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Community Control of the Police – and a Whole Lot More

Community control of the police – and a whole lot more

Originally published: Black Agenda Report (June 18, 2020)   | 

Abolition of the police begins with community control, in which community representatives not only hire, fire and oversee the cops, but decide the nature of the policing that is necessary and acceptable.

The wave of people’s protests across the nation, backed by solidarity actions in cities around the world, has caused the corporate oligarchy and its servants to make promises they can’t keep and give lip service to programs they have always resisted. The Congressional Black Caucus, the vast bulk of whose members backed militarization of local police and elevation of cops to the status of “protected” class, now claims to favor limits on police arsenals, less legal immunities for cops and a grab-bag of other reforms they previously dismissed out of hand. Mayors that know damn well they will have to cut spending across the board due to catastrophic loss of tax revenues during the current, Covid-induced Great Depression, now profess that they plan to withhold funds from cops in deference to the “defund the police” movement. They’re a bunch of Kente-clothed liars, of course, but movements are about amassing power to the people, not collecting promises from corporate flunkies. That means demanding community control of the police, and of those funds that local governments are supposedly diverting from the police to social programs.

If anything has been learned from the past half century of Black reliance on Democratic Party politicians, it is that no lasting victories can be achieved without the transfer of control of public resources directly to the people. That was the meaning of “All Power to the People” when the phrase was coined, and must remain the goal of the movement, today.

Although there is no intrinsic contradiction between the three most-voiced demands of the current movement–community control of police, defunding the police, and abolition of policing as we know it–only proposals for community control of the police directly confront the issue of power in the here and now, and also address demands for direct democracy and Black self-determination. Community control of the police was essential to the formation of the Black Panther Party, and has been an active demand of Chicago organizers since 2012.  Support for a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) has grown from only one of the 50-member city council (board of aldermen) to 19 co-sponsors of the enabling legislation. Last fall, more than a thousand activists from across the country met in Chicago to endorse the concept of community control of police, and pledged to fight for its enactment in 22 cities–a list that has grown with the wave of George Floyd protests.

Although community control of the police is within reach of becoming law in Chicago, a majority Black and brown city with the second largest concentration of Blacks in the nation, the demand has gotten less traction in nationwide demonstrations than the call for defunding the cops, or eventual abolition. That’s undoubtedly because Black Lives Matter demands have been pervasive in the current demonstrations, and BLM supports defunding of police. However, Black Lives Matter is more a quilt than a monolith, and many Black Lives Matter chapters and individuals also support community control of the police, while CPAC activists also back defunding and abolition of the cops as a logical outcome of community control. The elements of Black Lives Matter that are resistant to community control of police are those under the influence of hashtag founder Alicia Garza, who is now a Democratic Party political player and go-to person for corporate philanthropy.

A serious, methodical program of defunding the police requires a community control approach. Ninety percent of actual police duties do not involve making felony arrests, and there is a consensus that cops should not deal with domestic disputes, mentally disturbed people, or a host of social contradictions–and maybe not even traffic control, which long ago devolved into pretexts for criminal charges. Therefore, defunding of police leads directly to the funding of specific public services, some of them currently badly performed by cops and all of which should be overseen by the publics most directly affected. Absent community control, defunding of police will only result in a shrinkage of the domestic army of occupation, not a change in the lethally oppressive relationship, and any social services that receive new funding will be answerable only to the legislators that had previously starved the community of services.

Abolition of the police begins with community control, in which community representatives not only hire, fire and oversee the cops, but decide the nature of the policing that is necessary and acceptable. Community control is a prerequisite to communities policing themselves to the greatest degree possible.

Indeed, communities should control, not just the police, but much of the rest of their neighborhoods’ vital services and resources. The right to self-determination is not confined to the criminal justice system. Therefore, community control of police advocates would be in principled agreement with the Los Angeles Movement 4 Black Lives position :

The most impacted in our communities need to control the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve us–from our schools to our local budgets, economies, and police department.

Community control is how we build socialism within the framework of people’s right to self-determination–the principles by which, along with solidarity, we de-colonize and dis-imperialize our world. ”Power to the People” means disempowering the capitalist and white supremacist. Everything else is a diversion, conjured up by the Kente cloth-soiling Black Misleadership Class in service to their bosses, the oligarchs. They have betrayed us repeatedly and laughed at our willingness to trust them yet again. In George Floyd’s name, let this be the end of it.

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