A BRIEF LOOK BACK AT HOW OUR MOVEMENT TO STOP POLICE CRIMES GOT STARTED
April 2012 -January 2014
By Frank Chapman, Educational Director and Field Organizer, Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression
In the last 20 months our peoples’ movement to stop police crimes and torture has proven at least one thing very clearly and that is that the present system of policing is not impervious to change and that police crimes and torture can be stopped when the people rise up in organized protest and demand justice. We have had some significant victories in the Rekia Boyd case and in several of the torture cases.
Our persistence has helped to stimulate a more open public debate on the question of community control of the police. Our movement has been recognized and is being assessed by the powers that be. That is what the Mayor’s apology in the torture cases was all about; he apologizes to the torture victims and admits that the police who perpetrated these crimes were morally and legally wrong. But the Mayor did not set forth a program of action that would bring about any systemic change. They know their system is plagued with racism, corruption and injustice and so do we. The difference is we want change and they don’t; we want justice and they are hell bent on maintaining this system of injustice.
Hopefully these brief notes will help us as organizers to see where we’ve been in order to get a better handle on where we are going. We can be effective organizers when we realize that to dare to struggle is to dare to win.
The Organizing Committee To Stop Police Crimes was born as an idea on April 19, 2012 when the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) met with Lew Myers at Kennedy-King College to discuss the possibility of having a community meeting on police crimes and torture. Coming out of this discussion was an agreement with Brother Myers and the Kennedy-King Criminal Justice Project to co-sponsor a Peoples’ Hearing on Police Crimes with the CAARPR at Kennedy-King College.
Later, on April 23, 2012 we convened our first meeting, and those present were Khalid Abdullah, Jeff Baker, Lamont Burnett, Jesse Caver, Mark Clements, Randy Ryder and Ted Pearson. I, as the Field Organizer for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, presented to the committee a plan of work for organizing a Peoples Hearing on Police Crimes to be held at Kennedy-King College on June 9, 2012.
After some detail discussion the various elements of the proposed plan were agreed upon and a plan of work and a call to action that could unite us all around the issue of police crimes in order to move forward. Thereafter, we sent out a Call to the affected communities, and known victims of police crimes and torture.
The Call’s message was as follows:
“ We, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression call upon all our sisters and brothers, representing all strands of the people’s movements, to join us in initiating a call for A Peoples Hearing Against Police Crimes (i.e., brutality, murder, torture, complicity in vigilantism and racial profiling). The purpose of this hearing will be to provide a public forum where the victims of police crimes and the various organizations fighting against police brutality and torture can present their cases and demands for justice…
“ The facts and evidence are clear; the police throughout our country are out of control. Most striking is their use of use brute force when dealing with people of color and progressive movements for social change. This is precisely what we mean by racist and political repression…”
We agreed to reach out to the families of police crimes victims who had been murdered as well as surviving victims of police crimes and torture. We also wanted to mobilize community-based organizations (CBOS), churches, civil and human rights groups, grass roots leaders and politicians. We did in fact mobilize 23 victims, survivors and their families and several groups and leaders in the community. Those organizations that endorsed us coming out the gate were, the New Jericho Movement, the Committee for A Better Chicago, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Arab-American Action Network, African American Police Association, the South Side NAACP and the Kennedy-King Criminal Justice Project in Englewood.
We agreed to reach out to all strands of the movement, to human rights and civil rights organizations, community based organizations, political organizations and leaders. Our Organizing Committee to Stop Police Crimes expanded and was immediately joined by Cherese Williams, Mike Elliot, Allisah Love, Larry Redmond, Lajuana Lampkins, Larry Kennon and Bertha Escamilla. And in the following weeks of May and June, 2012 we did reach out and called for an organizing meeting with the victims, survivors and their families for June 29, 2012 and with various organizations, survivors and victims of police crimes and torture to be held at Kennedy-King College on July 10, 2012.
Both of these meetings were well attended (nine families were present at the June 29 meeting and about fifty people were present at the July 10 meeting) and helped to lay the foundation for our first successful Peoples Hearing on Police Crimes.
We called upon the victims and survivors of police crimes as well as community organizations to help us in mobilizing for this hearing. We were also careful to point out that we were not mobilizing for a single event, but to kick off a movement, a political campaign for civilian control of the police.
Shortly after the July 10 meeting we were informed by the President of Kennedy-King College that pursuant to a police complaint we could not have our Hearing on their campus. In two weeks we had to find an alternative meeting place and get the word out to our people and the community. Brother Lew Myers helped us secure space at Teamwork Englewood, community based organization in Englewood.
In the next two weeks we distributed thousands of flyers and knocked on doors and made phone calls to several hundred people. Some of the key organizations that helped us in getting the word out were the South Side NAACP, the Committee for a Better Chicago, United Auto Workers Local 550, the Campaign Against the New Jim Crow, Occupy the South Side, the Arab-American Action Network and the Criminal Justice Project in Englewood. We canvassed the streets of Englewood getting people to take pluggers and sign petitions.
We held our first Peoples Hearing to Stop Police Crimes at Teamwork Englewood on July 21, 2012 and about one hundred and fifty people came out. The people were wall to wall because the room could only accommodate about a hundred people. Nonetheless it was a very successful meeting and it really gave people hope that we could build a movement to stop police crimes through a campaign to politically empower the people to hold the police accountable for the crimes they commit. About 23 people testified about how they, their family members or their particular organization had been police crimes victims. This, in broad strokes, is how our movement began over 20 months ago and how in the process it became a movement fighting for justice for the victims and survivors of police crimes and torture.
