National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression relaunch a success
Interview with Frank Chapman
Frank Chapman, a long-time leader in the Black liberation movement, talks about the November 22- 24 Chicago conference to refound the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. The interview was prepared for the print edition of Fight Back! which is now on hold due to the pandemic.
Fight Back!: In November, you helped organize the re-founding conference of the National Alliance in Chicago. What conditions are there in the country that led up to the conference?
Frank Chapman: Our call for the re-founding of the National Alliance was a direct response and a conscious intervention into a mass youth uprising that we can trace back to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Our young people became very agitated by how they were being ruthlessly and recklessly murdered by the system. The police said it was OK for Zimmerman to stalk and murder this teenager. That sparked a very powerful response and agitated into being organizations of young people such as Black Lives Matter, Dream Defenders, and Black Youth Project 100. This was the dawn of a new youth-led stage in the Black liberation movement.
Coming into the present, police repression has continued to grow and intensify, bringing tens of thousands of people in the streets... We had a new stirring in the Black community that had to be reckoned with, and from the point of view of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, had to be organized.
Fight Back!: How did you lay the basis for launching a national organization to oppose police crimes and fight for community control of the police?
Chapman: The Chicago Alliance was the branch of the National Alliance that refused to die, that continued to organize even though the national organization had withered and no longer existed. The reason for that are the special conditions that exist here in Chicago. In the words of Kim Foxx, our recently-elected states attorney, Chicago is the false-confession capital of the U.S. We would take that a step further, something new that was happening in the United States of North America with regard to Black people, Chicago became the capital of torture-acquired confessions: deliberate, militaristic type torture, mostly perpetrated against teenagers.
Those are the objective conditions that the Alliance had to face and struggle with, that would not permit us to fold up our tents and go home. I will always say this: thanks to Josephine Wyatt, Clarice Durham, and Ted Pearson – they kept this fire burning. When I first came to Chicago ten years ago to help the Chicago Alliance organize a campaign against police crimes, Josephine said to me, “How did we let this happen?” She held our movement responsible for the level of mass incarceration, and for the torture cases in Chicago.
So it became our duty to organize a massive campaign for community control of the police. We started that campaign in 2012, one month after the murder of Rekia Boyd, a 21-year-old Black woman murdered by a police officer, for making too much noise in the park.
By consistently working in the community – tabling, street canvassing, door to door campaigning for an all elected, all civilian police accountability council, CPAC – we built to 60,000 supporters in a seven-year period.
We raised the slogan, “Community Control of the Police,” and activists in other cities came to the conference because they saw in Chicago it wasn’t just a slogan, but backed up by a program, and there was nothing else like it in the country.
Black and Brown people understand that the slogan means we have a democratic right as a people to say who polices our communities and how they are policed. That right is being, and has been, trampled on historically. They felt the time to change this is now. The call to re-found the National Alliance could not fall on deaf ears, because the historical conditions were already there.
The national conference was held at the Chicago Teachers Union hall because the Alliance has always seen that the fight for democracy in the U.S. has to be the united struggle of two major components, and that is labor and Black liberation. In Chicago, we have proven that is not just a theory. When labor and the Black community unite in the struggle for community control, it is the foundation of an undefeatable coalition.
Fight Back!: What were the accomplishments of the conference?
Chapman: The accomplishments of the conference were beyond our expectations. We figured we would have over 500 participants, and that it would be concentrated in the Midwest, and in those areas of the country where Freedom Road had been engaged in mass struggles around police crimes, and those areas where the Alliance had some influence, like Saint Louis.
When we looked at who the registrants were, we saw that they were from 28 states, 101 different cities, and 255 different organizations. Then on the opening night of the conference, we saw 1200 people who came to the opening night of the conference. We saw mostly youth, and most of them were Black and Brown, but a significant number were also white working class, both students but also people involved in the organized labor movement.
We saw in the room that night the foundation of a united front: Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Palestinian and Arab, Filipino, working class, and the LGBTQ community. Based on my 50 years of experience, I have never seen the breadth and depth of what we had on November 22 – 24. That is the greatest indicator to us that we are at a significant crossroads in the development of our movement.
Fight Back!: Can you address the importance of the campaign for the release of political prisoners and the wrongfully convicted?
Chapman: We’ve always seen that the cutting edge of mass incarceration is the police. Before you see the judge, before you see the prosecutor, you see the police. This history of this is deep and overwhelming. When our movement was under attack in the 1960s, who was shooting down our movement, particularly the Black Panthers? Who was arresting people, framing them up, and trying to send them off to jail, just because they were demanding social change, and engaged in revolutionary struggle? It was the police at every level of government: local police, the FBI and the CIA.
The program they perpetrated against our movement was called COINTELPRO. From that experience there was created in this country an enormous body of political prisoners, mostly Black, but also Latino and indigenous people. We are left with that today because the U.S. government and local police still have a political vendetta against those people who participated in the Black liberation movement, Chicano, and Puerto Rican liberation movements, and the struggle of indigenous people for their sovereignty and liberation. These people are the longest-held political prisoners in world history.
We have to make our people aware of this and make the demand for this so loud and so clear until the walls of Jericho will come tumbling down. That’s why we have linked up with the Jericho movement.
In this struggle to free all political prisoners, let me just say that all of those tortured and wrongfully convicted are also political prisoners. They were tortured in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and in violation of international covenants in the United Nations. None of their torturers have been punished, and prisoners remain in jail 20 and 30 years later. It’s also time to get them out.
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