To Transform Policing, We Need Community Control

Source: In These Times

Amer­i­can cities are at a cross­roads. We can con­tin­ue to live under the bru­tal threat of police vio­lence, or we can take back our com­mu­ni­ties. To break the chains of abuse, we need com­mu­ni­ty con­trol of the police: the pow­er to deter­mine what polic­ing looks like in our neigh­bor­hoods — who does the polic­ing and how.

To break the chains of abuse, we need community control of the police: the power to determine what policing looks like in our neighborhoods—who does the policing and how.

Specif­i­cal­ly, com­mu­ni­ty con­trol means a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed civil­ian coun­cil that would give res­i­dents final author­i­ty on police poli­cies and bud­gets, dis­ci­pli­nary actions and legal recourse, along with hir­ing and fir­ing pow­er over all police, includ­ing the super­in­ten­dent. Such a coun­cil would be able to inter­vene imme­di­ate­ly to reduce many police abus­es. It would also serve as a fun­da­men­tal first step toward longer-term trans­for­ma­tion of law enforce­ment. It would empow­er the peo­ple who suf­fer the most under police impuni­ty — Black, Lat­inx, Indige­nous and oth­er oppressed com­mu­ni­ties. And now is the time to fight for it.

We are in the midst of a his­toric upris­ing. Mil­lions around the nation have poured into the streets since late May, spurred to action by the hor­ren­dous mur­ders of George Floyd, Bre­on­na Tay­lor and Ahmaud Arbery. The move­ment has explod­ed in Chica­go, where I live, with protests and car car­a­vans led by, among oth­ers, Black Lives Mat­ter Chica­go and the Chica­go Alliance Against Racist and Polit­i­cal Repres­sion (which I co-chair), draw­ing thou­sands and shut­ting down major roads and down­town Chica­go. Among their demands, these orga­ni­za­tions are push­ing for an all-elect­ed Civil­ian Police Account­abil­i­ty Coun­cil (CPAC).

The move­ment is thriv­ing, with more than 60,000 peti­tion sign­ers. Nine­teen alder­men — sev­er­al of whom unseat­ed anti-CPAC incum­bents in 2019 — sup­port CPAC leg­is­la­tion; 26 are need­ed for a sim­ple major­i­ty on the Chica­go City Coun­cil. Chica­go isn’t alone: Cities like Min­neapo­lis, Jack­sonville, Fla., and Dal­las are also demand­ing com­mu­ni­ty con­trol of police. Many Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties are cry­ing for jus­tice after liv­ing under bru­tal police occu­pa­tion. We see our strug­gles reflect­ed in the move­ment that has esca­lat­ed in Minneapolis.

Chica­go, like many U.S. cities, has nev­er had a police account­abil­i­ty struc­ture that deliv­ers jus­tice to the sur­vivors of police crimes. Under our cur­rent sys­tem, the police offi­cers who have at least 10 com­plaints against them are respon­si­ble for 64 per­cent of all com­plaints against the police. Even with a proven record of abuse, police offi­cers are allowed to patrol the same com­mu­ni­ties they’ve harmed. Jason Van Dyke, the Chica­go police offi­cer who shot 17-year old Laquan McDon­ald 16 times in 2014, held 20 cit­i­zen com­plaints at the time of the mur­der, none of which result­ed in sig­nif­i­cant dis­ci­pline. This same ​blue wall of silence” allowed Com­man­der Jon Burge and his rogue Mid­night Crew to tor­ture more than 100 pre­dom­i­nant­ly Black men over near­ly two decades until a whistle­blow­er final­ly came for­ward. Com­mu­ni­ty con­trol boards would have the pow­er to inves­ti­gate all alle­ga­tions of tor­ture and mis­con­duct and act as the final author­i­ty on all dis­ci­pli­nary actions against police offi­cers, from ter­mi­na­tion to seek­ing crim­i­nal indict­ments. Remov­ing these cops from the force would mark a tan­gi­ble improve­ment in the lives of Black and brown peo­ple in the city.

Com­mu­ni­ty con­trol is about exer­cis­ing our fun­da­men­tal demo­c­ra­t­ic right not just to have a seat at the table, but to put the police under our over­sight. Every action, pol­i­cy and bud­get must be sub­ject to the will of the peo­ple, allow­ing for every­thing from changes to police depart­ment prac­tices to reduc­tions in police spend­ing. On their own, cor­rupt police depart­ments and com­plic­it city coun­cils are unlike­ly to deliv­er on move­ment demands to defund, demil­i­ta­rize or abol­ish police, but mem­bers of com­mu­ni­ty con­trol coun­cils would be account­able to the com­mu­ni­ties who elect them. Many cam­paigns for com­mu­ni­ty con­trol specif­i­cal­ly exclude cur­rent and for­mer law enforce­ment offi­cials (and their direct fam­i­ly mem­bers) from run­ning for a spot on the coun­cil. In Chica­go, CPAC mem­bers would be required to be res­i­dents of the dis­trict they rep­re­sent and have two years of expe­ri­ence work­ing toward the advance­ment of civ­il rights and social jus­tice. These guide­lines would give us the pow­er to car­ry out demands with­out the risk of the coun­cil being co-opt­ed by forces that serve the police.

Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties nation­wide are deter­mined to change the future of polic­ing, end­ing geno­ci­dal and racist prac­tices and tear­ing down oppres­sive sys­tems. To make these changes a real­i­ty, we first need com­mu­ni­ty control.

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