Chicago rallies for community control, ‘first step in abolishing police terror’
Frank Chapman, leader of the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, speaks at the Chicago rally demanding community control of police. | Scott Marshall / People's World

CHICAGO—“There is no longer any toleration of the genocidal policy of police departments of this city and country,” declared Frank Chapman, Executive Director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression at a rally here June 23. “We’ve reached a turning point!”

Powerful proof of that turning point was demonstrated as a succession of City Council members crossed the street from City Hall to speak one after another in support of their proposed ordinance to establish a Civilian Police Accountability Board.

The Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance calls for the election of representatives from each of 11 districts to a council which will be delegated with hiring the police superintendent and creating policing policies. That democratically elected body, Chapman told People’s World, will give Black and brown communities “power to decide who is policing our communities and how they are policing them. We can’t have that without changing the Municipal Code so that civilians have the final say on those questions.”

Community control is a strategic move, Chapman explained. “It’s the first step to abolishing the whole system of police terror.”

The year 2020 was the biggest year of rebellion in the entire history of the U.S., with an estimated six million people across the nation taking to the streets to say “No!” to police terror, Chapman reminded the crowd of activists. Yet other victims continue to be killed by “police who set themselves up as judge, jury, and executioner.”

The Chicago effort that has culminated in the growing consensus around the ECPS ordinance is inspired by the movements of the past, according to Chapman, citing Fred Hampton and the Rainbow Coalition and the 45 years of work by the NAARPR to address police crimes. “We started modeling legislation back in 1977 for community control of police when Berkeley, Calif., Mayor Gus Newport established a Police Control Board, the only city in the country to put that into effect.”

Chapman laid out the painstaking organizing carried out in the current period; it has consisted of two basic elements.

“First,” he said, “we needed a well-defined political objective.” That objective was to have legislation at the local level that would give real power to the communities in the area of policing.

Second, with that in place, the Chicago chapter of NAARPR, of which Chapman is the field organizer, has methodically amassed a coalition of organizations and unions supporting the ECPS ordinance—“the kind of organizing you do in a political campaign.” Chapman cited the data with the familiarity of a veteran organizer: Over 11 years, the Chicago Alliance has built up a base of support in all of the city’s 50 wards. Three years ago, the organization was able to identify 1,000 supporters, with significant numbers in 38 wards, and some support in every ward.

“We went door by door, block by block, political district by district,” he recalled. “Where there was an already existing independent political organization, the Alliance worked with them. In wards where there was no independent organization we turned the supporters into organizations in the wards to put pressure on the alderpeople.”

Alongside the door-to-door work, the Alliance built a broad coalition, which includes SEIU and AFSCME locals, the Chicago Teachers Union, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, many churches, the Communist Party USA, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, DSA, and 150 other community-based organizations.

The support coalition for community control broadened when the Chicago Alliance established a united front with the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability which had also been trying to pass legislation addressing police abuses. GAPA brought important allies, including Community Renewal Society and a broad ecumenical array of religious organizations—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim.

The battle is far from over. The City Council majority is not solid; the mayor is exerting unrelenting pressure on the aldermen not to go along with the measure—and just this week a last-minute parliamentary maneuver prevented the ECPS ordinance from coming to a vote.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was elected two years ago on a platform promising to deal with police abuse in her first 100 days in office. The crowd’s anger and disappointment in her role in blocking this measure were visceral.

Chapman assailed those who are playing politics with crime rates. He told People’s World, “They‘re using the high crime rate in the Black community as an excuse for police tyranny, giving them a license to occupy communities like a military where people are killed, tortured at the whim of police with impunity.” In the name of suppressing crime, he charged, they have created a wave of unpunished police crime. “That is on the cutting edge for mass incarceration,” Chapman concluded.

When it comes to communities of color, policing practices belie the duty to “serve and protect,” said Shelby Richardson, leader of the Illinois Communist Party, who attended the rally. “You’re not supposed to murder people, you’re not supposed to torture people, you’re not supposed to break into their house,” he told People’s World. Richardson welcomed the broad support for the EPCS ordinance, noting the movement for its passage in Chicago is “a huge statement that there’s a consensus that there is a problem in policing and people want it addressed.”

After hearing from a half dozen alderpersons at the rally, Chapman recalled the 30,000 Chicagoans who demonstrated against police terror last year. “The time is now, Mayor Lightfoot!” Chapman declared.


Roberta Wood
Roberta Wood

Roberta Wood is a retired member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Wood was a steelworker in South Chicago, an officer of Steelworkers Local 65, and founding co-chair of the USWA District 31 Women's Caucus. She was previously Secretary-Treasurer of the Communist Party. Currently, she serves as a Senior Editor of People's World.