Ending the Family Death Penalty and Building a World We Deserve

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Ashley Albert
Tiheba Bain
Elizabeth Brico
Bishop Marcia Dinkins
Kelis Houston
Joyce McMillan
Vonya Quarles
Lisa Sangoi
Erin Miles Cloud
Adina Marx-Arpadi


U.S. history is rooted in the rationalization of family separation to benefit white supremacy, capitalism and mainstream U.S. values. Because of this dark history, the U.S. history has become the world’s leader of legal destruction of families through termination of parental rights. It is the only country in the world that routinely pays people to adopt children whose parents, often women, very much want to be their parent. The Adoption and Safe Families Act, enacted in 1997, wildly changed the legal landscape of the family regulation system. At that time 47% of the children in the system were Black, and the drug war had been targeting Black men for low level offenses, and labeling Black mothers as “crack moms”. The result was an extreme attack on Black families, for which we have yet to recover.  

Abolition teaches us to unroot oppressive structures, disrupt and dismantle them while simultaneously supporting a praxis of imagination, healing, and building. In this paper, we encourage people not only to work to repeal ASFA, but to interrogate the imagination which entrenched the legitimacy of ASFA. Part I centers the discussion in our imaginations—the world we want to build, and the demands we are making. Part II moves into a discussion about the counter imagination, the ideas and mythology that created ASFA—the legal framework. In this section, we isolate ASFA as a target for abolition and organizing. Part III moves into a practical discussion about ethical ways to mobilize around ASFA. This section is intended to invite the reader to learn, and question, together. It invites questions, thinking, and problem solving in lieu of providing a recommendation.

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How to Cite
Albert, A., Bain, T., Brico, E., Dinkins, B. M., Houston, K., McMillan, J., Quarles, V., Sangoi, L., Cloud, E. M., & Marx-Arpadi, A. (2021). Ending the Family Death Penalty and Building a World We Deserve. Columbia Journal of Race and Law, 11(3), 860–894. https://doi.org/10.52214/cjrl.v11i3.8753