Empowering communities key to public safety in Chicago
Members of the Chicago police department scuffle with an angry crowd at the scene of a police shooting in Chicago on Saturday, July 14, 2018. Activists hope the new ordinance will help prevent repetition of scenes like this. Nuccio DiNuzzo | Chicago Tribune via AP

CHICAGO—Chicago’s Empowering Communities for Public Safety Ordinance opens the door to real community control of the police. It passed the City Council by a vote of 36-13 on July 21. It is the most far-reaching such proposal to be passed by any city in the United States.

The ordinance creates a three-person District Council in each of the city’s 22 police districts. The District Councils will be directly elected by voters in each police district. The ordinance also creates a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. Still pending is a companion ordinance which provides for a referendum in the next general election on whether the Commission itself will be directly elected from specific geographic areas of the city. In the meantime, the City Council nominates 14 people from which the Mayor selects seven who will serve on the Commission on an interim basis. If the referendum fails to pass, the District Councils would form a nominating committee for the Commission, and the mayor’s seven appointees must come from its list of nominees.

The coalition that brought this about was started by the Chicago Alliance Against Racial and Political Repression (CAARPR) and The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) as a united front against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s efforts to have no police accountability at all. The coalition includes community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and labor organizations rooted in Black, Latinx, Arab, East Asian, and South Asian communities. It’s driven by Black-led organizations such as Black Lives Matter Chicago and CAARP.

The coalition unites the Chicago Teachers Union, all the Service Employee local unions, public transit workers, postal workers, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Black presidents of over a dozen local unions, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, and United Working Families. There are now grassroots organizations supporting ECPS in 17 of the city’s 50 wards.

The ECPS Coalition has signed up over 65,000 Chicagoans through canvassing and tabling in oppressed communities. Black people on the South and West sides of Chicago are the overwhelming majority, but the coalition also includes other neighborhoods — thousands of Latinx in Little Village and Pilsen and white people in Bridgeport and Back of the Yards, as well as the North Side.

All City Council Caucuses supported ECPS: the Black Caucus; Latino Caucus; Progressive Caucus and Socialist Caucus. The coalition includes Trinity United Church of Christ and the Community Renewal Society (involving Christians, Muslims, and Jews).

This is the organizing and agitating that finally bought Mayor Lightfoot to the negotiating table and won 36 votes in the 50-member City Council. The mayor was forced to negotiate, but success was predicated on our movement making some concessions. We agreed to these concessions, but the ECPS Coalition is fully committed to continuing to fight for all our demands going forward.

The coalition includes people who call for defunding and abolishing the police, but it never claimed to represent those movements. At no time during the negotiations did we put such demands on the table. Our demand was and continues to be, community control over the police as the key to greater safety in our communities. The coalition is not against defunding or abolition; we just don’t believe these demands can be won if the people don’t have the political power to implement them.

Next: Consolidating victories to gain more ground

Now that we have negotiated and compromised with the powers-that-be to have critical community input into policing in Chicago, we must maintain this coalition to consolidate our partial victories, to hold on to the ground we have won to gain more ground and more victories. Those who maintain that passing ECPS is not a victory are giving up the struggle to consolidate what we have gained.

Consolidating victories is a fundamental principle of political struggle. Now let’s push the alderpersons in our coalition to fight for the passing of the Referendum Ordinance. Let’s fight to have our people on the Interim Commission which will come into existence on January 1, 2022. Let’s start planning the campaign to pass the Referendum in June of 2022 and start now to recruit candidates for election to 66 District Councilor positions in February of 2023.

The struggle for liberation is not a linear process constantly moving forward in a straight line, but a process that moves in twists and turns until it reaches a point where it leaps forward.

Nine years ago, after Rekia Boyd was murdered by Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin, the campaign for an all-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council was launched by CAARPR. Since then, there have been many twists and turns, backward and forward motions, compromises, and setbacks. This is why some supporters of community control of police are having a problem seeing that the passage of the Ordinance Empowering Communities for Public Safety was a critical step forward for our movement.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to freedom fighters is accepting the idea that we are always dealing with circumstances made by others whose actions have paved the very road we are treading and created the obstacles we must overcome to create a better world. Given this reality of dealing with circumstances not of our choosing, we still must exercise our will and choose to change.

We are not only the products of history we are also the makers of history. Because we are born into slavery or oppression, that doesn’t make us responsible for it. We are not responsible for our oppression; we are responsible for our liberation.


Frank Chapman
Frank Chapman

Frank Chapman is a field organizer for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. He is active in organizing for an all-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council in Chicago.