Police Crimes and Lynching - Frank Chapman

Dec 31, 2014


Frank Chapman, Field Secretary
Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the epidemic of police crimes currently sweeping our nation bring to mind how lynching as a method of social control and a weapon of political reaction is still alive and still perpetrated in the name of law and order and maintaining racial oppression. Look at the white vigilante groups on the border threatening violence to Mexican children, and look at the wanton, senseless murder of African Americans and Latinos by the police in our cities and you can clearly see that lynching is the heart-beat of reactionary, racist politics in this land. We see racist attitudes everywhere from blatant racist attacks against President Obama to blaming African American and Latino families for inner city violence to vigilante murder of black children to the sidewalk murder of Eric Gardner by a gang of white police officers. Lynching is traditionally defined as the extra-judicial murder of someone by mob action.

Historically, in the South, lynching has always been the result of the actual or perceived loss of white privilege and is associated with the re-imposition of white supremacy after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. In the Northeast and West lynching was used against U.S. and foreign born workers (remember Joe Hill) to keep them from organizing unions for better pay and working conditions. The San Francisco Vigilance Movement often mounted mob violence against the Irish, Chinese and Mexican communities.

Also black and white civil rights workers were lynched in the South during the 1960s. According to the Tuskegee Institute 3,446 African Americans and 1,297 whites were lynched between 1882 and 1968. In the same period about 200 anti-lynch bills were introduced into Congress and only three passed in the House of Representatives. None passed in the Senate. June 13, 2005 the United States Senate apologized for its failure to enact an anti-lynching law. With a voice vote of 80 senators the U.S. Senate passed a resolution formally apologizing for its failure to pass an anti-lynch bill when it was most needed. The resolution expressed, in part, “…the deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching, the ancestors of whom were deprived of life, human dignity and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States.”

What has happened in the last nine years since this Senate Resolution of a formal apology? Police and vigilantes have continued to kill African Americans and Latinos with impunity and the federal government has not taken any consistent actions to stop this new style lynching by the police.  Since 9/11, 5000 people have been killed by the police (compare this with the 4,743 lynched between 1882 and 1968) and needless to say they have been disproportionately people of color.

Randall Kerrick, a Charlotte, N.C. police officer,  earned infamy in September, 2013 when he shot Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former Florida A&M football player, 10 times in the middle of the night. Ferrell had crashed his car in what police called “a pretty serious accident,” and he was reportedly seeking help while in distress. After a nearby homeowner called police, Ferrell staggered toward the officers who arrived on the scene. That’s when Kerrick shot the man. Again: 10 times.  January this year a grand jury refused to indict Kerrick for murder. Public outrage by the African American community forced the Attorney General of North Carolina to get a grand jury indictment for manslaughter.

But the situation with Eric Gardner,  the young man just killed by a gang of police in Staten Island in broad daylight,  the case cited above and the police killing of a 16 year child in Chicago over the July 4th weekend and the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri almost exactly The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression has launched a campaign for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) and I submit that this CPAC campaign is in reality the equivalent of an anti-lynch campaign. We say this because the police and vigilantes are operating under the color of state laws to do the same thing that lynch mobs did and often with the same racist fervor. In point of fact when George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin he (Zimmerman) was supported by a white racist mob organized by right wing extremists that raised nearly a million dollars for his defense fund. The same thing happened with the white cop, Daren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown. Immediately the organized, ultra-right wing extremists organized a defense fund and raised $400,000 for Wilson.

In the period January 1, 2009 to June 30, 2014 there have been 86 people killed by Chicago police officers acting under the color of law. They (the people killed) were among the more than 294 people shot by police officers. African Americans were 78.1 per cent of the shooting victims  and Latinos were 13.2 per cent, while 7.1 percent were white.

Police crimes of murder and torture have been made acceptable police practices in spite of the public outrage against them. The politicians and the fraternal order of police justify these lynch like tactics by criminalizing the entire African and Latino communities. All people of color are suspects.

If we are to avoid morphing into a fascist state then we must stop this present state of siege in our communities by fighting for community control of the police. Police repression is an integral part of racial oppression and that is why people of color can’t just call for the police to police the police or for federal intervention. The best intervention is the democratic intervention of the masses and that is why we must fight for a Civilian Police Accountability Council that will be elected by the residents of any given police district. This elected body would not be a police review board but a police control board.

