Welcome to Issue #18 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.
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Reviewing the CPAC Hearing
At the Committee on Public Safety’s October 20th subject matter hearing, representatives from both CPAC (Civilian Police Accountability Council) and GAPA (Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability) presented amended proposals and fielded questions from alderpersons. No vote was taken, and any further action will likely be postponed for at least another month when Mayor Lori Lightfoot is due to present another, third option.
Lightfoot campaigned on civilian oversight of the police. Yet, here we are, several months into national uprisings against police brutality and after a budget survey that overwhelmingly supported defunding CPD in favor of community resources, and Chicago remains the only major city to have made no changes to the funding of its police department. The mayor’s forthcoming alternative plan will concentrate oversight powers in her hands, making it an even weaker version of the already-watered-down GAPA ordinance.
The meeting began with a 30-minute public comment period. All 10 randomly selected callers spoke in adamant support of CPAC, recalling their personal experience with police brutality, CPD’s history of stifling labor movements, and the overwhelming need for comprehensive and strong civilian oversight of police. One 48th Ward resident directly addressed Vice Chairperson Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) from a protest outside his office, leading protesters in a loud chorus of “CPAC now!” The Committee cut her statement off with half of her allotted time remaining, a pretty apt metaphor for the City Council’s and Lightfoot’s feigned unawareness of the undeniable citizen support for major reform of CPD.
Following public comment, representatives of both CPAC and GAPA presented their updated and amended proposals to the Committee.
CDSA’s own Tamer Abouzeid represented CPAC, as well as Larry Redmond. Abouzeid opened his presentation by remarking on the incredible turnout in support of the ordinance during the public comment. Abouzeid noted that any power held by the mayor or the police should come with accountability to the people and that the police are the most important arm of the government for the people to control ourselves. It is time for the people to take power back from the police and the Mayor.
Abouzeid outlined not only how badly needed an oversight solution is but that Chicagoans want to defund the police to reallocate funds to community resources by an 87% margin in the 2021 Budget Survey. Abouzeid called on alderpersons to represent their constituents and answer the clear call for CPAC.
CPAC KEY POINTS:
- Council of 11 elected members, each representing 2 police districts
- Authority to hire and fire superintendent; this power currently lies with the Mayor. An alternate solution proposed by CPAC allows the council to submit 2 nominees to the Mayor
- Appoint the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s (COPA) chief administrator and police board members
- Review and approve CPD’s proposed budgets before sending to the Mayor and then on to City Council for final approval
- Oversight on CPD policy and contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police
GAPA representatives Desmon Yancy and Barry Friedman then outlined their proposal, an option that leaves much power in the hands of the Mayor and CPD. While CPAC gives power directly back to directly elected community members, GAPA would create two main bodies: a seven-person citywide Community Commission and a District Council representing each of the 22 police districts. The seven commissioners would be nominated by council members and selected by the mayor. That commission would then evaluate and set goals and draft policy.
This is a key failure of GAPA: final approval must be done by complete agreement between the GAPA commission, CPD, COPA, and the Police Board. In other words, the police can refuse to pass policies they don’t like. In fact, GAPA presenters spent much of last week’s meeting praising the fact that their plan “fits into the existing model,” even though the people of Chicago have spoken loudly and clearly in support of a new model of policing.
During the Q&A portion of the meeting, alderpersons put CPAC and GAPA representatives on the spot, although their fire targeted CPAC most heavily. Below are some of the biggest disputes raised:
Budget and Salary
There was a heavy focus on proposed salaries, with several Alderpersons raising a fuss at the full-time, $118,00 salaries (identical to an alderperson’s salary) proposed for CPAC Council members. In contrast, GAPA’s seven commissioners would earn a part-time, $12,000 salary.
Alderpersons opposed to CPAC also took issue with the overall budget, which would be about $20 million, estimated Abouzeid.
“No Immediate Family” of CPD Permitted
CPAC prohibits immediate family members of law enforcement from holding council seats. This rule applies to spouses, current cohabitants, parents, children, siblings, and grandparents by blood, marriage, or adoption. Multiple alderpersons complained of this policy, even questioning such requirements’ legality, although legal experts have already advised that it is legal.
CPAC also requires elected councilors to have at least two years of experience representing civil rights, activist, and organizing groups that support marginalized Chicagoans. One alderperson suggested that this would mean the only people elected would be those who had “had negative experiences with police,” an association that shows what City Council officials think of community organizers.
On the other hand, GAPA only prohibits individuals who have worked in law enforcement, not their family members. This is an appealing option for those who don’t wish to see any major changes to the CPD as it is now; without excluding family members, law enforcement could find many allies on the commission.