Many of the people we reached out to and who reached out to us joined our movement. Kamm Howard, Crista Noel, Marissa Brown, Jonathan Winbush, Sara Ortiz, Annabelle Perez, Emma Lozano, Alejandro Barba, Sarah Wild, Emmett Farmer, Percy Coleman, Valerie Love, Armanda Shackleford, and Jeanette Plummer,Kevin Tyson and Darryl Brown just to name a few. And with this new momentum we started to organize for a second peoples hearing and to develop a sub-committee, coordinated, by Kamm Howard and Khalid Abdullah, to carry our struggle to the United Nations.
After our first peoples hearing we could honestly contend that the people who are racially profiled, brutalized, tortured and killed by the police are no longer simply a flashing headline or a cold statistical figure; they now have a human face and voice and they do more than cry out in anguish and implore the powers that be to give them justice. These women and men, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers have ceased being victims and have become the fuel, the fire and the organizers of a growing mass movement to stop police crimes.
The same must be said for organizations and groups who are victims of police repression as a result of their struggles for progressive social change such as the NATO 5, the Committee to Stop FBI repression, the Arab-American Action Network, the New Jericho Movement, the Occupy Movement and others who participated in the first Peoples Hearing…and who continue to fight with us to stop police crimes. They too are the fuel and fire of our movement.
Two times since the first Peoples Hearing on Police Crimes we have confronted the problem of setting a date for action, then mustering forces and organizing participation in the action. We have done this because this is a continuous process we must engage in if we wish to build a movement. We started out with less than a hundred contacts in the communities affected by police crimes, now we have thousands and that number will grow if we continue to do mass work like we did over the summer when tabling in the community and rallying people to our cause in community activities such as the Bud Billiken Parade.
The first peoples hearing in July of last year, the second peoples hearing held at the University of Chicago in February of last year and the March on City Hall this past August 28 were not mere events or solitary moments of protests. No, on the contrary these were phases, stages or moments in building a movement with a clearly defined focus and political objective. Namely, to get legislation passed creating and empowering an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) that will empower the people to hold the police accountable for the crimes they commit.
We have demonstrated in every phase of our movement that we win the participation of the people when we go to the people and ask them for their involvement and support. As a result of this mass-approach-mobilizing we had 250 people at the second peoples hearing and 500 at the August 28 March. We have every reason to believe that if we continue to engage the masses we will collect a 100,000 signatures on our CPAC petitions by May 1, 2014.
We have been met with hard and hostile attitudes by the Cook County State’s Attorney and the Mayor, but not by the people and various strands of the peoples movement. Whereas last year we started out with 2 City Council members supporting our movement today we have six. We had about 200 endorsers of the August 28 March and among them was the following contingents from organized labor: the United Auto Workers Local 550, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the Retirees of the United Steel Workers Union. We also have friendly relations with the Chicago Teachers Union (some of their members are in our movement), and the Service Employees International Union.
Everybody who said they would join us didn’t. Congressman Danny Davis and Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia expressed support for the People’s Hearings. Four churches – United Methodist Church in Pilsen, Trinity United Church of Christ, St. Martins Episcopal, and the Church of the Living God – have participated. The NAACP and Rainbow PUSH Coalition are cautious supporters; yet the attitudes we encountered in our mass work among the people were militant and overwhelmingly supportive of CPAC. Our movement has established a presence in the community and has drawn into our ranks new people. We are developing a following.
The way we are continuing to build our movement through the various working groups should be informed by our organizing experience over the past twenty months. We now have a real sense of our potential and limitations. Coming to grips with our limitations with respect to time, people and resources requires a critical and objective assessment of our successes and failures. Any one of us can make this assessment by reviewing the minutes for the last twenty months because it is the most accurate record we have of what we proposed to do and what we did.
Our successes inspire us and raise our expectations but our mistakes teach the most valuable lessons by the pain and hardships they cause. We have been convinced not by clever arguments but by the hard-knocks of experience what it means to develop a full-scale campaign to stop police crimes and torture.
We are presently in a petition drive to get 100,000 signatures supporting CPAC as a City Council ordinance. This is important because we need to be taken serious and we need to take ourselves serious. The field operations and organization required to get 100,000 signatures is challenging yet possible. But most importantly it is a test of our commitment to build a truly mass movement to end the brutal and murderous police repression that exist in our communities.
We need to keep the attention of the people on cases like those of Howard Morgan and Flint Farmer, which open a window onto the world of police criminality. These cases dramatize the need for CPAC, and can agitate the people to support the petition drive for CPAC. We need to take these cases to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, demanding the criminal prosecution of police who have murdered African Americans and Latinos with impunity. We must vigorously follow through on our Human Rights Violation Complaint to the United Nations regarding the genocidal implications of police crimes. And we must never rest until all the torture victims have been exonerated, set free and justly compensated.
The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression formed the Organizing Committee to Stop Police Crimes to provide for the masses an organizing vehicle for effective systemic change. We are showing people how to fight back by fighting back, we lead by example not by declaration or decree. Our job as organizers is not only to set the course of action but to teach the masses how to steer the ship. Action, keeping people in motion, keeping the masses engaged in political action; this is how movements are built, this is how they grow.
Let’s go forward into the new year with the confidence that we can continue to build our movement as we mobilize and organize to get 100,000 signatures on our petitions for CPAC and politically educate the masses and ourselves in the process through workshops and teach-ins and other public forums. Let us be humble and open-minded as we venture into new territory and encounter a powerful enemy, determined to maintain the status quo at all cost. Let us pick our battles and battle grounds more carefully. And by all means let us dare to struggle and dare to win.