Since the events of September 11, 2001 the U.S. criminal justice system has become a massive machine for arrest, detention and mass incarceration. “National security” and the fight against “terrorism” was the reasons given by the Bush Administration for empowering the criminal justice system to arrest non-citizens and circumvent the court system and the right to due process provided by the U.S. Constitution. History has already demonstrated that these assaults on our civil liberties have been primarily the burden of immigrant communities and people of color. In Chicago we have over 100 documented cases of torture by the Chicago Police Department. The victims are 99% African American and Latino and none of them were accused of terrorism. Of the more than two million people in jails and prisons a large percentage is people of color (mostly African American) and they are charged with the non-violent crime of drug dealing. Of course this takes place in communities hard hit by the current economic crisis and the government’s austerity budget cuts.

Let us now take a deeper look into solutions.

While the city, state and government must be held accountable for not addressing the underlying causes of violence in Chicago, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Mayor Rahm Emanuel cannot hold them accountable. There is a Stop The Violence Movement that mainly focuses on gangbanging violence and the need for policing. This movement ignores racial oppression and at best sees the police as a necessary evil so they end up calling for more police. Rev. Jackson (who is walking the tightrope on this issue) is calling for a reconstruction plan for Chicago  and Mayor Emanuel (who is clearly for more police) is calling for the creation of a partnership for peace. Rev. Jesse Jackson is calling for government action, chiding President Obama to ask congress for 2 or 3 billion dollars for economic and social reconstruction in the blighted areas of Chicago. The Mayor is saying that as a community we need to demand more of ourselves and give our youth alternatives to street life.

This is rhetoric coming from a Mayor whose policies of budget cuts have left the poor and the working class people even more desperate. Closing 50 schools and repeatedly enforcing mass austerity doesn’t address the problem but compounds it. Consequently, the suffering masses know that this is just talk. But since there is really no organized social protest movement demanding that he push youth programs that provide alternatives to the streets he can always fall short of a program of action and blame the victims

We get a different kind of rhetoric from Rev. Jackson. He actually speaks of our communities as zones of disaster characterized by massive unemployment, foreclosure on houses, vacant lots and fewer schools and he calls upon the President to lead the charge in attacking these problems.

What’s wrong with both of these approaches in my opinion is that neither one is about organizing the people to protest and demand the changes that will give our youth alternatives to the streets through education, recreation and jobs. We are asking the government to do something as opposed to protesting and demanding that they do something. Power concedes nothing without a struggle.

The violence in Chicago is appalling. But we also know that it is largely a consequence of the drug war which is a smoke screen for mass incarceration and police crimes. The violence takes place in the absence of justice in our communities. We believe it can be ended by a movement for justice which demands democratic community control of the police. Community control of the police will give the people the much needed organizing space to fight for social-economic justice and the abolition of institutionalized racism. The violence cannot be ended by more police or a “partnership for peace” that ignores the need for justice.

This brings me to the position that our organization takes on the question of violence. First of all, let us talk about the different kinds of violence. What makes news in Chicago and gets everybody on the platform is the violence perpetrated by gangbangers. Each time someone is killed by a gangbanger the tocsin is sounded for war but not so when the purveyor of violence is the police or the criminal justice system.

Gang violence and police violence take place in the larger context of the violence of poverty and institutionalized oppression. Cutting food stamps for children is violent. Forced closing of 50 schools did violence to thousands of children. Evictions are sometimes violent but they are nearly always carried out by the threat of violence. Without a shot being fired our communities look like they’ve been shell bombed. Without a shot being fired our infant mortality rate is up and trauma centers are being closed. These problems of violence are the direct result of deliberate government policies that reinforce social and economic conditions that impoverish the many and enrich the few.

The way to get rid of injustice is to organize and rally the people suffering from injustice. That is why we are presently engaged in a campaign to have the City Council enact legislation that will create an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council. Such an ordinance will not only empower the people to hold the police accountable; it will also give the people a firm voice in how their communities are policed.

Unlike the Mayor and his political cohorts we firmly believe that the organized might of the masses can and should force the system to change.

Police tyranny has cast a dark and sinister shadow over our lives for far too many years. Too many parents are burying their children, it’s time to fight back and win.