New NAARPR booklet details history of the struggle for community control of police

This story ran earlier this week and is repeated here because it relates so closely to the story on the Tyre Nichols funeral.

Chicago is on the cusp of a historical election set for Feb. 28, when councilors will be chosen by voters in each city police district to form the Chicago Police District Councils—part of the new system of community control over police.

The district councils are the result of a long struggle for community control of the police in Chicago, and they are becoming reality in a moment when police murder continues to run rampant in the United States.

The year 2022 saw one of the largest police killings on record, and the recent brutal murders of Tyre Nichols, Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, Herman Whitfield III, and Keenan Anderson show that the carnage carries on.

The mass movements that grew out of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the vigilante murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the George Floyd Rebellion of 2020 have culminated into advanced demands for Black liberation in this country.

The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), whose Chicago affiliate spearheaded the struggle for community control of police in that city, stated as far back as 2014:

“This struggle will be spontaneous and organized, violent and non-violent, moral and physical, and ultimately about political power. The powers that be from the White House to the State House have no moral authority to tell us when, where, and how to protest while they refuse to hold the police accountable and address the economic devastation of our communities.”

A recent booklet by veteran activist Frank Chapman titled, The Historical Roots of Our Struggle for Community Control of the Police, puts this struggle front and center as a basic democratic demand of the Black liberation movement in light of the uprisings over police violence and going back to the Reconstruction era of 1861-77.

Chapman mentions early on in the text that, “a lot of the public discussion around the murder of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others addresses the brutality and criminality of policing as it is practiced in Black and brown communities. But this discussion quickly becomes twisted and confused and lost in a maze of fantasy about reimagining policing in a class-ridden, racist, sexist society.”

Chapman is referring to the academic contributions to the rebellion, like police abolition and the slogan “defund the police,” which decries bloated city police budgets and the lack of social programs for the working-class and poor. “We see the police as not only instruments of class exploitation and protectors of private property; we also see them as perpetrators of racist and political repression and part of the state apparatus enforcing national oppression,” Chapman continues.

The fundamental democratic demand, Chapman argues, has always been for community control because Black and brown people, as oppressed people in the United States, have the right to assert who polices their communities and how they are policed. It is not a demand for review or oversight, as some may claim in response to community control.

Veteran activist and author Frank Chapman.

Going back in history to the fight to defeat the former Confederacy, policing in the South was primarily about the maintenance of slavery and controlling the population vis-a-vis slave catchers and patrols. This was instituted as federal law in 1850 with an updated version of the Fugitive Slave Act.

This system was overthrown shortly after the Civil War. Put in its place was a reconstructed and revolutionary form of policing which was democratically controlled by former slaves and poor white farmers. This was a political struggle for state power to advance democracy in the South to the former slaves, granting them the right to vote, public education, and other rights for which scholar W.E.B. Du Bois described as the “greatest step toward democracy…ever taken in the modern world.”

“Yes it is a historic fact that policing can be used to defend the democratic gains of the people,” Chapman emphasizes in his booklet, comparing this revolutionary form of policing in the Reconstruction-period of the U.S. South to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia, the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and the Southern Africa political revolutions of the 1980s, including the overthrow of apartheid in the 1990s.

It is important to note here that while police and prison-industrial-complex (PIC) abolitionists claim to follow the historical lineage of chattel slavery abolitionists, Chapman and the NAARPR are claiming the same.

In the Marxist tradition, the class character of the institutions of the state is important to understand as well, including the police and the military. Policing won’t end while a class society still exists, and under a revolutionary transition to socialism, the class character of the state is that of working class power. The police will be used to suppress anti-democratic elements that still exist from the old society and to protect the hard-fought gains of the working class unlike under capitalist dictatorship.

Capitalist dictatorship in the United States developed and enforced the slave system and created Jim Crow apartheid—which still manifest in mass incarceration, extrajudicial lynchings, and police murders of Black and brown people in the modern period. Very few police abolitionists struggle to engage with this reality.

Police in the ruthless, white supremacist, capitalist, and imperialist society known as the United States have long acted in service of the ruling capitalist class. As Chapman notes toward the end of the booklet, “not until a political revolution overthrowing the present order will the people have the power to abolish police and prisons as the agents of oppression.”

Chapman states that “the clearest example of community control for the oppressed people of African descent occurred during what I consider the most revolutionary period in U.S. history. And that would be the period coming right after the defeat of the Slave-holders Rebellion of 1861.”

During this period, 300,000 slaveholders were expropriated of the wealth gained from their ownership of slaves due to the abolition of the slave system in the South. This was done by arming the slaves to enable the Union to violently crush the Confederacy’s rebellion to defend and expand the slave system.

The large estates of the former slaveholders were divided among former slaves “as a matter of the spoils of war,” and the former slaves often seized land by their own initiative. At the Freedmen’s Convention in Georgia in 1866, former slaves openly called for more democracy and demanded the state recognize their rights as a people.

