Renewed calls for community control of the police come to D.C.
NAARPR

WASHINGTON––Community control of the police (CCOP)— a concept once brought to fruition by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense by the likes of Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Fred Hampton in the 1960s as a result of continued police terror in predominantly Black communities—is back. And in the nation’s capital, it’s a chapter of the recently re-launched National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression that is raising the call for communities to, once again, keep watch on the cops.

Decades ago, the Panthers established a prototype that activists are looking to today. Under the conditions of their time, the BPP set up community cop watch groups and took up arms as forms of physical security and self-defense to protect their communities from white supremacists.

Referring to the police, Seale professed at the Chicago Community Control of Police Conference in June of 1973 that “their real power is manifested in the organized guns and force. But we’re saying that the people in this community, the people in this country, don’t have any control over that organized guns, force, and power. We’re saying that the capitalist, the racist, and others have control over it. And we’re saying that we want to change it, that we want to revolutionize it, turn it over into the hands of the people, for a new process to occur. We’re saying we want community control.”

CCOP has been a rallying cry and a program in the Black liberation movement ever since, even after the demise of the Black Panther Party. The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), founded in 1973 out of the struggle to free Angela Davis, took up this democratic struggle in the broader fight against unjust treatment of individuals because of race or political beliefs. From its inception, the NAARPR has campaigned against police crimes and torture committed primarily against the poor and people of color.

“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 military enforcement of national oppression,” says Frank Chapman, leader and organizer for the National Alliance.

In Chicago, the Alliance initiated a campaign to Stop Police Crimes, where victims of those crimes and their families are actively involved. The effort is organizing to secure passage of legislation to establish an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) empowered to hold police officers accountable for crimes such as assault, murder, torture, and racial profiling.

The Alliance has also long participated in struggles to free political prisoners, including the struggle for freedom of the Wilmington Ten, Tchula, Mississippi Mayor Eddie Carthan, Delbert Tibbs, and many others. Other campaigns, such as abolishing the death penalty, ending the war on drugs, and winning affirmative action programs fill in more of NAARPR’s agenda.

In Washington, D.C., organizers such as Damu Smith and Acie Byrd led the local branch of the Alliance in the 1970s and ’80s, focused on campaigns to free political prisoners and ending police violence in the communities. In late 2019, NAARPR was re-founded as a national organization at a convention in Chicago, naming Chapman as the Interim Executive Director. Over 150 organizations endorsed the call to re-establish the Alliance, which included representatives from the D.C. Metro Communist Party (Josephine Butler-Paul Robeson Club, CPUSA) and Pan-African Community Action (PACA).

Max Rameau of PACA says, “Community Control Over Police is both a principle of democratic self-determination and an objective of a social movement determined to end abusive practices that are inevitable in the context of colonial domination.” He argues, “Ending the rampant abuses at the hands of the police, and the criminalization of entire segments of the population to feed the prison-industrial-complex is entirely dependent upon the creation of institutions and mechanisms that enable low-income Black communities to control the priorities, policies, and practices of the armed forces patrolling their neighborhoods.”

In December 2020, these groups came together to host an inaugural event of the newly re-established D.C. branch of the NAARPR titled “Community Control of the Police: What It Means and Why It’s an Essential Demand.” It featured Chapman, Rameau, and L. Gato Martinez-Bentley as panelists and was moderated by Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition, Queshia Bradley of PACA, and Luci Murphy of the CPUSA, and also featured a cultural performance by Dahk Matter of PACA.

Chapman, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and armed robbery in 1961 and was released in 1976 after a struggle for his freedom by NAARPR, made it clear that the Black liberation movement has long fought for the fundamental demand of the right to self-determination, and CCOP has to be seen as a demand and political struggle within that context.

“We are not trying to impose our views over others in the movement […] we are seeking unity of action not unity of ideas, which is the basic concept of the united front,” Chapman said. He further noted the struggle for CCOP is a decisive and strategic tactic for curtailing the violent and racist oppression of the Black liberation movement. That’s why, he argued, the Black Panthers raised this clearly in the latter part of the 20th century in response to the murderous repression of the movement. Chapman finished on this point, saying that it requires more than electing a politician and getting a law passed like CPAC; passing CPAC will create a situation for the self-empowerment of our people.

Max Rameau of PACA, which was formed after the private police murder of Alonzo Smith, spoke about how some predominantly white areas and regions have their own police and the Black community has no force that is protecting them. “What we are really fighting for is not to change the attitudes and [racist] ideas of those white people […] what we really need to be fighting for is power to make their ideas irrelevant. What we need is community control over our land, community control over our education, community control over our resources, community control over those forces responsible for keeping us secure from outside threats, and to manage inside disputes,” Rameau continued.

He also spoke about the limitations of the “defund police” slogan, saying that if we defunded the state’s police forces, corporations would just hire their own private police force. Rameau said PACA is now in the campaign phase of community outreach and education and hoping in the future to get CCOP as a ballot initiative in D.C., similar to CPAC in Chicago.

Interested in joining the D.C. Alliance branch? Contact PACA at pacapower.org, DC Metro CPUSA at dccp@cpusa.org, or the NAARPR website at naarpr.org.


CONTRIBUTOR

Jamal Rich
Jamal Rich

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

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