A Practical Guide to Voting for Judges
The tricky thing about judicial elections for socialists is that it’s basically just damage control. There are no judges on the ballot who support any of our initiatives. However, there is something to be said for damage control, especially because of the ludicrous amount of autonomous power located with each individual judge.
Chicago DSA has not endorsed a slate of judges for retention. If, however, you have yet to vote—and you plan to—below is a breakdown of some judges to be particularly aware of and resources that you can use when making your decision.
Aurelia Pucinski – appellate judge, political machine candidate, but has voted to rein in police search and seizure powers;
Mary Rochford – appellate judge, police family, denied appeal to a man convicted on the basis of testimony from a compromised witness with contradicting video evidence
Michael Toomin – investor buddy of Ed Burke, detains kids, fights de-carceral ordinances, opposes juvenile justice reforms, used a mock court in a police station to scare kids, favored police in trials using confessions coerced by Jon Burge interrogations. For this one, CDSA has an official position: Toss Toomin!
Margaret Brennan – former Exelon lawyer, tried to let the Bears skate on some amusement taxes owed to the city, overuses summary judgments to deny plaintiffs their day in court, has been reversed on a lot of her decisions, which tells us they were grounded in preference, not law
Kenneth Wadas – prosecutor, suppressed evidence and wrongfully convicted a man, sentenced a teenager to 100 years in prison, lowering it to 39 years after being reversed by the appellate court
Jackie Portman-Brown – prosecutor, in her own words a “lock-em-up” judge
Kerry Kennedy – tried to make a woman watch her own rape on penalty of jail, vindictive use of bail bond
If you want to do further research on these judges—or on judges not mentioned here—Injustice Watch is a useful resource.
The site includes in-depth research and acknowledges the ideological nature of judging. Their key system is useful for flagging judges of interest, especially if you don’t have time to read through them all, but it’s not a perfect guide for choosing judges. Let’s break it down by icon.
- Past Controversy (exclamation mark) – This means what it sounds like. They are all pretty outrageous, from working for the Ed Vrdolyak campaign to unseat Mayor Harold Washington, to using the jail to scare a 6 year old straight, to a 100-year sentence for a 16-year-old. No past controversies for being a radical leftist, unfortunately.
- Prosecutor (handcuff) – While “progressive prosecutors” have recently gotten popular, most people who work as a District Attorney or U.S. Attorney obviously believe in the power of the law and criminal punishment to do justice. Additionally, almost every single one of them has deplorable views from being tough on crime to being hostile to diversity.
- Public Defender (briefcase) – The good news is their experience and viewpoints will be colored by seeing the way the criminal justice system harms people, and they will have an eye for seeing arguments in favor of criminal defendants. Take Mary Coghlan, who has sentenced police officers for misconduct, or Diana Kenworthy, who gave bond to a man who had been held without bond for almost a year. The bad news is, they can still be immoral monsters. Take Kerry Kennedy, who in one instance threatened to jail a woman for refusing to watch a video of her own rape. Vote down Toomin.
- Negative Ratings (thumbs down) – These are the assessments of professional associations, which have their own ideological agendas and are very permissive with corruption and ethical problems. However, in order to get a negative rating, you usually have to do something pretty bad or refuse to participate in the rating procedure. Half of the negative ratings are on former prosecutors (surprise), and they are all for legitimate reasons, usually for abusive behavior toward others, clear incompetence, or judges who are not actually seeking retention.
- Appointed Judge (judge’s robes) – there is only one judge with this flag, and it just lets you know that the person was appointed to their seat initially. While Cynthia Cobbs may have been an overtly political appointment, she has a social work background and is a Black woman, if demographic representation is your priority.
- Notable Reversals (circular arrows) – This is mostly a technical thing, noting that the judge has been reversed by appellate courts. That said, it usually comes along with other irregularities, and half of them are prosecutors (again). One judge marked with this, Chris Lawler, appears to only have one high profile reversal of his decision to dismiss a defamation suit related to the Anthony Porter exoneration. Another, Margaret Brennan, was an attorney for Exelon. We know what to do to Exelon cronies.
The criteria used by the professional associations are flimsy and ambiguous. This means that almost every judge is found to be “knowledgeable,” “even-tempered,” “fair,” “patient,” “efficient,” etc. However, they do provide sparse summaries of their findings, which will tell you where a judge got their start as a lawyer. This can inform you of the perspective they bring to the bench [e.g., prosecutor vs. public defender, civil legal aid vs. corporate law, etc.] Much of the info from these is compiled into the Injustice Watch guide, but they can be useful if you don’t see a judge’s name on Injustice Watch. [e.g. Tiesha Smith, Kelly McCarthy, etc.]
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 Ali Cassity, Brent Glass, Nick Hussong, Charlotte Kissinger, Alan Maass, Ian McCollum, and Gabi Thiam. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.