Towards an Abolitionist Future: Interview with Josh Powell of SMYA

WCW: “Tell us about yourself and your involvement with the abolitionist movement. What ultimately led you to become an abolitionist?”

JP: Well, I’m a Black Man living in Capitalist-Power-Hungry-White-Privileged America. I’m a liberator. I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve started my own business, the main product being my body. I’m a street performer known as the Grey Man. You can find me on the pier of Pismo Beach or on the streets of San Luis Obispo or Santa Maria whenever I’m in a bind and desperate for money. I’m a soon to be father trying to secure a new place to live before my baby boy enters the world. I’m a pain in a lot of white people’s asses. Also known as an organizer with a focus on the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

Josh Powell at a Black Lives Matter protest

My involvement with the abolitionist movement has been an organic growing relationship. Kind of like it was meant to be, like it was inevitable, but when I started in this thing, I had a very faint understanding of what was going on, however what led me to it directly was my passionate friend and comrade: Elias Bautista. They found me at a poetry reading shortly after the George Floyd protests sparked. They told me they were starting a group called the Santa Maria Youth Abolitionists. I affiliated ‘abolition’ with slavery at the time, but I soon got a grasp of the topic. I was hungry to make change and they seemed like one of the ones to actually make the change happen so I was more than happy to jump on board.

WCW: “How would you define abolition?”

JP: I define abolition as eradicating something that is evil and inhuman. Such as the police force or ICE or capitalism or prisons or the Fantastic Four remake in 2015.

WCW: “What are some good sources (books, films, authors, etc.) that you would recommend people to check out if they want to learn more about abolition?”
JP: Anybody who was or is still a Black Panther. They put it very plainly that the prison system didn’t work as well as the presence of police. Specifically though, you got the brilliant, unpredictable Huey P. Newton, who was one of the founders of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Next you got Angela Davis whose writings on prisons have a grand depth of insight. Then my next suggestion is Colin Kaepernick who has rebranded himself and brought attention to the injustice Black folks, folks of color, and poor folks face in the United States, he also redirected his focus to the abolishment of prisons also known as modern day slave plantations. 

Huey P. Newton (Right) with Bobby Seale (Left); founders of the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense

WCW: “Care to set the record straight on the events surrounding Tianna Arrata and Elias Bautista’s arrests and the July 21st protest?”

JP: Ha, I would love to. I won’t comment on Elias’ behalf because they are unfortunately in a much more severe situation. 

Elias Bautista speaking at a BLM/Abolitionist protest in Santa Maria

On July 21st, Tianna, as well as several others in the community, took part in a protest through the streets of San Luis Obispo. We marched, we danced, we sang, we knelt, we chanted. We were together in a unique moment in time. This was yet another protest during a hot summer of brutal, unexplainable killings by police, of Black men and women who were trying to sleep, drive, get by, and survive in a country that would rather see them dance, sing, and dribble for White entertainment than accept these people as members of a shared society. You had Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Breonna Taylor, Elijah Mcclain, Sean Reed, Dijon Mckizee, Joshua Feast, Maurice Gordon, A.J. Crooms, Walter Wallace Jr.; just to name a few of the folks who’ve been killed just this year by police.

So when we went out on the streets, we went out to make noise on their behalf. We went out to bring attention to the racial injustice that this country is steeped in. The people who are supposedly sworn to protect us are actually the ones killing us. So we came out to let the world know about it. And that’s exactly what happened. In a bold move, we as a unit with the help of the police department, went out onto the freeway to get the attention and disrupt the boring rinse and repeat lives of folks coming from or going to their jobs.

Tianna Arata outside of the SLO County court house

As we stood out on those roads, chanting for justice to come to those hurt by police, there was a sense of pride. A sense of accomplishment like what we were doing was changing the course of history. There were cars that attempted to drive off and assault protestors. Some protestors defended themselves from injury. People have been quick to ridicule the actions of the protestors who defended themselves but refuse to condemn the actions of the drivers or the police officers who let the assaulter leave after witnessing the entire event transpire. They won’t tell you how we celebrated life by dancing together. These are exactly the folks who’s comfort is being fucked. They refuse to take accountability or look at life through a different lens. We did. We all knew damn well what was happening. The country is in a state of emergency and the rose tinted glasses these white people have on has left a stain on their eyelids. We just wanted to clean the stain off. 

