Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Commentary: For Black Chicagoans, the mayoral election is about community control of the police

By Destiny Spruill

District Councilor Elect Dion McGill, wearing the Rage Against The Machine shirt

By Destiny Spruill and Jacob Buckner

Chicago, IL – Two factors have made public safety a lynchpin issue in the upcoming mayoral election between Brandon Johnson, former teacher supported by the Chicago Teacher’s Union, and Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, backed by the Fraternal Order of the Police (FOP). First is the rise in the crime rate in the city in recent years. The second, and principal, reason is the law-and-order backlash that followed the historic protests of the George Floyd Rebellion.

Groups like the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) are fighting to make sure that the city’s supposed concern for public safety prioritizes police accountability for its Black, Latino, indigenous and working-class residents. These residents face the highest rates of incarceration and violent police raids and have been the most likely to face the full force of the police state.

You can’t discuss public safety without discussing the struggle for community control of the police – a struggle for democratic rights.

“This mayoral election is historic. It is the first time in four decades that we’ve had a truly progressive candidate for mayor – Brandon Johnson. For the first time in history, the people of Chicago have a real choice between the old reactionary, recycling of the status quo and taking a progressive road towards advancing the democratic right of the people,” says Frank Chapman, the executive director of the National Alliance Against Racist Political Repression (NAARPR).

The movement for community control of the police in Chicago began over 50 years ago. CAARPR played a leading role in the 1970s and starting 11 years ago has led it through its Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) campaign. They believe that electing Brandon Johnson is an important piece in the broader struggle for police accountability. Understanding the history of CAARPR’s CPAC movement is crucial in assessing the needs of Chicago’s most vulnerable populations. It is also crucial in evaluating how we can chart the way forward.

CAARPR and its struggle for community control of police in Chicago

By 1968, the first citywide attempt at community control was started by the Black Panther Party (BPP), which initiated a number of programs that demanded to transform the power structure of the police and its effect on the lives of Black Chicagoans. The Panthers believed that community control of the police was a political necessity for Black community members to decide for themselves how public safety would be implemented. Their demands were clear: violent police officers must be held accountable through community boards, the people must decide the funding of the Chicago Police Department (CPD), and the power of supervising and administering the police department must be transferred to the citizens of Chicago. The National Alliance Against Racist Political Repression (NAARPR) took up these demands and created a model to bring these demands to legislation.

Starting in 2012, CAARPR, the Chicago branch of NAARPR, provided a model based on the principle set forth by the Panthers, and on legislation that had been developed by the National Alliance in the 1970s. Decades later, the need for this movement continued as racist policing in Chicago increased as a result of the heightened power of the CPD. In 2012, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was murdered by an off-duty police detective named Dante Servin. Following community protests, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression began a ten-year process of building a movement to pass an ordinance that would create community-controlled police boards in all 22 Chicago police districts. This movement became known as the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) campaign.

CAARPR spent the next years in working-class neighborhoods most affected by police violence and spoke to survivors and community members about their public safety needs. These efforts continued from the murder of Laquan McDonald in 2014 to the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020. When George Floyd was murdered, the National Alliance Against Racist Political Repression called for a national day of protest on May 30. In Chicago, 20,000 marched or car caravanned into the Chicago Loop. In the following weeks, over 100,000 marched in Chicago. Every protest called for “CPAC now!”

The campaign collected over 60,000 signatures with an average of 1000 signatures in 38 wards. Their efforts proved that victory is only possible with the leadership and experience of the community. This mass movement created the conditions for passing legislation.

By 2021, CAARPR had the support of 19 of the 50 city council members. A competing police accountability legislation, the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), had the support of 26 of the 50 city council members. Council members of the Socialist Caucus of Chicago told GAPA that they would not cast a vote to support their legislation unless they came to an agreement with the CPAC legislation proposed by CAARPR. After then-mayor Lori Lightfoot refused GAPA’s demand to include control of police policy in their legislation, negotiations between CAARPR and GAPA began, and a compromise was reached two months later.

The Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance was passed in the city council and officially created two bodies for police accountability: the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) and the police district councils, for which there were elections in February. These bodies have the following powers: Directly investigating crimes of police violence; determining Chicago Police Department policy; hiring and firing the Chief Administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA); holding hearings about police superintendents; and recommending preventative, proactive, community-based and evidence-based solutions to violence.

These District Councils and the CCPSA go beyond stopping vicious and racist police officers, they hold a model for community members directly affected by racist police violence to see justice and build a regenerative model to change public safety.

