Welcome to Issue #12 of the Red Star Bulletin!
The aim of this bulletin is to bring Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members a regular round-up of important legislation, committee meetings, and other updates from City Hall, as well as analysis of what this means for our organizing as socialists.
Make no mistake: the City Council is not friendly terrain for us. We must first and foremost continue to build power in the places it derives from–our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and the streets. But we hope to give CDSA members information they need to assess the electoral project we’re embarking on, and to continue building it into a powerful vehicle for working-class politics in our city.
*If you want to receive future issues of the Red Star Bulletin, click here.
**Tomorrow, June 17, at 10 am, the City Council meets virtually. You can watch it here.
For years, Black-led abolitionist organizations have been calling to defund the police. Today, this call has emerged as the central demand of a broad-based Left and progressive movement taking to the streets, from Chicago to Palestine. As socialists, we understand that the function of policing is to manage “the symptoms of a system of exploitation” in the interests of the capitalist state. It is imperative that we support the call to defund and ultimately abolish the police.
Liberals and moderates have resisted these demands from the beginning and offered only superficial reforms that usually end up increasing police funding. But this wave of uprisings has forced cities across the country to take some initial steps toward divesting from policing. In Minneapolis, the site of the initial spark of the now-international anti-police uprising, a veto-proof majority of City Council members has vowed to disband a police department that “cannot be reformed.” This is the same place where youth led the burning of the third precinct police station, in a feat of reclamation and destruction of the tools of the carceral state.
In Portland, public schools canceled their $1.6 million contracts with the Portland Police Bureau for the use of school resource officers. In Los Angeles, after overseeing an onslaught of abhorrent brutality and repressive 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfews, Mayor Eric Garcetti promised, in the face of massive organized resistance, to reallocate $150 million from the police budget to “youth jobs, health initiatives, and ‘peace centers’ to heal trauma.” In New York, even Mayor Bill De Blasio pledged to cut the funding of the NYPD—though by what amount was left unclear.
Here in Chicago, where the $1.8 billion spent on policing each year accounts for 40 percent of the city’s general operating budget, the socialist City Council caucus is calling to defund the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and fully fund public programs to improve public safety by reducing inequality. However, Mayor Lightfoot and the City Council have yet to take any concrete steps addressing Chicagoans’ demands for justice. As the Chicago Tribune tweeted, “Chicago is now the largest city in the U.S. where leaders have not promised to cut funding for police in the wake of heated protests over George Floyd’s death.” Instead, Lightfoot has offered the same incremental reforms that have failed to stop police violence and have left the systemic violence of our societal structure untouched.
The alternatives to the liberal consensus in Chicago are clear. The same abolitionist organizations that have been central to organizing protests, jail support, and mutual aid efforts are also leading the charge on demands that will disempower the police. These organizations include the Chicago Alliance Against Racist And Political Repression (CAARPR), Chicago Community Bond Fund, Good Kids Mad City, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Assata’s Daughters, Chicago Freedom School, Brave Space Alliance, and Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100).
Black Lives Matter Chicago has proposed a list of ten demands to address specific forms and sites of police violence in the City of Chicago, both historically and in the present. The initial demand, “Close Homan Square,” calls on the CPD to end all “black site” operations, where an estimated 7,000 people have been tortured and “disappeared.” Other demands include the immediate implementation of Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC); the removal of CPD from Chicago Public Schools (CPS); transparency and accountability in responding to police violence; the end of youth incarceration; and, ultimately, the defunding of police forces in order to reinvest in community resources. This planned vision of a more equitable and citizen-supported city would reopen closed schools and mental health centers along with providing funding for crisis centers, drug treatment, and a jobs program.
The CPAC ordinance, advanced by CAARPR long before this spring’s protest movement, is another local demand to begin the process towards police abolition by placing police budgets and disciplinary boards under community control. A democratically elected council would have the power to hire and fire the police superintendent and determine CPD policy. Significantly, the council would gain final authority over police disciplinary measures and negotiations for the CPD union contract. These powers lie in stark contrast to Mayor Lightfoot’s preferred reform, the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, proposed by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA). This watered-down proposal would have minimal impact on police accountability and leaves a majority of appointing power in the hands of the mayor.
