By Kris Gruber
Jason Sole may have an impressive resume as a Criminal Justice professor, past president of the Minneapolis NAACP, founder of movements and initiatives, national restorative justice trainer, author, and more -- but it would be more accurate to sum him up as a "Closer."
His passionate clarity towards his mission of police abolition, an idea fraught with controversy and clouded by fear, cuts to the chase in such a way that you are left wondering why more don’t follow his lead.
I started our Zoom meeting asking about his upcoming event at NDSU, and the kickstarter he was promoting for his Institute of Aspiring Abolitionists project. The goal of the project is $100k by November 19th, and they currently stand at close to $35k.
Jason said, “The kickstarter is to develop a regional approach to abolition . . . what’s here is not working. We constantly see it over and over again -- people are getting killed by the people who are supposed to protect. There has to be a space for a deeper conversation . . . it’s time for people to dig in and figure out what works for everybody. We’re smart enough and have enough technology and enough research to be able to make sure everybody is taken care of. This institute was developed in that spirit. To figure out what’s not there . . . all the student organizations, if they hear about this, they’re going to be interested. The Institute is going to be a praxis -- where we study but also you get to do tasks that are safe, and allow you to see a world where we aren’t reliant on police or cages.”
We moved on to a brief discussion about his book, “From Prison to Phd : A Memoir of Hope, Resilience and Second Chances.” He stated that most of the people who read his book are incarcerated. “It wasn’t really for mainstream -- when I wrote that book it was really so my daughters knew my story versus anybody else telling my story. Everybody gets their story taken when they don’t tell it for themselves.
I was getting deeper in movement work, so it was important for me to get it out just in case I got killed or something. You know, I went to Ferguson the next year and I was leading protests in Minneapolis . . . I wrote that book to get it off my chest, I was carrying way too much. I wasn’t looking for commercial success. I wanted my friends, my family, the community, everybody who’s seen me battle back from prison -- it was for that -- it was for the culture.
Responding to whether the book would be included in the lecture, he said, “I’m bringing a few books -- definitely, we can talk about that. It leaves a blueprint for people who are incarcerated, to say, damn, his strategy looked like this : he went to college, he studied criminal justice, he started teaching . . . people say you’re an expert if you’ve got, like, 10,000 hours in. I’ve got like 30,000 hours on paper of how I’ve studied this system and restorative justice -- actual real life -- making peace from a dangerous system.
“I’ve had to do it in my personal life. I’ve had to do it in prison. I’ve done it so much -- I don’t need to call somebody to figure something out. I know de-escalation skills, I know the guardian laws, I studied the system so that I could actually come back and help dismantle it.”
He continued speaking on his goals for the Institute of Aspiring Abolitionists: “For us to be able to sit in spaces where we got all walks of life: atheists, Christians, Muslims, older folks, younger folks, college students, people who didn’t finish college, people who work at Cub (Foods) -- I bring together a crowd that’s mad diverse. So once people hear about the event, I think they’ll agree to make solutions.
The main point of the Institute is that I want people to think about, how do you love the people in your inner circle -- how do you hold them accountable when they do you wrong or make mistakes? That’s the essence of what this is. What is the solution? How are we holding people accountable who harm us? Do you have to call them out? I don’t like doing that. I like to call people in.”
Referring to his travels for his lectures, I asked Jason if he thought misconceptions about police reform/abolition varied in different parts of the country. “Yeah, I’m going to do a community assessment -- I know what my impact is like throughout this region. I got a solid base in Sioux Falls, a solid base in Fargo . . . I trust that we will build enough momentum and enough interest -- people just want to talk about it. That’s why it’s the Institute of “Aspiring” -- you don’t have to leave working with me and doing this work and be an abolitionist. I just want you to dream about it, think about it.
The Institute is a place for people to just be real. We’re all gonna make mistakes, but if you love me, love me through my falls. After prison, after being in a cage, getting caught with drugs -- I knew I deserved a punishment. I really knew that.”
Circling back to his plans for the Institute, he said, “When I worked in the mayor’s office, I created a lot of blueprints to keep the city of St. Paul safe. I want to share how, if you’ve just got eight or nine people, who want to show up if there’s a domestic violence situation -- they do this in Oakland. You hit a woman in Oakland, seven or eight of them are gonna be at your house in eight minutes. All women.
The Institute will allow people to dream up safety plans. 911 should be your seventh or eighth call -- what friends do you have? Do you know a social worker that’s licensed to carry? Would you want them to show up? Dream a little bit. A friend that’s a firefighter?
I’m not a reformist. I’ve tried a lot -- I’ve created a lot of models . . . I created a model for sex offenders . . . I was the lead trainer, I helped develop the curriculum, and it proved successful after three years. I’ve got data to back it up, and I’ve got life experience to back up what I believe.”
His deep-seated frustration slowly built when I asked him if there was still room for a continued conversation with law enforcement. “That’s not my conversation, but that is work that needs to be done. Some people should be having those conversations on reform. For me, if you listen to the conversations I’m having in the Twin Cities, mine are strictly on abolition. It’s really about no -- we need something else. If you saw what happened to George Floyd the same way I saw it, you wouldn’t be asking me to keep trying to work with them. Are you really going to stop a white supremist from not liking me?
Some people forgot about George Floyd -- we haven’t had the luxury to do that. We’re still in it, we’re still seeing stories, there’s still harm being done. We said CIT training was the solution, we said implicit bias training was the solution, I don’t see it working.”
I was relieved when Jason lightened up the heaviness of the direction the conversation had taken by telling me, “Either you’re gonna be comfortable with me saying, ‘Abolish the police’ or you gotta be comfortable with me saying, ‘F**k the police.’ Which one do you want?” [laughs]
“I show people simple skills of self-defense, of mutual aid, really just caring about everybody. I love everybody, I don’t have all that hatred in my heart. I wasn’t put on this earth to have that. None of us were. We developed it with these titles and these boundaries and all of these borders. I mean, boundaries are good, borders are wack. Borders are everywhere -- even when we can’t see it.”
IF YOU GO
Reimers Conference Room
NDSU Alumni Center
October 22, 6-8PM
Cost: A pledge to the Institute of Aspiring Abolitionists Kickstarter
April 20th 2022
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