The fight is on for community control of Chicago police

Interview with Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa and community leader Frank Chapman

By staff |
March 19, 2018
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Frank Chapman with Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa.
Frank Chapman with Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Fight Back! interviewed Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa and Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression about the struggle for an elected, civilian police accountability council (CPAC). The legislation to create this ordinance was sponsored by Alderman Rosa and eight other members of the Chicago City Council.

Fight Back!: I want to ask you to respond to the police accountability legislation put forward this week in the Chicago City Council. Aldermen Osterman and Sawyer wouldn’t sign on to CPAC, but now they’re sponsoring a bill for a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. Why do you think that is?

Carlos Ramirez Rosa: In the wake of the murder of Laquan McDonald, there was a mass outcry from regular folks demanding true police accountability. It exposed once again the manner in which the city had failed to hold the police accountable for killing young Black and brown people. That massive outcry was represented in the movement for CPAC. People took to the streets. There were massive pickets outside businesses along Michigan Avenue where people said, “We can’t have business as usual as long as we’re being murdered by the police.”

That struggle, as well as my conversations with those directly impacted by police violence, whether victims of torture at the hands of Burge, [Detective Jon Burge led a torture ring within the Chicago Police Department in the 1980s and 1990s] or those who have lost a loved one as a result of police violence, led me to introduce CPAC. It’s an ordinance that is informed directly by those impacted by police violence, and that really represents the demand from the community that they have real democratic control over those public employees that are meant to serve and protect the people.

That ordinance fundamentally transforms the relationship between the people and the police. For that reason, it represents a threat to the status quo where the police really serve the interests of the rich and moneyed interests in City Hall. They act to gentrify neighborhoods; they act to imprison and criminalize poor and working people that are struggling to get by.

Despite the mayor and those in power in the city not supporting such a fundamental transformation of policing in the city of Chicago, they couldn’t ignore the demands that were coming from the tens of thousands of people that were involved in this campaign. We saw those demands voiced in the public meetings that were required to be held by the city as a result of the Department of Justice looking into what was occurring with policing in Chicago. At every single one of those hearings, it was clear that the community wanted CPAC. They wanted democratic control of the police.

Because of that consistent demand, the mayor could not move forward with his paltry police reforms without speaking to the need for community control. That developed into this grassroots alliance of primarily non-profit organizations that engage in community organizing coming together, and for the past two years working on their own version of community control of the police. That proposal takes many of the elements that we see in CPAC but attempts to jury rig them around the existing failed bureaucracy. In this way we know that this proposal will fail to address the root causes of the problem, because you can’t fix a burning house.

That is why I remain committed to CPAC. This is an attempt to engage in a reform that some individuals feel is more tenable and achievable in the short term. But we know that this short-term solution will not fix or address the problems of racist policing in the city of Chicago.

Fight Back!: Frank, do you want to respond to anything that Alderman Rosa had to say?

Frank Chapman: My response if we were in church would be to say, “Amen.” The only emphasis I would put in, we have built a mass movement around the question of police accountability, with all the elements that the aldermen put out. We currently have more than 50,000 supporters in this city. Every ward has CPAC supporters. 25 wards have an average of 1000 CPAC signatures. We are truly a grassroots movement. CPAC is a democratic demand coming from the people. We don’t want a bureaucratic change: we want a democratic solution to this problem.

Rosa: I would add that this proposal which was introduced by Alderman Sawyer and Alderman Osterman would not exist but for the struggle for CPAC. That’s something we need to uplift and recognize, to show that despite the fact that we have not yet won CPAC under this existing mayor and his rubber stamp council, they’ve been unable to totally ignore our demand that is coming forth from the community.

Fight Back!: At the Black Friday protest called by the Alliance, you announced that you planned to bring CPAC up for a vote of the whole city council this year. What are your plans around that?

Rosa: It’s no secret that the mayor of the city of Chicago totally controls the whole city council. Nothing passes the city council, nothing has the ability to even move through committee without the consent of the mayor’s office. During my time as an alderman, I have seen staff from the mayor’s office hand to committee chairs a script that they are to read during the committee meeting. That is something that clearly demonstrates the manner in which the mayor orchestrates everything. He appoints the committee chairs, and then tells them what can be brought up to a vote in committee, and ultimately to the council floor at any given time.

As a result of that, given that the mayor is not even willing to support even this very much watered own bureaucratic solution - let alone our fundamental, transformative piece of legislation - we have seen CPAC languish in committee for over a year. We have also seen the website for CPAC has also been blocked at city hall. Individuals that work at city hall don’t even have the ability to look up information about CPAC; it is blacklisted. You get a website that says, “This is political speech that is not allowed to be viewed at city hall.”

One of the legislative procedural tactics that we can use is when any item has sat in committee for more than 60 days, under rule 41 of the Chicago City Council, any single alderman with five-days-notice can put forward a call for a vote on the floor, to first discharge the item from committee, and to immediately consider that item. So, if in the coming months of this spring, we do not see that this item is heard in the committee, under rule 41 we will motion before the entire city council that the item be heard immediately and that the item be passed. Then we will know which aldermen are on the side of the people, and which aldermen are voting to protect the racist institution of policing, to protect the mayor and his rich friends’ interests with their votes.

Fight Back!: Frank, how will this parliamentary procedure – a vote of the whole city council - impact the struggle for CPAC?

