2020-2021 Social Justice Debates


Social Justice Movements should make police abolition their top priority.

Topic Statement

“One might disagree with the argument to abolish police, but having the debate is itself productive, it forces conversations about the otherwise taken-for-granted value of police and incarceration.” -Amna A. Akbar Toward a Radical Imagination of Law, 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 405, 408–10 (2018)

“I think young people are saying something similar about police today. I don’t think anyone would deny that communities and society as a whole should have some kind of organized and effective means of responding to harms when they’re done. But the way the police operate today in many communities, I think it’s understandable for people to say, ’If this is what policing is then I don’t want it, I want something else.’ The police are a reflection of our politics and our culture.” -Michelle Alexander Author of The New Jim Crow

Policing in the United States is viewed by some as an absolute necessity and the only force holding anarchy at bay. To others though, it is associated with a long history of violence and cruelty. In the wake of the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, followed by the brutalization of Jacob Blake, Americans are having a long overdue national dialogue on the question of how best to respond to police brutality. The 2020-20201 Social Justice Debates challenges debaters to engage this national dialogue by answering the question of whether social justice movements adopt abolition of police as their top priority.

Past Social Justice Debates have identified a scholar(s) whose work provided the inspiration for the topic. This year, however, we are recognizing the memories of Kathryn Johnston, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Walter Scott, Kayden Clarke, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Atatiana “Tay” Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and others who have unnecessarily died from excessive use of police force as our inspiration.

For the purposes of this year’s topic, the term “police” refers to the institution of policing within the United States and the various methods used to maintain a domestic monopoly on violence. Neither side of this debate should attempt to define the police as a singular actor or group (e.g., ICE), but must showcase the police as the common institution most are familiar with.

Likewise, “social justice movements” should not be interpreted to refer to a singular movement or activist group. Social justice movements refer to, inter alia, organizations, associations, networks, and individual activists and protestors focused on issues including policing or other social justice issues and for which adopting police abolition as a top priority is sensical. The topic is not intended to require affirmatives to defend the proposition that social justice movements specializing in and focused on climate change, for example, should make abolishing the police their top priority. Movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) can be referenced as an example, or brought up through the debate, but no single group should be considered as a social movement the conversation revolves around.

Affirmatives are required to defend that social justice movements ought to also make the rhetorical choices and policy proposals associated with the slogans "abolishing the police" and "defunding the police" their top priority if this issue is raised by the Negative. Affirmatives are required to (1) defend the use of the slogans abolish and defund the police as primary rallying cries for social justice movements and (2) recognize that in a world of limited resources tradeoffs in time and resources require strategic and tactical prioritization and to defend that in instances where such conflicts arise social justice movements should prioritize abolishing the police over other priorities.

In contrast, Negatives may argue SJM's advocating for the defunding of police is a bad idea or they may argue that even if advocating for defunding is
a good idea it should not be the top priority of social justice movements. Negative ground includes arguing that social justice movements should not adopt slogans and policy proposals such as abolish or defund the police as a top priority in a world of limited resources. This might include, for example, arguing for campaigns for reform over abolition, with reforms referring to amendments to the current system, significant or small, while abolition include the complete, or close thereto, banning or removal of the current mechanics.

Abolishing police forces is a position that is mutually exclusive from reforming the police as an institution. In this regard whether defunding the police is a reform or subsumed under the Affirmative position of police abolition depends on the lengths to which the proposal goes. For our purposes, policing reform is distinct from abolition or defunding in that it does not abolish the current system of the police institution, but only transfers a small percentage of the police budget to other projects. The Affirmative must take the stance of doing away with the current system of policing and not simply transferring a small percentage of the police budget.

Helpful literature that serves as a base for this topic includes, but certainly is not limited to:

  • Amna Akbar, Toward a Radical Imagination of Law, 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 405 (2018).
  • Monica C. Bell, Police Reform and the Dismantling of Legal Estrangement, 126 Yale L.J. 2054, 2083 (2017).
  • Amy Chazkel, Monica Kim, and A. Naomi Paik, Worlds without Police, Radical History Review (2020) available at:https://doi.org/10.1215/01636545-8092738
  • Franciska Coleman, Between the “Facts and Norms” of Police Violence: Using Discourse Model to Improve Deliberations Around Law Enforcement, 47 Hofstra L. Rev. 489 (2018).
  • Barry Friedman, Disaggregating the Police Function, NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 20-3 (2020) (U. Pa. L. Rev. (2020-21 Forthcoming)).
  • Brandon Hasbrouck, Abolishing Racist Policing with the Thirteenth Amendment, 68 UCLA L. Rev. Discourse 200 (2020).
  • Tracey L. Meares, Synthesizing Narrative of Policing and Making a Case for Policing as a Public Good, 63 St. Louis U. L.J. 553 (2019). • Alex Vitale, “The End of Policing” (2017).


October 17-18 Social Justice Debates Fall Opener

November 14-15 Social Justice Debates Fall Championship

February 19-21 Social Justice Debates National Championship