Abolition Rally — Jackson

Shihab Jackson
Abolition Rally — Jackson

On April 20th, organizers with Detroit Will Breathe, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, the movement to Stop the Expansion of Camp Grayling, the School of Environment and Sustainability, and Defend Affordable Ypsi, joined with striking members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Michigan to host a Rally for Abolition on the University of Michigan central campus diag. 

What follows is a transcript of the speech given by Shihab Jackson–a local Ypsilantian shedding light on the broken promises of Eli Savit and the so-called “progressive” criminal justice system in Washtenaw County, through his own experience.

I’m Jackson. I was born in Egypt, raised in Ann Arbor. Went to Pioneer High School, WCC, and U of M, in that order. I’m 34 with 17 years experience in the criminal justice system right here in Washtenaw County. Speaking on abolition today, I find it appropriate and necessary to shed some personal narratives to raise awareness and drive home the moral and economic necessity of abolition, particularly as it directly impacts the working class.

As things currently stand, our elected criminal justice officials play a delicate game behind closed doors. Public commitments to progressive policies are difficult to accurately track since most voters are understandably unaware of the particulars of court affairs. I’m gonna briefly touch on my current case:

Shihab Jackson at Washtenaw County Community Iftar

I’m currently facing a gun charge. I was pulled over for “failure to signal” and subsequently arrested for possession of a handgun. To address the elephant in the room, I live in a dangerous area in Ypsilanti and have been robbed at gunpoint mere blocks from where I stay. I am not a violent goon, just a working class black guy trying to protect myself and loved ones. I’ve been victimized before, and I make an easy target because of my size, among other things. That’s why I had a gun.

So I was pulled over and arrested in Ypsilanti in a pretext stop. A pretext stop is the classic practice where police use weak, but technically legal, grounds to conduct “stop and frisk” style investigations. Simply put, under the pretext of failure to signal, or a missing tail light, police conduct a traffic stop to then investigate further “crimes”. This practice has objectively, empirically, disparate impacts on poor black communities. The sheriff and prosecutor have publicly promised to end prosecutions stemming from pretext stops like mine. Yet these practices are alive and well as evidenced before you.

As the case is still ongoing, there are still considerable developments waiting to happen. Thus far, the Washtenaw County prosecutor has enhanced the charges against me, a common legal practice I call ‘throwing spaghetti at the wall until something sticks.’ This is to coerce a favorable plea bargain later down the line, another classic racist practice disparately affecting poor black folks. The prosecutor vowed to end this practice but continues to do so. You all can track this case in real time. Pretrial is June 13 2023. The full illustration of racially disparate, economically costly prosecution will be on full display right here in the Ann Arbor courthouse of Washtenaw County. From racist jury selection practices onwards, you can follow along @atiredblackman on youtube. I may have to conduct a fundraiser for legal defense funds and or pro bono representation. We shall see.

Enough about my case though, lemme talk about this systemically corrupt system and how to attack it. Some quick figures: UMich police budget is over $30M, but matching it is the budget for Washtenaw County sheriff at ~$31M. Community Corrections annual budget is $23M. The average cost per prisoner in Michigan is $47,000. This one should burn everyone’s soul: Entry-level salary for correctional officers at Washtenaw County for 2023-24 starts at $52,000. That’s $16,000 more than the 38-thousand-dollar livable wage being demanded by GEO. Think about that. Entry level CO making $16k more than a GEO worker. UMich starting salary for a probationary cop is $56k. Ann Arbor Police Dept is $60k. $60k! $22k more than a $38k livable wage. For why?? The combined budget for the county jail and community corrections, aka probation, is ~$54M. For comparison, the budget for Barrier Busters Eviction Prevention is $276,000, Community Mental Health $1.7M, and childcare $5.6M. Fractions of the police budget. These are our elected officials’ priorities laid bare.

“The sheriff and prosecutor have publicly promised to end prosecutions stemming from pretext stops like mine. Yet these practices are alive and well as evidenced before you.”

These sums are not arbitrarily conjured–they are meticulously vetted and approved by elected officials. Thus the outrage is over priority not availability. The county has the money: It’s taxed out of each and every less-than-livable wage check. YOUR taxes are funding an army of jail staffers, including entry-level corrections officers, making MORE money than you. That must change.

I’m no economist but ~$30M UMich police budget, plus ~$54M county jail and probation gives us around an $84M budget for policing/prison industrial complex. That $84M could be put to much better use, like funding mental health services childcare and immigration assistance among other things. Hell, take $33M from it and fund GEO’s livable wages. Pay cops less. Anything socially productive is preferable to the bloated prison industrial budget.

To be clear, the racial inequity in policing and the criminal justice system is alive and well, and it’s being funded by YOUR tax money. This should outrage working class people being told there simply isn’t enough money for their living wages. The aim of abolition isn’t a lawless society with violent criminals roaming free. Abolition is about dismantling the economic incentive to prop up an entirely unnecessary and costly system to working taxpayers. It is the securement of a more equitable and just society, both morally and economically. It is an outrage, and should be profoundly revealing that the powers-that-be prioritize turn-key corrections officers a whole tax bracket above GEO workers. Or that housing one prisoner costs ten thousand dollars more than the living wages being demanded today. Or that there is always an excuse for funding honest working people but a seemingly inexhaustible budget for locking people up. Capitalism inevitably produces structural racism and the criminal justice system is the primary apparatus maintaining this shadowy institution right under our noses. Simply put–again–your livable wages, healthcare and mental services money is tied up prosecuting and locking up poor black people like me for nonviolent offenses–for YOUR safety, of course.

To wrap up, abolition is often relegated as extremist hippie stuff for unrealistic idealists with no grasp on “reality.” This convenient copout is key to maintaining the status quo. Disruptions to well-lubricated systems are always met with ferocious resistance from reactionaries seeking to preserve their power and position. That a corrections officer makes $52k while you are told $38k is too much should come as an insult and an outrage. The disparate and costly practices of prosecutors and police merit valid scrutiny from working taxpayers. After all, they’re using OUR money to do so.

But the power of the people shall prevail. We have the labor and the votes. This is a just cause. This is a moral cause. This is a necessary cause. We deserve and demand an equitable society. Solidarity with the poor and working class. Cut that damn check! All power to the people!

“Rally for Abolition” flyer