An historic moment: Chicago on verge of creating elected commission in charge of police

The real story is the tens of thousands of people in every Chicago community who have taken action to let their aldermen know that they are fed up with police killings.

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Chicago police sit parked near shopping centers on March 17 around Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood in response to the shooting that happened in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

For the first time in the United States, Chicago’s City Council is getting ready to create an elected commission in charge of the police. Two coalitions of neighborhood groups, churches, unions and youth — spurred on by the Black Lives Matter upsurge this past year — have joined forces around the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance establishing a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA).

The commission will immediately have the authority to set Police Department policy, name the chief of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), and the members of the Police Board. But the most historic part of the ECPS ordinance is a binding referendum a year from now on March 15, 2022, in which the people of Chicago will decide whether the commission should be elected and whether it will have the authority to appoint the superintendent of police.

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Two coalitions came together with their City Council supporters to hammer out the ordinance: the coalition around the proposed Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), and that around the original CCPSA ordinance — the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA). Together, the Council sponsors of both CPAC and the GAPA ordinances have enough votes to pass the measure.

But the real story is the tens of thousands of people in every Chicago community who have taken action to let their aldermen know that they are fed up with police killings of Black and Brown people at the same time the police are unable to do anything to preserve public safety. The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the spearhead of the movement for CPAC, organized tens of thousands of postcards to every alderman demanding police accountability, and the both the CAARR and GAPA have taken the campaign to churches, block clubs and neighborhood organizations. Not since Reconstruction in the defeated slavocracy following the Civil War have the people taken this kind of power for themselves.

A key element in this campaign has been the support of some of the largest public employee unions in the city — Service Employees Local 73, the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees-Health Care (SEIUHCII).

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot, by obstructing any change, was a major factor in this movement. Although she was elected on a promise of police reform within her first 100 days in office, she has yet to even propose any change to the situation more than two years later. She has canceled the last two meetings of the City Council Public Safety Committee because she had nothing to propose and the CPAC and GAPA ordinances were on the agenda. Council members expressed their frustration with the mayor at their join news conference Friday announcing the ordinance drafted by the united movement. As Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) put it, “Mayor Lightfoot: Either support this ordinance or get out of the way!”

Supporters of community control of the police still have a lot of work to do. First, the ordinance itself must be passed. Then the real work begins to bring the issue to the voters and to mobilize for the March 2022 election.

Ted Pearson is co-chairperson emeritus of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

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