Chicago: Electing candidates to hold the police accountable
Chicago, IL – The November 8 midterm election is important around the country, as the seemingly formidable reactionary wave in electoral politics continues. In general, the task in most states is to defeat the most reactionary and backwards candidates.
In Illinois, we can make some gains, passing the Workers’ Rights Amendment. In Chicago, we have progressive candidates like Delia Ramirez for Congress, and Anthony Joel Quezada for 8th District Cook County Commissioner.
But the leading edge of the struggle to defend democratic rights is the movement for police accountability. In Chicago, election day is an opportunity for grassroots activists to get petitions for the municipal elections in February. There are over 100 people running for the newly created position of councilor in the 22 police districts. These district councils will be the front line for holding the Chicago Police Department accountable, to help determine who polices in Black and Latino communities, and how those communities are policed.
Each candidate needs a minimum number of signatures of voters registered in the police district where they live. Because 80% of the people running have never run for office before, many candidates for district council will be at the polling places in their community to ask for their signature to get them on the ballot.
These district councilors will nominate people to sit on a citywide Commission for Public Safety. The councilors have some powers; the commission has more, including the power to hire and fire the head of the body that investigates the thousands of complaints received every year against cops. It will also have the power to rewrite the police rule book, to eliminate foot chases, eliminate raids of homes where doors are kicked in, and end stop-and-frisk and other racist practices.
Frank Chapman, field organizer for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, says about this election day, “Here is an unprecedented opportunity for us to strike a blow for democracy by doing all that we can do to get people on the ballot.”
Former Black Panther Lovie Bernard runs for District Council
In the 4th Police District on the far South Side of Chicago, Lovie Bernard is circulating petitions. Lovie was prompted to run by Alderman Greg Mitchell, one of the members of the Black Caucus of the City Council, which was key to the passage of the legislation Empowering Communities for Public Safety that brought about the district council elections. Alderman Mitchell suggested her to run because she has been an organizer in his election campaigns for many years.
The borders of the 4th District are 75th Street on the north; Lake Michigan on the east; and it includes Ford Motors’ Chicago Assembly, their oldest continuously operated Ford plant in the country.
As a teen, Lovie joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Chicago. She lived on the West Side at that time, just a few blocks from the Panther Party office. She attended meetings and rallies with Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois party. She remembers being in the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany on the Near West Side at Ashland and Adams where the Panthers would hold rallies, and remembers the Young Lords being there as well.
She remembers the night that the Chicago police killed Fred Hampton in a 4 a.m. raid. She went to his apartment that morning when Defense Minister Bobby Rush and the other Panthers opened it up so the community could see that Fred and Panther member Mark Clark had been assassinated. She also remembers attending the funeral.
Her family moved back to the South Side after Fred was killed.
If you search “Lovie Bernard Black Panther Party Chicago,” you’ll see a Getty Images photo of her. The caption reads: “At the opening of the Black Panther Party's Spurgeon Jake Winters Free People's Medical Center (at 3850 West 16th Street), the clinic's first patient, Lovie Bernard (left), is examined by nurse Florence Watson, Chicago, Illinois, January 4, 1970.”
The clinic was named for Panther Jake Winters, a Panther who was killed in a shootout with the Chicago police a few weeks before Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated.
Community control of the police
Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale coined the term community control of the police to describe the aim of the Panthers in their campaign to police the police. After the laws in California changed and didn’t allow armed patrols, the Panthers changed tactics. The party in Chicago developed a campaign in the 1970s to get community control of the Chicago Police Department through a petition drive to have it as a binding referendum.
When asked why she is running to hold the police accountable, Lovie Bernard shared an incident that came to mind. She was in the car with Alderman Mitchell, and a police car rolled up on her and the alderman. The cops started to give the alderman the business. Mitchell informed them, “I am the alderman of this ward.” The cops stopped harassing him, and apologized for their treatment of him, but Lovie said to them, “How you gonna harass the alderman?”