For almost a decade after the end of the Civil War, Union troops remained stationed to quash any attempts at Confederate counter-revolution. This made it possible for newly-freed Black people to have democratic community control in many of the counties where they were the majority. Chapman notes that the “Enforcement Act of 1871 (also known as the Klan Act) not only empowered the President (Ulysses S. Grant) to prosecute Klan members, but also the freed slaves.” These state efforts expanded democracy for Black people and destroyed “first era” of the Klan.

Enfranchised Black people were now not only able to vote but could also elect their own marshals and/or sheriffs in the jurisdictions where they constituted the majority. These democratically-elected police, during the revolutionary period of Reconstruction in the South, along with federal troops, protected Black people from the organized white supremacist terror of the Klan.

This period of self-empowerment of former slaves was mentioned in Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction as “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat in South Carolina”. A counter-revolution ensued once federal troops were removed from the South in 1877 due to the Hayes-Tilden Compromise, ending the “Radical Reconstruction” period of Black self-empowerment and expanded democracy in the South. U.S. Marxist historians have typically called the period from 1861-1877 the “unfinished revolution,” which we continue to fight for to this day.

Chapman’s booklet continues with a review of the struggle and demand for community control into the 1960-70s and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. In Berkeley, Calif., the Black Panther Party proposal for community control of the police won support from one-third of the electorate in 1971. After its defeat, the campaign subsided due to continued state repression from the FBI’s COINTELPRO and lack of a broad-based and stable coalition for a long-term struggle.

When NAARPR was founded in 1973, community control of the police was a national priority. The Chicago branch formed a Campaign for Community Control of the Police (CCOP), consisting of a broad-based, multi-racial coalition. Their concept was to organize a ballot-initiative drive to get CCOP on the ballot. This ultimately failed in the face of opposition from the powerful political machine controlled by Mayor Daley. It was a struggle which required a “tremendous amount of energy, resources, and dedicated grassroots organizers.” Chapman writes. “Lacking these things made defeat inevitable.”

Looking back at the ballot initiative efforts around abortion during the midterm elections of 2022 and the recent announcement by organizers in Burlington, Vt., that they were putting community control of the police on the ballot, it appears that such citizen-led legislative efforts can still work in certain circumstances and in particular regions with a history of ballot initiatives. It is important to know Chicago’s experience with this.

Another lesson learned in the struggle for community control in Chicago was the fight to get progressive politicians elected to office. They fought on community boards to combat gentrification and slumlords and to expand other community service programs. This in turn made these progressive candidates into career politicians, one of whom was Congressman Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther.

After the murder of Rekia Boyd, and later Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression was able to mount a campaign with mass support around the demand that the mayor and city council enact a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC).

In 2016, a progressive member of the city council, Carlos Rosa, with the support of seven other councilors, introduced the Chicago Alliance’s proposed ordinance for an all-elected CPAC into the legislative chamber.

The May 2020 rebellion around the police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd culminated in the next stage of this struggle, leading to 26 million people going into the streets in protest in all 50 states. NAARPR mobilized over 300,000 people to participate in 22 cities nationwide.

Community control was also brought center stage at a presidential debate between candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump in 2020, and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was introduced in Congress. Negotiations then took place to form the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) coalition in Chicago. The ECPS Ordinance passed in July 2021, which was a major victory for the entire people’s movement.

Chapman further says, “Now that we passed ECPS in the City Council, we are confronted with a whole new set of tasks, responsibilities, and challenges. It is for our movement a maiden voyage into the uncharted, turbulent waters of corrupt Chicago politics. Not since the days of Harold Washington running for mayor have we been confronted with the challenge of building a powerful grassroots movement for radical, systemic change. We win only if we choose to fight back. We are winning because we are fighting back!”

Chapman’s booklet is an important text for anyone in the movement against police violence. It describes some unknown history for those who have been disengaged from the conversation around community control due to the louder voice of the police abolitionists during 2020 and 2021, but that tide is turning, and young people are beginning to realize that they cannot push empty demands without a political program and a mass movement. How are you going to defund the police without political power?

Chapman partially concedes the need for unity between those with these varying demands though, stating:

“Although these calls for abolition for the most part have not been clearly connected to our struggle for community control of the police, we must treat them as an organic part of our demands. We must give leadership and educate the people to the fact that tyranny and police repression of our movements, therefore giving us the organizing space our movements need for bringing about the systemic changes that are a necessary precondition for the liberation of our people.”

It is important to remember that class struggle is not narrowly an economic struggle; it is also a struggle for political power. The struggle for community control of the police is a fight for power over the state apparatus in order to defend and expand the democratic rights of oppressed people and workers. Let us not lose sight of that.

For copies of by The Historical Roots of Our Struggle for Community Control of the Police, by Frank Chapman, contact NAARPR:

National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
1325 S. Wabash Ave. Suite 105
Chicago, IL 60605


Or email


Jamal Rich
Jamal Rich

Jamal Rich writes from Washington, D.C. where he is active with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.