“CPAC from A to D:” How Chicago Can Win a Civilian Police Accountability Council Photo By: Marco Rosaire Rossi

“CPAC from A to D:” How Chicago Can Win a Civilian Police Accountability Council

Across the country, collective uprisings are building momentum for the conversation surrounding the defunding and abolition of the police. In Chicago, groups like the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression (CAARPR) and the Black Abolitionist Network (BAN) continue the fight for the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), pushing for community control of the CPD. Chicago DSA recently adopted #DefundCPD as a priority campaign for the organization, and is working with CAARPR and BAN.

At the July 16 webinar “CPAC from A to D: Abolition, Community Control, and Defunding the Police” Chicago DSA organizers were joined by panelists Frank Chapman of CAARPR and Chicago DSA co-chair Robin Peterson to discuss the intersection of these core components with the socialist movement. Why is the call for the defunding of the police a socialist issue, and what does abolition have to do with CPAC and Chicago DSA?

As socialists, we must consider defunding and abolition as central parts of our movement towards a better future. Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who first introduced the CPAC bill in 2016, put it this way at last month’s CPAC 101 panel: “I am a socialist, so I am an abolitionist.” The prison industrial complex is a violent tool of white supremacy and capitalism, and dismantling that system is fundamental to an antiracist socialist movement.

“In my view, socialists need to be fighting to defund the police, gain community control, and ban police and prisons. It’s not just about getting rid of police and prisons but also about creating a world where we don’t need those things,” Peterson said.

CAARPR, which formed in 1973 as part of the movement to free Angela Davis and all political prisoners, has been organizing for CPAC for the last seven years. The movement for community control of police follows in the tradition of the Black Panther Party, which got the issue on the ballot in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1971. The CPAC campaign, supported by a coalition of organizations, now has the support of 19 City Council co-sponsors, and organizers are not letting up on the pressure.

“We believe we can win this because the people are behind this. The way things become victorious is through the might of the people,” Chapman said.

So, how does #CPACNow fit into the larger conversations about police defunding and abolition? It’s important that all of these campaigns arose as demands from the movement against police violence, Chapman said. They are all part of the bigger picture.

“This is an expression of the fact that people, particularly Black and brown people, are sick and tired of the police repression, brutality, and terrorism that go on in their communities unchecked,” he said.

With some of those larger goals in mind, community control of the police takes a strong step in the right direction. It’s important to think of CPAC as the first of many necessary steps. The council would have final review over CPD policies, work on the budget, and investigate misconduct not investigated by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). In other words, through CPAC, we can make sure the police have accountability to the people.

“CPAC would let us regulate, defund, and demilitarize, but we need CPAC as a department of the people in order to do that,” Chapman said.

When asked whether we can trust Lightfoot and City Council to defund without CPAC, Peterson pointed to the mayor’s pro-cop track record. As CPD officers beat protesters in the streets, she praised their “restraint,” and she has repeatedly sided with violent officers while they escalate protests to violence. Under our current system, Lightfoot appoints the Chief Administrator of COPA, the Superintendent of Police, the police board, and negotiates contracts with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). None of these appointees are accountable to the people, and the Mayor keeps CPD happy.

“Anyone with her funders has an interest in keeping the police. They’re the reason we have the police: to protect their property,” Peterson said. Power comes from mass organizing, she added, and Chicago DSA has an important role to play in helping to apply pressure to elected officials and follow the lead of CAARPR and BAN to lend our support. The struggle must be sustained and continuous, Chapman emphasized. CPAC represents one piece of a much bigger picture, and it’s important to keep up the pressure on officials even after an accountability council is in place.

“When we organize the people to bring about systemic changes, we have to keep that organization going because the enemy—which is the system—is always positioning itself to take back any reform that it is forced to give up. They give a reform with a teaspoon and take it back with a shovel. If we got it through organized struggle of the people, then that’s how we keep it,” Chapman said.

“This rebellion that came in the wake of George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s murder and many others is still going on, and we don’t want it to die out. We know that rebellions don’t die out; they’re smashed or killed by people in power. The only defense against racist suppression is mass struggle,” Chapman said.

His last word of advice? “Don’t get lost in the sauce.”