Derek Chauvin and Prison Abolitionism: A Socratic Dialogue

Ben Burgis
6 min readApr 21, 2021

An admittedly grumpy composite portrayal of every conversation I’ve ever had with a “prison abolitionist”:

Me: “I think the American prison system is vile and indefensible. We lock up way way too many people for way way too long and there are tons of people in prison right now should never have served a day behind bars. Even those prisoners who really do need to be kept away from the rest of society should be held in vastly more humane conditions for shorter periods of time and the focus should be on rehabilitation. That said, I acknowledge that some form of imprisonment would almost certainly have to exist in a much better society. So I guess I’m not a prison abolitionist — just an extreme prison reductionist.”

PA: “Well, I’m definitely a prison abolitionist.”

Me: “What does that mean exactly?”

PA: “It means prisons should be abolished. I don’t think they should exist. What are you having trouble grasping here?”

Me: “So, for example, you don’t think Derek Chauvin should be put it in prison? Because it seems to me that locking up murderous cops would be a really good first step toward correcting some of the crazy power imbalances between cops and ordinary people we’ve got right now…but if you’re an abolitionist about prisons, I assume you disagree?”

PA: “No, don’t be ridiculous. I still want to lock up Chauvin. It’s not like abolitionists want to let everyone out of prison immediately. That’s a caricature.”

Me: “OK, but the issue here isn’t just whether you want to free every prisoner tomorrow. You’re saying that you also want to put new people in prison sometimes? Like Chauvin?”

PA: “For now, sure, but I want to abolish prisons entirely in the future.”

Me: “OK, so what do you think should happen to Chauvin equivalents in the future?”

PA: “Well, there won’t be any Chauvin equivalents, because when we do get around to abolishing prisons we’ll also abolish cops. So what happened to George Floyd couldn’t happen in the future.”

Me: “What about a private security company employee who did what Chauvin did?”

Ben Burgis

Ben Burgis is a philosophy instructor at Georgia State University Perimeter College and the host of the Give Them An Argument podcast and YouTube channel.