Tianna Arata leading a Black Lives Matter protest in San Luis Obispo

The night of, however, is a much different story. Tianna Arata was targeted and kidnapped. Pigs scouted the park we were decompressing at for the last hour we were there. Every few seconds, you’d see a squad car round the corner, all while pigs on their motorcycles sat around and surveilled, waiting for their opportunity to eat. After walking sis [Tianna] over to her car, a flash of red and blue came through, and out jumped hogs in riot gear apprehending her while some of us tried getting in the way and others watched helplessly. It was an awful moment that burned into my mind.

WCW: “How is the SLO county DA now charging you and several others over two months later after the initial arrests? What are they charging you with and why?”

JP: Well Danny Dow has attempted to charge my brothers with misdemeanor charges such as “delaying a peace officer, false imprisonment, and obstructing the free movement of a person in a public place”, because instead of doing their actual jobs and going after folks who don’t want to follow covid regulations or assault black women, they would rather pick on the only black faces recognizable in the Black Lives Matter movement out here. 

Dan Dow, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney

WCW: “What has the legal process been like for you and your comrades so far?

JP: It’s been jarring. Confusing. A little exciting too. Watching dudes politely diss each other in suits and ties is as entertaining as a telenovela. I have no idea what’s going on most of the time, but it still looks and sounds fun.  

WCW: “Is there any progress being made with the current court cases? Do you see Dan Dow listening to the voice of the people or will he continue to press charges against Arrata & Co.?”


Well the judge just disqualified Danny Boy from the case for an implicit bias that is made clear in an email his wife sent out on his birthday. The email said:

“Dan needs to know more than ever that you support him and he really needs your financial support so he can keep leading the fight in SLO County against the wacky defund the police movement and anarchist groups that are trying to undermine the rule of law and public safety in our community. We had planned his kickoff election campaign fundraiser to be this month, but due to COVID and all the crazy protest activity, we were not able to pull it off.”

The key words here are ‘wacky’ and ‘anarchist’. Not to mention this was to get money. He sent this out to all his rich homies in an attempt to get their support to go against US. So now it’s up to the California Attorney General to see if he wants to pursue this mess of a situation. We’ll see in the next 30 days.

WCW: “Do you think the majority of the local community is sympathetic to abolition/police defunding or does support seem to stem from a certain subset of the community?”

JP: I mean I think everybody’s been really nice about it. It’s not like we’re smashing local businesses and shops, or setting buildings ablaze, which is something I’m sure residents are happy about. When folks hear abolish they get all up in arms and think “What’ll we do without our law and order?” without understanding that the police are designed to defend property, not people. So those folks need to do some research before just reacting. Similarly with defunding the police, it’s not a bad thing to take money away from pigs and relocate them into our education system. Then you have the goofballs who try to turn our protests into something that it’s not. They get in our faces and attempt to get some reaction out of us for their corny news stations. So I think the negativity and the conflict stems from that subset you mention. 

Josh Powell speaking at Abolitionist/BLM rally

WCW: “What are some good ways for members of the local community to support or get involved with the abolition movement?”

JP: Come talk to us. And if they’re scared of the Covid, then follow any of us on instagram. @AACCS @Santamariayouthabolitionists @centralcoastorganization @racemattersslo @blmca @naacpslo

WCW: “Any other related causes or events you would like to bring attention to?”

JP: I urge everybody to look into Anjanette Young’s case against the Chicago Police Department. 9 officers barged into her home while she was naked and it was the wrong house. Also please read about the two boys murdered by police officers, A.J. Crooms was 16 and Sincere Pierce was 18. Lastly, wear your goddamn masks. Cases are still shooting up day by day, people continue to die, and now our hospitals are damn neared maxed out. 
WCW: “What are some musicians, artists, or performers that have inspired you or that you think people should check out regarding social justice and the abolitionist cause?”

JP: Anybody with a heartbeat needs to listen to Tobe Nwigwe. He has been pumping out art in lyrical form. He’s one for the culture. Killer Mike and his partner [El-P] recently released their album “Run The Jewels 4”. I think that’s all I got for ya right now. 

Hip-Hop artists Tobe Nwigwe and Fat
Killer Mike and musical partner El-P as Hip-Hop duo Run the Jewels

Thanks so much for offering me the chance to clear the air. You’re all dope. Much love. Peace and chicken grease.

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