Many of the candidates for these boards had never run for public office – they are motivated by their own experiences with police violence. Cynthia McFadden, for example, ran for the board because she was inspired by her father who fled the South due to extreme violence only to be murdered by Chicago police the day of his arrival. Coston Plummer was motivated by his older brother who was forced by Chicago police to falsely confess to a murder when he was just 15 years old. These candidates believe that ECPS represents the will of communities impacted by police violence to finally experience justice.

On February 28, 2023, for the first time in history, residents of Chicago had the opportunity to vote for these boards – resulting in 39 of 66 district councilors being elected from the movement for police accountability. CAARPR, alongside their partners in their community, expanded this grassroots campaign and made it possible to succeed.

From CPAC to ECPS to Brandon Johnson

“The terms of this election were set by the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Across the U.S., 26 million people called for justice – including Brandon Johnson. Brandon Johnson has received the support of the Chicago Alliance because he alone included police accountability and working with ECPS in his platform and campaign. Paul Vallas received support from the FOP to maintain injustice. On February 28, the Black community voted against the FOP and for justice through democratic control of the police in the district council elections,” says Joe Iosbaker, cochair of the Labor Committee of CAARPR.

During a mayoral forum on public safety at the UIC Forum on March 14, Paul Vallas put forth his vision of police accountability by saying, “Community policing fundamentally means, you have beat officers on every beat. So every single beat is covered by a patrol car, manned with officers. Officers know the community, and are known by name and by badge number, by the community.” Vallas has seized on rising concerns for public safety – which have steadily grown as the city of Chicago experiences more violence and believes the only way forward is to increase police presence and grant them more control over the city. Chicago’s FOP, an organization that is nationally known for its hostility towards Black and brown people, threw its support behind Paul Vallas. He welcomed its endorsement and thanked “Chicago’s finest, men and women of the FOP who sacrifice their lives to make our city safer. Reducing crime and making Chicago safer are my top priorities.”

Brandon Johnson has built his public safety platform with the intention of addressing the “root causes of violence and poverty.” Johnson’s campaign for Chicago mayor is not only about the use of community control boards, but about creating an overall model of safety which positions the needs of the community at its center. Johnson argues that public safety is not only about stopping police violence but about investing in generative initiatives such as mental health care and housing.

Johnson believes these measures will prevent systemic violence from attacking Chicago communities. One of his initiatives involves getting rid of the racist “Gang Database,” which currently “labels more than 280,000 people – 95% people of color as gang members without requiring evidence of gang affiliation or informing them of their listing.” The Gang Database has been used to profile and surveil Black neighborhoods, resulting in heightened Black and Latino arrests. Johnson also supports the Anjanette Young Ordinance, which will stop no-knock warrants. He believes in collaborating with the democratically elected District Councils to manage police accountability and decide the Chicago Police Department's policy.

Each of Johnson's initiatives interconnects with the overall needs of the community, including mental health. Within mental health initiatives, Johnston aims to Launch Crisis Response Teams with non-police personnel, reopen all 14 mental health centers, and expand the 988 mental health crisis hotline to 24 hours.

The fight for Brandon Johnson is the fight for justice for the Black and Latino community In Chicago

The mayoral election between Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas will decide if the city continues the struggle for a public safety plan that includes Black and Latino Chicagoans and its working-class neighborhoods. The grassroots work of the last ten years – the struggle for democratic control of the police – could be upheld through Brandon Johnson’s leadership. For ten years, Chicagoans have fought for police accountability, affirmative mental health treatment, and housing for all community members. Many believe Brandon Johnson’s candidacy represents the work that Black Chicagoans have put toward a movement to see their own collective needs met against systemic violence.

Throughout the ten-year CPAC campaign, CAARPR created a grassroots movement that won a historic ordinance to hold the police accountable. CAARPR responds to the calls for public safety this way: “Black and brown communities are over-policed and under-protected. There’s a reason that 70% of violent crimes in our neighborhoods go unsolved. No one trusts the police. And why would they? After generations of police crimes, like the reign of torturer Jon Burge!” In the words of Frank Chapman, “We want to hold the police accountable for what they do, and what they don’t do.”

CAARPR’s current task is to uphold the advances made by the district council elections through the election of Brandon Johnson, but they will carry forth the mission toward real police accountability, in partnership with the local community, well beyond this mayoral election. We will continue to look to them as leaders in our struggle against state-sanctioned violence.

#ChicagoIL #InJusticeSystem #OppressedNationalities #US #PeoplesStruggles #AfricanAmerican #PoliceBrutality #RacismInTheCriminalJusticeSystem #Antiracism #PoliticalRepression #Elections #ChicagoAllianceAgainstRacistAndPoliticalRepression #CommunityControlOfThePolice #BrandonJohnson