Finally, with the potential funds realized by defunding the police, we can address the lack of resources available for essential socioeconomic recovery demands put forth by the Right to Recovery coalition as a response to both COVID-19 and the city’s long-standing inequity. As the socialist alderpeople put it, “Chicago needs enormous public investment to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and when we sit down to hash out a budget this year, we will be faced with a choice: We can cut policing, or we can slash basically everything else.”
Defunding the massively bloated budget of the CPD would have an enormous impact on our ability to correct the extreme divestment in citywide resources such as public education, mental health facilities, and other essential social services. Funding these essential community institutions would have a far greater impact on the safety and security of Chicagoans than any investment in reforming the fundamentally repressive institution of policing.
As increasingly abolition-minded George Floyd protests against police brutality sweep through Chicago, the City of Chicago, the CPD, and Mayor Lightfoot herself are embracing authoritarian styles that have become characteristic of Lightfoot’s administration. These tactics have already resulted in nearly three thousand arrests for civil unrest and disorderly conduct.
It was not long after Lightfoot’s inauguration that her self-professed progressive bona fides were exposed as yet another string of lies. Instead of starting her mayoral career fighting for the working class and delivering on campaign promises, Lightfoot showed that she was more interested in playing power games.
One example of this was the sorely missed opportunity to support Ald. Jeanette Taylor’s (20) proposal to promote equitable growth surrounding the Obama Presidential Center. Instead, Lightfoot opted to introduce her own watered-down version months later. And who can forget how Lightfoot bungled the bargaining with the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 during the CPS contract battle? While school workers struck in solidarity for housing for homeless students, smaller class sizes, more support staff, immigrant rights, and much more, the mayor claimed there was no money for their demands; her aim was to cast doubt on their intentions. When the 11-day strike ended with many wins for our schools and communities, it revealed Lightfoot’s modus operandi: vindictiveness and gaslighting.
The mayor’s tenure started with a visit that would foreshadow what was in store for Chicagoans today. The new mayor visited the current Chicago cop academy in June 2019 and left with a renewed vigor to spend more than the original $95 million price tag on a new police academy in West Garfield Park. From there, the mayor introduced a meager police accountability amendment to the Chicago municipal code, signaling her campaign promise that she would be a tough police reformer was without substance.
Since Gov. Pritzker declared the stay-at-home order during the pandemic, Lightfoot has made every effort to consolidate power and ensure that she would be the sole decision-maker in Chicago. Her PR efforts enforcing social distancing have further criminalized Black communities on the South and West Sides. This put more police officers on the streets to brutalize Black Chicagoans while ignoring large gatherings in the Loop and North Side neighborhoods. The unannounced and devastating demolition of a coal plant in Little Village by a developer, Hilco, this March prompted Lightfoot to claim the city “would no longer operate on the honor system.” Yet less than two months later, amid the chaos of the protests and a respiratory disease pandemic, the demolition continued.
The city’s response to the ongoing protests spotlights an administration willing to sacrifice residents’ legal rights and personal safety. Lightfoot deliberately provided police with cover to inflict violence on protesters on May 30 when she cut off transportation getting out of downtown and enacted a citywide curfew mere minutes before it was to take effect. When the Chicago Freedom School provided refuge and nourishment to protesters, the city, in the guise of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, forced entry into the school, inspected the space, and issued a cease-and-desist order. To cap off the weekend of questionable decisions, the City decided to suspend its free meal distribution through CPS. The curfew has since been lifted, no doubt thanks to the numerous protests that occurred against it.
On June 2nd, the second-year mayor promised police reforms within 90 days. Some of the proposed reforms include:
- “Better and different training for officers which brings the community into the academy as teachers” so they can “understand the history of the people they are required to serve and protect.”
- Providing an officer wellness program that provides support to officers in crisis.
- Mandating crisis intervention and procedural justice training for all officers, including training on de-escalation.
