / Truthout]
Domestic violence survivor Tracy McCarter was charged with murdering her husband in 2020. Now, she is suing the New York City Police Department and alleging that officers fabricated a confession. Prosecutors dropped their case against McCarter last year. [Lauren Gill / The Intercept]
A new unit created by the Chicago Police Department to improve relations between police and communities has disproportionately stopped and arrested drivers in the city’s Black neighborhoods. The unit, known as the Community Safety Team, was responsible for more than one-third of all traffic stops in the city in 2021. [Pascal Sabino / Bolts Mag]