Organizers say only an elected civilian council can hold cops accountable
The decades-long struggle for democratic, community control of police in Chicago turned a corner on July 20 when the city council’s Committee on Public Safety accepted legislation that would create a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). CPAC would have authority over policing standards and practices and the hiring, evaluating and firing of officers.
The Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) legislation would create an all-elected citizens council to oversee the Chicago Police Department in each police district. CPAC would:
- Be elected by residents in each of the 22 police districts with proportional representation to ensure district representatives mirror the community.
- Hire, evaluate, discipline and fire officers and appoint the superintendent of police.
- Have authority over policing protocols and standards.
- Investigate all police shootings, allegations of misconduct and profiling.
- Be the final authority on discipline.
- Have the power to seek indictments of officers for crimes they commit and refer the cases to U.S. federal jurisdiction.
- Have subpoena power to compel testimony in cases alleging police misconduct or brutality.
In a recent interview, Frank Chapman, educational director and field organizer for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, spoke about the historical context and latest developments in the fight for CPAC.
“We have a long history with this, over a 40-year period,” said Chapman. “In that 40 years we have seen all kinds of oversight boards, consent degrees, and so forth, and we are convinced that only an all-elected, all-civilian police accountability council is going to work and is the pathway to community control of the police.”
Chapman characterized the historical role of police in Chicago in stark terms. “We have a situation where people in our communities — oppressed communities of color — have no voice, no say, in who policies their communities and how their communities are policed.”
The police “work with criminals and organized crime when it is to their advantage. They work with gangs where it is to their advantage, because it’s all about them. They are as corrupt as corrupt can be. And the whole entire community knows this.”
Chapman’s assertions are backed by an April 2016 taskforce appointed to assess police-community relations after the release of a video in November 2015 showing a police officer murdering 17-year old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. The taskforce presented evidence that “gives validity to the widely held belief [that] the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
In a 190-page report, taskforce members documented that they “heard over and over again from a range of voices” that the Chicago police are racist. The report reveals numerous categories of disparities in a city whose demographics are almost evenly one-third Black, Hispanic and White.
For example, a 2015 survey found 70 percent of young Black males reported being stopped by police in the previous 12 months. In the summer or 2014, of 250,000 police stops 72 percent were African American, while only nine percent were White. Profiling resulted in Black and Hispanic drivers being searched four times as often as White drivers, despite the department’s own data showing White drivers are twice as often as Black and Hispanic drivers to have contraband.
The cost for this type of policing to taxpayers over the last decade is staggering. According to the taskforce report, the City paid over $600 million in legal fees and payments to settle lawsuits for police misconduct and brutality since 2004. For comparison, the combined Minneapolis 2016 police and fire budget is $220 million.
Responding to shortcomings of the report, Chapman and Aislinn Pulley of Black Lives Matter Chicago stated, “Nowhere does this report address the fundamental democratic right of the people to control the police, and so we are left with suggested reforms and recommendations for policy changes that are left in the hands of the very people that created the problem in the first place. We must empower the people through CPAC to correct this problem.”
Chapman calls law enforcement in Chicago the “cutting edge of mass incarceration” because they are “the very ones who continue to perpetrate and create division between the gangs to keep the gang wars going on.”
In this respect, Chapman asserts, “They are like a roadblock to all kinds of social progress that we need to be struggling for, like better housing, healthcare services and jobs. It’s hard to even carry on those struggles when the police are breathing down your neck.”
“Do you want us to go along with a system of oppression just because it is legal? Jim Crow was legal. That didn’t stop us from fighting it.”
Chapman cautioned against the misconception that “community policing” is synonymous with community control of police. “Community policing is the police using us. It’s a disguise so they can continue with their police crimes. Community policing is helping the police maintain social control in our community.”
Chapman recognizes the uphill battle for CPAC. Yet, the first major victory since the legislation was developed in 2012 was the action by the Public Safety Committee. As well, CPAC now has eight of 50 council members solidly behind the legislation. They represent Hispanic and African American wards and include an Asian and White council member. Chapman quipped that they are known as the “Magnificent 8.”
Understandably, Chapman says even those who support the concept of community control often feel it is an unrealistic demand for the times. “I just had an alderman tell me yesterday [that] an all-elected police accountability council would be against the laws of the City of Chicago. Well, I said, that means those laws need to be changed.
“Do you want us to go along with a system of oppression just because it is legal? Jim Crow was legal. That didn’t stop us from fighting it. So we don’t want to hear any of that talk about it’s impossible.
“People told us we would never get the legislation heard in a council committee,” continued Chapman. “So, we’ve already done part of the impossible. My prediction is that by the time we get this thing passed we are going to have a different city council.”
To enact the legislation requires 26 of 50 council members and a minimum of 29 to overcome a possible mayoral veto. Support for the legislation continues to grow and includes an array of groups such as locals of the Teachers and Service Employees unions, area churches, Arab American Action Network, the Filipino Alliance, Hispanic human rights groups, and of course Black Lives Matter.
Organizing is door-by-door, block-by-block, and neighborhood-by-neighborhood. So far, volunteers have covered 10 of the 50 wards, giving them a strong base in one-fifth of the city. According to Chapman, this represents support from about 40,000 people. A postcard campaign is in full swing to pressure the Public Safety Committee to bring the bill to the full council.
The campaign for CPAC, called Stop Police Crimes, has held hundreds of demonstrations in front of neighborhood city council offices and at city hall with bigger rallies averaging two-to-three thousand. About 1,500 volunteers have been active, with a couple hundred working on a regular basis.
Establishment politicians want people to believe they are serious about making reforms, Chapman said, “but we know they are not serious. So what this comes down to is that they are going to have to either join in with the people and meet our demands or there is going to be a political showdown.
“They are not invincible. Right now the system has all kinds of cracks in it,” continued Chapman. “They are in a tailspin crisis caused by the revelation in the video released showing the murder of Laquan McDonald. In one fell swoop Chicago and the world saw what they [the police] are capable of.
“They sat on that video for 400 days knowing that young man had been murdered. They all knew it. The prosecuting attorney knew it, the mayor knew it, and members of the city council. For what? So the mayor could get reelected.
“They have no credibility — zero credibility — with the people anymore,” said Chapman. “So this is the best time ever for us to press for community control of the police and the best time to get it.”
For more information on CPAC, see their website at http://naarpr.org.
Wayne Nealis welcomes reader response to email@example.com.