Chapman: I think it will have a tremendous impact, because it will further strengthen the realization among our followers and people in the community that it’s a real piece of legislation that we’re fighting for and the real possibilities of victory. Because exposing the hand of the aldermen, particularly in the highly impacted areas of the South Side and the West Side, is very key, very important to us having a victory. Even though the city council is controlled by the mayor, even though the majority of the present city council are the mayor’s lackeys, we will clearly put before the people what our task is: to get rid of this present situation. Our task is to change the political configuration within the city council, if necessary, in order to get CPAC passed. Once people see that as their task, then this becomes not only a fundamental transformative thing in terms of our relationship with the police, it becomes a fundamentally transformative thing in terms of how this city is run, because we will be challenging the powers that be. We will be enlisting not only the 50,000 people we’re talking about, we’ll be enlisting the people of the city of Chicago to join us in this struggle, to make this change. What we have in Chicago presently, as the alderman just pointed out, is a dictatorship. We believe in democratic struggles. We believe in the people’s ability to change that.

Fight Back!: Some in the media are making Rahm out to be a role model for fighting Trump, and that he’s been rehabilitated, surviving the crisis that engulfed his administration after the cover-up of the video of the murder of Laquan McDonald. What grade would you give Rahm in the struggle against racism?

Rosa: Every action that we’ve seen Emanuel take during his time as a public official, as an advisor to President Clinton, as chief of staff to President Obama, or now as mayor of Chicago, we have seen that he consistently puts the interests of the wealthy and of big corporations before the public and the working people of this country. We saw that when he advised President Clinton to engage in and claim record deportations; we saw that when he advised President Obama not to save union jobs in Detroit that were facing the collapse of the American automobile industry; or when he advised President Obama not to pursue the Employee Free Choice Act and strengthen the ability of workers to form unions in the U.S.; and we’ve seen that in the sweetheart deals and contracts that he’s given to those that seek to privatize city services, and in exchange have given him large campaign contributions while at the same time we see a degradation of our services as he turns these over to private corporations.

So, we know that Emanuel sees his role as serving the rich and powerful, and he spends more time meeting with those that finance his campaign and give him campaign contributions in the hundreds of thousands of dollars than he does seeking to address the needs of working people in impoverished communities throughout the city of Chicago. Rahm understands, as a Democratic politician, he has to pay lip service to standing up to Donald Trump. But his claim to be a champion for sanctuary cities and undocumented immigrants does not stand up to the light of day when you speak to actual undocumented immigrants that have been placed into deportation proceedings as a result of the mayor’s administration and their policing policies. There was actually a lawsuit that was filed that showed that undocumented immigrants were being turned over to ICE as a result of being on the police Gang Database, which is something that the mayor has refused to address.

Instead, what the mayor has done is he’s spent money on a PR campaign where he puts his image and the image of his supporters on banners proclaiming that this city is welcome to all immigrants. While it’s necessary to match the anti-immigrant of President Trump with our own pro and welcoming rhetoric, that rhetoric in and of itself is not enough. You need to actually pursue policies that would strengthen Chicago’s resistance to ICE. He continues to collude with ICE. We also have to understand that the deportation regime that Trump now has at his disposal was masterminded and supported by Emanuel during his time in the White House under Clinton and Obama.

Fight Back!: Rahm rehabilitated?

Chapman: It depends who you ask. Ask the families whose sons and daughters have been murdered by the police, who’ve heard him apologize and shed crocodile tears over torture victims of the Chicago Police Department, but haven’t seen any action coming from his office as a result of this.

And then look at our communities. Look at the schools still being closed. We’re fighting right now in Englewood for schools to not be closed. If you look at his deeds, which is what the community has to live with, there’s no rehabilitation. We’re talking about the same old insensitive, cruel, inhuman policies being perpetrated by this mayor against the people.

Fight Back!: What needs to happen in the struggle against Trump in the coming year?

Chapman: First of all, we need to break through the political delirium which says that we only have two choices in this country: Democrats or Republicans. That’s not the way forward. We need to build a people’s movement that gets us past that by emphasizing the results that we want. We want an end to deportations, we want an end to racism and racist policies, we want an end to union busting. We’re not talking about an agenda that simply says, “Dump Trump.” We want an agenda with concrete, democratic demands for the people. We need to create the political vehicles that will carry forth that agenda, and look beyond the Democrats and Republicans.

Sometimes the only difference between a Democrat and a Republican is whether you want to be hung from a low tree or a high tree. People are tired of this.

Fight Back!: Will the movement against Trump be an anti-racist movement?

Rosa: One of the things that I think is a great irony about Donald Trump and Rahm Emanuel’s public feud is that under Rahm, Chicago exemplifies the law and order policing that Trump wants across the U.S. Trump ran and said, “I’m going to be the law and order president,” while Emanuel is the law and order mayor. Chicago spends nearly 40% of its budget on policing. We have more police officers per capita than any other major American city. Police unions generally advocate for about two police officers per 1000 residents. We see numbers like that in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. In Chicago, we have over four police officers per 1000 residents, and the mayor says he is going to hire even more police officers. We have not seen those strategies improve public safety in the city of Chicago. As a matter of fact, we’ve seen our communities become less safe as we’ve had to witness the horrific acts of police violence in our community.