The Significance of the Howard Morgan Victory To Our Movement
Frank Chapman, Field Organizer,
Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR)
No social movement for justice and equality can be sustained if it ignores the lessons of history, and history has for us both positive and negative lessons. I believe we must apply this principle in assessing the historical importance of the victory setting Howard Morgan free.
First of all let us sum up the history of the case. On the morning of February 21, 2005 Howard Morgan was pulled over while on his way home for an alleged traffic violation. After identifying himself as a police officer, Mr. Morgan was forced from his vehicle and shot 28 times by four white police officers. Twenty-one of those shots were to the back of his body. You may be asking yourself the question: How can someone identify themselves as a police officer and be shot 28 times by police officers? Howard Morgan is African American and the four officers who tried to murder him were white. They saw an armed Black man and panicked, that seems to be the most plausible explanation. This is the only explanation, unless they were intentional assassins.
Racial profiling by police and killing African Americans represents an unmistakable pattern of violence in these United States of North America. If Howard Morgan would have died in the hail of bullets on that desolate, winter morning then all we would have is a statistic, another Black life extinguished by this racist system.
Howard Morgan lived and in so doing he became the living voice for justice for the thousands unjustly killed by the police, for brothers like (15 year old) Dakota Bright, who was killed on February 21, 2013, exactly eight years later. But the criminal justice system, as it is presently administered by police, prosecutors and judges, did not indict and prosecute the intended murderers of Howard Morgan. Instead they let the police weave a web of lies that made the victim the assailant. The first trial ended in an acquittal. Then in blatant violation of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlaws double jeopardy, a second trial based on the same lies was held and Morgan was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison. A mass campaign involving tens of thousands prevailed upon former Governor Quinn to look at the case, and having looked, the Governor opted for justice and commuted the sentence of Howard Morgan to time served, after slightly less than three years incarceration.
Our movement led by the Campaign to Free Howard Morgan and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression saw from the very beginning that we would have to build a mass protest movement to stop police crimes and to free Howard Morgan, and we did just that. However, it would be misleading not to recognize that the uprising of the youth and the urban working class in Ferguson, MO, and throughout the country created the moral and political climate that made Howard Morgan’s victory possible. This mass protest against police crimes has awakened millions here and around the world to injustices we have been organizing against for decades. The struggle to free Howard Morgan now moves to a broader arena: not only must Howard Morgan be granted a full and complete pardon with expungement, but ALL victims of police crimes – especially torture and perjury – must be granted executive clemency and released from prison immediately!
Lessons to be learned
The Ferguson rebellion and the emerging youth movement dating back to outrage over the murders of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant represent momentous events and a critical turning point in our movement. The Alliance witnessed these events by being there, so we were privileged to first hand information as to what was happening. We are able, therefore, to form a definite opinion as to the character and significance of this movement. We do not speak as chroniclers or with the detachment of pundits, but as participants and freedom fighters. We see in these uprisings an advancement in the struggle against police crimes and racist injustice. Groups like Black Youth Project 100, We Charge Genocide, and Black Lives Matter are quickly moving the mass protest from spontaneous rebellion to organized political struggle.
The greatest lesson we can draw from the Howard Morgan victory is that it is a concrete demonstration that through organized united struggles we can and do win. A corollary lesson is that mass struggle for justice is a political struggle, not just a legal one. It must be waged in the streets and through mass education, not only in court. This is very important since this victory came at a time when prosecutors refuse to indict police who murder on camera and when the Department of Justice is out and out refusing to hold police accountable when they commit crimes against African Americans and Latinos with impunity. The United Nations can see racist injustice in police crimes but our government can’t. Howard Morgan is a living testament to police crimes and still the Federal Government refuses to take action. So the people encouraged and led by former victims of police crimes like Howard Morgan must take action. And here in Chicago that action is to get an Ordinance enacted that will create an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC).
We have witnessed and been a part of this struggle for Howard Morgan’s freedom for a decade and for civilian control of the police for four decades; so we have been have learned from events and movements of which we have organized and been part, not conjecture. We must keep up with the pace of events, sum them up, and draw necessary conclusions for tomorrow’s battles.
The Howard Morgan victory offers us an unprecedented opportunity to further galvanize and organize the people in our oppressed communities so they can transition from being victims of racist repression to being combatants for justice and freedom. This summer will be a watershed moment in this transition, when we put twenty thousand feet in the streets on August 29, 2015 demanding that the City Council enact an elected CPAC. Howard Morgan will be there, and we look forward to you being there too.