Becoming Abolitionists. Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom

Author: Purnell, Derecka

Publication Date:

October 2021



Original language and publisher

English (USA) | Astra House

Territories Handled

World excl. North America

Territories Sold

English (UK & BC excl Can) (Verso)


Essay, Social Justice

Becoming Abolitionists. Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom

Author: Purnell, Derecka


“At once specific and sweeping, practical and visionary, Becoming Abolitionists is a triumph of political imagination and a tremendous gift to all movements struggling towards liberation. Do not miss its brilliance!” — Naomi Klein, bestselling author of The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything

“Derecka Purnell has one of the most exciting minds of a generation, and Becoming Abolitionists gives us all an excuse to praise her. This book is an explosion of deep intellect matched with great love, showing a journey toward radical politics that embraces the messiness. Derecka does not expect we all wake up and become abolitionists immediately–it didn’t happen that way for her–but by showing both her intellectual and emotional path toward abolitionist thinking, she provides a roadmap that is also compassionate to those moving in a slower lane. But with an argument rooted in history, criticism guided by deep care, and writing that pulses with urgency, Becoming Abolitionists will convince you that is exactly what we all need to do before you even put the book down.” — Mychal Denzel Smith, bestselling author of Invisible Man Got The Whole World Watching and Stakes Is High

“With the elegant prose of a gifted storyteller, the acumen of a seasoned organizer, and the sharp-edged wit of a radical legal scholar, Purnell takes us on the powerful journey to police abolition in her new book, Becoming Abolitionists. It is a must read for anyone serious about understanding this moment, and the ongoing Black freedom movement.” — Barbara Ransby author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

“An extraordinary, wonderful, insightful, and immensely generative book that makes the case for abolitionist thinking, amplifying the self-activity of the masses already in motion, and at the same time providing a thoroughly absorbing and captivating description of the author’s own journey. Rather than encouraging each of us to brand ourselves as radical, Purnell points us toward the collaborative acts of co-creation and accompaniment that can make revolutionary change possible. She incorporates decoloniality, feminism, Indigeneity, environmental justice, and disability activism organically into her critiques and solutions. One of the most exciting, inspiring, and enlightening books I have read in a long time.” — George Lipsitz, author of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

With deep insight and moral clarity, Purnell shares her compelling journey of political education and personal transformation, inviting us not only to imagine a world without police, but to muster the courage to fight for the more just world we know is possible. ‘Becoming Abolitionists’ is essential reading for our times. — Michelle Alexander, bestselling author of The New Jim Crow

One of the most perceptive and passionate thinkers of any generation, Derecka Purnell, has written a genuinely revolutionary text for our times—one that resists easy answers or solutions and never shies from the hard questions. She proves that abolition is not an event or a utopian dreamstate, but rather a journey of assembly struggling to create new worlds of freedom as we fight the unfree world we inhabit. Beautifully written, passionate, honest, ‘Becoming Abolitionists’ charts a journey we all must take if we plan to survive, let alone live together. — Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

Becoming Abolitionists is a vital resource for anyone committed to the struggle for social justice, written by one of the sharpest and most inspiring voices to emerge in a generation. Taking readers on a journey from her childhood in St. Louis to the protests in Ferguson, the halls of Harvard, the streets of Soweto and beyond, Derecka Purnell’s heart-rendering analysis gives us the tools to envision a new society with endless possibilities. Even more, Purnell’s extraordinary blend of personal memoir, history, and critical theory provides a roadmap to build a safer and more just world. Like the Autobiography of Angela Davis, ‘Becoming Abolitionists’ is sure to remain an essential text for decades to come. — Elizabeth Hinton, author of America on Fire and From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime

Purnell is undoubtedly one of the most important writers and activists of our generation, offering us a vivid, moving and compelling book for anyone interested in one of the most urgent issues of our times. Purnell weaves experiences of racism and resistance to articulate a blistering critique of racial capitalism, state power and imperialism, taking readers on a journey towards the radical alternatives to police and prisons which have shaped Black political movements in the 21st century. — Adam Elliott-Cooper, author of Black Resistance to British Policing

