Seattle U Law welcomes Nikkita Oliver to teach course on police, prison abolition

January 11, 2021

Attorney and community leader Nikkita Oliver joins the Seattle University School of Law adjunct faculty this spring to teach a three-credit course on police and prison abolition. 

The concept of abolition is rooted in the early 19th century movement to abolish chattel slavery in the United States. In a modern context, it has come to include abolition of what many civil rights leaders see as the current, evolved version of slavery -the criminal punishment system, including mass incarceration and the death penalty. The course will cover abolition history, theory, and practice.

Racial justice will be a prominent theme of the course, since prison incarceration disproportionately affects Black, brown, and indigenous communities, as well as queer and trans communities of color. 

Oliver said the 30-person class will encourage students to engage in deep political and social analysis of the law and its impact on communities. 

Nikkita Oliver"Laws were not created in a vacuum of objectivity and justice. They were created within the social and historical context of the society and country in which we live," Oliver said. "A country, which at its root, is white supremacist, patriarchal, and classist. These oppressive roots have infected the entire tree and its fruits teach us that the law and justice are not the same thing."

Oliver is a Seattle-based attorney, artist, and community organizer who also serves as co-executive director of Creative Justice, an arts-based program that provides an alternative to incarceration. Oliver co-founded Seattle Peoples Party and ran for mayor in 2017.

Dean Annette E. Clark '89 said the class is a unique opportunity for students to imagine a different and more just system of public safety, one that focuses on meeting community needs and addresses racial and social inequities. 

"Nikkita Oliver is one of our community's most passionate advocates for justice and reform, and I know our students will benefit tremendously from the creative and courageous conversations this course will inspire," she said. 

Abolition is an unusual concept to teach in law school. Oliver said that's because a successful abolition movement could substantially alter the role of lawyers in society.

"What if we could find the whole truth and be in accountable relationships without being adversaries and punishers?" Oliver said. "What if there was another way to address harm that restored people to the community and transformed harmful environments into healthy ones?"