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Police Murders of Fred Hampton to Laquan McDonald: Chicago Police Council Elections Are a First

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The police murder of Fred Hampton in Chicago in 1969 helped launch a movement more than 50 years ago for community-led police accountability. In a culmination of this campaign, Chicago voters next Tuesday will elect 22 local police councils tasked with community control of the police. Seven members of the councils will be part of a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, a new model of police oversight. We speak with Frank Chapman, longtime activist and field organizer with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, about the initiative and how it aims to empower Black and Brown working-class civilians.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to stay in Chicago. Yes, this is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we look at how the former Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton is linked to a measure on the ballot in next Tuesday’s election in Chicago.

It was December 4th, 1969, when Chicago police raided Fred Hampton’s apartment and shot and killed him in his own bed. Hampton was just 21. Evidence shows the FBI, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Chicago police had conspired to assassinate him.

The demand for police accountability for Fred Hampton and Mark Clark’s murder has grown in the half-century that followed. It reached a turning point in 2014, when the Chicago police murdered Black teenager Laquan McDonald. Dash-camera video of the murder shows police shot McDonald 16 times, then tried to cover it up. This and other killings by Chicago police, and the protests that followed, reinvigorated a local movement for community control of the police.

Now as part of the February 28th election, Chicago residents will have a chance to vote for candidates to local police councils. They’ll choose three representatives from each of the city’s 22 police districts to have a say on community-policing issues across the city. Seven will be part of a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, that plays a role in police oversight bodies and setting police department policy.

For more, we’re joined by Frank Chapman, longtime Chicago activist, field organizer and education director of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and a leader in the campaign for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s been half a century in coming to this point where the mayoral race will also have these elections taking place. Frank, explain the significance.

FRANK CHAPMAN: Well, I think you’ve explained it to some extent already. This is the first time. This is the first time in history, first time ever in the United States, that our people are being given a democratic option to say who polices their communities and how their communities are policed. And as you pointed out in your introduction, this particular chapter was opened up by Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party back in 1969, when they put this on the agenda, on the Black agenda.

Today, we have made a lot of progress since then. Today we have any ordinance that’s in effect, called Empowering Communities for Public Safety. And on February the 28th, we’re going to elect people to the police district councils. These are people who are mainly working-class people. Most of them are Black and Brown. And none of them are professional politicians. So this is a very democratic grassroots movement. These people are going to be holding the police accountable, going forward. Nothing like this has ever happened before in U.S. history. And so, it’s going to be a history-making event on February the 28th, when we elect these representatives to the district councils to hold the police accountable for what they do and what they don’t do.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Frank, if you could explain some of what the actual powers or responsibilities of these district community groups will be? Because I don’t see in the law whether they really have any enforcement or measures to directly hold the police accountable, other than communicating with them on a regular basis.

FRANK CHAPMAN: But they do. It is in the law. What the district councils will do, the district councils will nominate 14 people who will be sent to the mayor to be appointed to a citywide commission. She has to pick seven people out of those 14. She can’t dismiss the 14. She has to pick seven out of the 14, or he has to pick seven out of 14, whoever the mayor is. And what happens after that is that these seven people — two representatives in the South Side, two representatives in the West Side, and two representatives in the North Side, and one at large — they will have oversight over all police policy, everything that the police do. And we will hire and fire whoever is the head of the COPA, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which is the investigative body. So we will have powers to look at all police policies and question them and to make initiatives of our own if we think policy should be changed. Like, for example, no-knock warrants, stop-and-frisk, you know, we can change all of that. And we will have the power to do that once we get — once this election is over and we get our people into place.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, there are some reports, as well, that the PBA or some law enforcement groups are also backing candidates in these races? Could you talk about that, as well?

FRANK CHAPMAN: Sure. The FOP has been opposed to this from the beginning. So, them running candidates means only one thing, and that is that they’re going to try to torpedo our ability to implement this ordinance. We know who the candidates are. We are going to expose them. And we know what their agenda is. Their agenda is that this law not be enforced. So, we are going to confront them, and we’re going to beat them.

Most of the people on the ballot — and you can’t vote for somebody if they’re not on the ballot — most of the people on the ballot are our people. And I’ve already explained who they are, mainly Black and Brown people who are working-class people, who have no background in being politicians or things of that sort. These are community grassroots people who want to see a change, who want to hold the police accountable for the crimes that they commit.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we wrap up, Frank, our next guest is Angela Davis, who you do know well — who you know well. You fought for her freedom, and then she fought for yours. Can you introduce her for us, as we move into this last segment, which is about the assassination, this 58th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X?

FRANK CHAPMAN: Well, she fought for my freedom. She got out before I did. I was doing life and 50 years when Angela was freed. And after she was freed in 1971, they went on to found the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression in 1973. And in 1976, I came home. And that would not have happened, had it not been for Angela Davis and the movement that was built around her, which was the United Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners. So I’m eternally grateful to her and the movement for my own freedom. And that’s why I’ve been engaged in this ever since.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Frank, we thank you so much for being with us, Frank Chapman, longtime Chicago activist, field organizer and education director of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and a leader of the campaign for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council.

Next up, we speak with the professor, with the activist, with the author Angela Davis. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “How Long Must I Wander” by Nina Simone. She would have been 90 years old today.

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Angela Davis on Assassination & Legacy of Malcolm X, Her Exclusion from AP Black Studies and More

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