- The establishment of a new recruit program on police-community relations that brings in views of the community.
One might ask why many of these policies did not already exist given the long documented history of police violence in Black communities. From a socialist perspective, these reforms do nothing to address the inherent problems of policing in and of itself. Any policy change centered around reform could not adequately address the use of excessive force, over-policing, and general disrespect for the public that is endemic to the CPD. All of the reeducation and support programs in the world cannot change the destructive relationship that exists between police and Black people. The carceral system must be dismantled. Lightfoot has indicated that she is not the person to do it.
As protests continue, Lightfoot continues to settle into her stance that police funding should increase in spite of the evidence that more funding does not result in safer communities. When she hosted the Poverty Summit this past February, Lightfoot outlined a strategy to alleviate the violence of poverty in Chicago through community investment. Key parts of this strategy included a $9.3 million expansion of mental health treatment and violence prevention—a measly sum relative to the problem. To make good on this plan, Lightfoot could follow the lead of cities like Minneapolis, Denver, and colleges across the country by ending the relationship between CPD and CPS. Cutting these ties would provide the city with funding for many of the programs she outlined in her strategy. However, Lightfoot refuses to do this. If the Fiscal Year 2021 budget sees increased or even sustained funding for CPD even as the city faces even larger deficit pressures than in 2020, the likely outcome is cutting social services across the board as we have seen before—cuts that disproportionately punish the poor and working class.
Overall, Lori Lightfoot’s governance has been a disaster for working people across the city. Her support within the populace is propped up by affluent white professionals who benefit from protecting the violent neoliberal order and a PR campaign portraying her as the stern leader guiding the city through this pandemic. Many Chicagoans are recognizing her lack of real leadership and demanding more. As the protests enter their fourth week, the mayor’s mandate is dissipating.
How long can it remain politically viable for Lori Lightfoot to ignore the demands of the protesters? According to a Pew Research survey, a majority of adults in the US are supportive of the protests, with 65 percent agreeing that longstanding concerns about the mistreatment of Black people in this country are a major cause of the demonstrations. More surprising for a once cop-loving nation, a majority of Americans surveyed also believe protesters were justified in burning down a police station in Minneapolis.
As outlined in the first item in this edition, while other cities have at least made token concessions since the protests erupted, Chicago has not budged. Recent polling by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition may give some insight as to why Mayor Lightfoot does not yet feel sufficient pressure to make any real changes. Reducing police funding or moving toward a system of real accountability for police officers would make an enemy of the CPD and the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents its officers. Lightfoot might fear a larger impact on her political future to make such a powerful enemy, so she is trying to wait out the protests without making or committing to substantive changes.
What we are seeing in Chicago may be similar to a phenomenon that played out during the Democratic presidential primary: a separation between what issues voters support and the politicians they support. In exit poll after exit poll, a majority of Democratic primary voters supported Medicare for All, yet the only candidate whose platform included Medicare for All did not win. There is a disconnect between Chicagoans’ support for the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement and continued support for Mayor Lightfoot. It is imperative the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America and other organizations figure out an effective strategy to expose this disconnect.
We can bring material change to Chicago. In the turbulence of this moment, people are discussing and actively backing ideas that, even weeks ago, would have seemed to be completely outside the realm of political possibility. Reimagining community safety and beginning the long process of dismantling capitalist white supremacy have never seemed so near at hand. People understand what these protests are about, support them, and desire change. But we must find a way to draw clear lines for people. This will be accomplished in part by showing which politicians and organizations are in support of imperative societal reconstruction and which people and groups purposefully stand in the way. We must effectively communicate these arrangements to people so that we can organize, mobilize, and bring about meaningful change in our city.
The Red Star Bulletin was conceived by Ramsin Canon and is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee. This issue was drafted by CDSA members. Special contributions were made by Derek Barthel, Brent Glass, Courtney Gray, Nick Hussong, Ethan Jantz, Charlotte Kissinger, Anna Kochakian, Abi Kunkler, Alan Maass, and Sveta Stoytcheva. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell and Jon Lyons. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email email@example.com.