In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Celeste Winston. Winston is Assistant Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University. Her book is How to Lose the Hounds: Maroon Geographies and a World beyond Policing.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Celeste Winston: How to Lose the Hounds: Maroon Geographies and a World beyond Policing offers new, grounded evidence of the possibility of a world beyond policing that an ever-growing group of scholars and organizers are calling for. Many abolitionists trace current systematic police brutality and racial profiling to the forerunners of modern police: slave patrols, which were formalized at the beginning of the eighteenth century to maintain the dominant racial economic order by assisting enslavers in capturing and punishing enslaved Black people. While it is crucial to understand the long history of policing—and its continued role in maintaining racial and economic inequity—equally important are the underexplored legacies of organizing beyond policing that have persisted from slavery until today. How to Lose the Hounds helps readers understand connections between marronage—the practice of flight from slavery—and contemporary abolitionist organizing. The book centers Black communities in Montgomery County, Maryland, just beyond the nation’s capital, where generations of residents across centuries have practiced safety and security outside of policing. In revealing longstanding challenges to policing waged by Black people between slavery and the present day, the book demonstrates that a path toward police abolition need not be imagined abstractly when it is evident in the historical geographies and ongoing life of Black communities.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?
I hope the stories animating my book offer abolitionist activists and community organizers a deeper sense of the enduring geographies of marronage that are foundational to their work. I aim for these stories to breathe new life into struggles for abolition and invite others to join the work of imagining how we might build a world beyond policing. With swelling popular interest in radically transformative approaches to public safety and security, this book helps ground critical struggles for police abolition in the historical geographic context of Black community-based organizing. More broadly, I hope that the book inspires activists and organizers to look to past and present maroon geographies for evidence for creating and sustaining Black life and freedom not just beyond police, but also across vital areas like housing, education, and health care. Dreams and practices of justice across these domains are deeply tied to struggles for Black freedom originating from marronage.
We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
I hope that readers will un-learn the idea that it is unrealistic to abolish longstanding violent systems like policing. In 2020 when calls to defund police gained popularity, reformists co-opted abolitionist demands by explaining that defunding or abolishing the police did not mean aiming to eliminate police budgets and shut down police departments. Others who push back against defunding or abolishing police argue that it is both impossible and irrational to attempt to ensure justice and safety without police. At best, such arguments rest on the false idea that police violence is a fixable issue in a mainly otherwise working system. At worst, these arguments take shape as a refusal to consider how police often fail to prevent and address harm while systematically causing and perpetuating violence themselves. The idea that movements must confine their goals to seemingly realistic accomplishments in their political contexts significantly limits the ability to imagine abolition as a concept and possibility for our future. In contrast, How to Lose the Hounds demonstrates the very real ways that everyday people have reduced police power and the threat of police violence as tools of social control in their communities. Black communities practicing safety without police demonstrate that abolition is not a distant political horizon but already exists in everyday strategies of care, fugitivity, and placemaking.
Which intellectuals and/or intellectual movements most inspire your work?
My first dreams for this book took root as a graduate student when I read Cedric J. Robinson’s Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition ( 2000) and Neil Roberts’ Freedom as Marronage (2015). These works inspired me to connect histories of marronage to ongoing struggles against anti-Black racism. My exploration of marronage as a model for abolitionist placemaking also builds on abolitionist scholarship and organizing from W.E.B. Du Bois, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Angela Davis to the work of collectives like Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color Against Violence. Intertwined with all these inspirations, my work is shaped by the efforts of maroons to build worlds of freedom amid slavery and persistent anti-Blackness. When I began my research for How to Lose the Hounds, I was drawn to the archives and homes of Black communities with histories of flight from slavery. My instincts told me that Black communities founded in marronage held a wealth of lessons for thoughtfully reimagining a world without police. I was inspired to look for their long legacies of challenging and building life beyond the control and surveillance of slave patrols and later police. How to Lose the Hounds shares the valuable lessons I learned from these communities.
Which two books published in the last five years would you recommend to BAR readers? How do you envision engaging these titles in your future work?
I’ll recommend one book that I added to my shelf a couple of years ago and one that I look forward to adding to my collection. A favorite of mine from the past few years is Katherine McKittrick’s Dear Science and Other Stories (Duke University Press, 2021). McKittrick demonstrates how to do rigorously undisciplined work that brings together Black stories, songs, and other texts to help us imagine how to get from the world we live in now to a world free of oppression. On my to-read list is J.T. Roane’s Dark Agoras: Insurgent Black Social Life and the Politics of Place (NYU Press, 2023). Roane’s existing work has helped me think through fugitive practices of place and land use animating Black communities like the ones I focus on in my work. I’m excited to read Dark Agoras, which explores how spatial imaginaries of working-class Black communities in Philadelphia challenge dominant urban politics. I turn to both McKittrick’s and Roane’s works as models and evidence for centering already-existing practices of Black life and placemaking in pursuit of liberation.
Roberto Sirvent is editor of the Black Agenda Report Book Forum.