Derecka’s book provides a front row seat to how a generation of young people have been radicalized by a series of contradictions living within the heart of global empire: the United States. She explains, with powerful stories and brilliant analysis, how she has committed herself to abolition in the context of ongoing collective study and struggle. The abolition she discusses is anti-capitalist and anti-colonialist, committed to racial, economic, and gender justice. A call to not simply tear down prisons and police, but to build a society where our collective needs prevail over profit and punishment. This book is more than a front row seat, it is an invitation to join the most important movement of our time. — Amna Akbar, Professor of Law, The Ohio State University

“Becoming Abolitionists brilliantly lays out the connections between policing and other forms of oppression and shows why even well-meaning ‘reforms’ won’t get us where we need to go. This profound, urgent, beautiful, and necessary book is an invitation to imagine and organize for a less violent and more liberatory world. Everyone should read it.” – Astra Taylor, author of Democracy May Not Exist but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone

“A beautiful invitation to understand what is possible if we commit to unlearning our dependence on police and address the underlying in-justices that cause harm in our communities. This is the book we have been waiting for and knew we needed to advance abolitionist efforts. Purnell is the abolitionist writer of her generation.” – Bettina Love, author of Abolitionist Teaching

“Part memoir & part manifesto for our times. Beautifully written, the book takes the reader on a personal journey from the Midwest to South Africa with a pit stop in New England. As a member of the ‘Trayvon Generation,’ Derecka offers us invaluable insights into how young activ-ists are navigating and challenging current injustices. If you’ve been curious about the modern abolitionist movement, this book is a must read!” – Mariame Kaba, bestselling author of We Do This Til We Free Us

In the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, an invitation to imagine a world without police, following activist Derecka Purnell’s journey to embrace abolition.

A long-overdue national reckoning with the problem of police violence is finally underway. From community policing initiatives to increasing calls to reform, defund or abolish the police, more and more people are grappling with what alternatives to policing might look like.

Enter Derecka Purnell, organizer, journalist, Harvard Law graduate, and a rising voice of the Trayvon Martin Generation. In making the case for police abolition, Purnell draws from her personal journey, as a child growing up in poverty, where calling 911was often the only option, as a young woman determined to seek justice from the law, and later as a lawyer and advocate for abolition.

Structured in chapters that address concerns around police abolition—what about the murderers? The rapists? How do we stay safe?—Purnell argues that police can not bereformed and invites readers to envision new systems that work to address the root causes of violence instead.

A revolutionary book about choosing freedom, Becoming Abolitionists will inspire readers to imagine and create new communities that can guarantee safety, equality, and real justice for all.

Marketing Information

  • LEADING AUTHORITY ON POLICE ABOLITION: Purnell has written for Colin Kaepernick’s Medium series “Abolition for the People,” The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, The Guardian, and has been interviewed by MSNBC, NPR, and more.
  • BASED ON VIRAL ARTICLE BY AUTHOR: Purnell’s article “How I Became a Police Abolitionist” was a viral hit for The Atlantic and is the inspiration for this book.
  • A MORE RADICAL SOLUTION: Following the thousands of BLM protests around the world, the success of antiracist books and mainstream publications embracing the idea, abolition has finally entered the mainstream conversation on race.
  • AUTHOR IS AN EXPERT: Purnell is a graduate of Harvard Law, a human rights lawyer, community organizer, and activist. With 76k+ engaged followers across social platforms, Purnell has the connections for her message to reach a large readership.
  • SHIFTS FOCUS AWAY FROM OPPRESSION: This book sets itself apart from other antiracist works by imagining Black freedom rather than dwelling on Black oppression.
  • STRONG MARKETING SUPPORT: Becoming Abolitionists will be the lead non-fiction title on Astra House’s list, with robust marketing/publicity support.
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    • How to Be An Antiracist/Ibram X. Kendi
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