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Yes, Defund the Cops–And Put Them Under Community Control

Community control of the police means empowering the people to shape and oversee the mechanisms of their own security and end forever the armed occupation of our communities by hostile forces.

Demand community control, not only of the police, but of education, housing, health care and all the other services that civilized societies require. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

Demand community control, not only of the police, but of education, housing, health care and all the other services that civilized societies require. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

"Street power’ will be dissipated if organizers leave the levers of power in the hands of local Democrats."

Never in the modern history of the United States has an insurgent, Black-led movement been viewed favorably by such large majorities of whites. According to the latest New York Times/Siena College Poll, a combined total of 61 percent of whites give “very favorable” (37 percent) or “somewhat favorable” (24 percent)  ratings to the “Black Lives Matter movement.” Those numbers match almost exactly the results of a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month that shows a combined 60 percent of whites either “strongly support” (31 percent) or “somewhat support” (30 percent) Black Lives Matter.

In historical contrast, during his lifetime Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. never garnered higher than 45 percent positive ratings in the Gallup Poll. That high point was reached in 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act was passed. An equal percentage of the public, amounting to a majority of whites, viewed Dr. King negatively. Ninety-five percent of Blacks had a positive opinion of MLK. By 1966, however, Dr. King’s Gallup negative rating was 63 percent, and a Harris poll showed him at nearly 75 percent disapproval by 1968, the year he was assassinated.

"King’s high point was reached in 1965."

The same New York Times poll that shows 60 percent of whites feeling positively about the Black Lives Matter movement also confirms that Donald Trump still commands the support of a bare majority of white Americans – which would mean that a small but significant slice of white Trump supporters also view Black Lives Matter positively. I’ll leave it to white social psychologists to interpret those crazy numbers.

Possibly the most useful Times data shows nearly 70 percent of whites under 45 believe “the killing of George Floyd was part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African-Americans rather than an isolated incident,” Eighty-seven percent of Blacks of all ages and 74 percent of Hispanics agree

The least useful NYT poll data shows that Joe Biden is leading Donald Trump by 14 points. This number tells us nothing about what kind of change is desired by Americans of any race, age or educational level – only that growing numbers would choose Biden over Trump under the two corporate party electoral system. But Biden is a proud architect of the mass Black incarceration regime and rejects virtually all of the demands associated with the “Black Lives Matter movement,” most emphatically including “defunding of the police.” On criminal justice, both Biden and Trump oppose the aspirations of two-thirds of the U.S. public – just as they stand in opposition to the two-thirds of Americans that support Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. 

"Biden is a proud architect of the mass Black incarceration regime."

Despite the breathtaking size, intensity and multi-racial character of this month’s protests, and the record-breaking popularity of the insurgent movement, the corporate electoral duopoly – not the loathsome persona of Donald Trump, but the Democrat-Republican tag-team-- remains the greatest impediment to social transformation. They are the institutional enemy. That most emphatically includes the Black political class, virtually all Democrats, who have overseen the steady deterioration of the Black economic condition, managed much of the local workings of the Mass Black Incarceration State, and supported a U.S.war machine that has slaughtered millions of non-whites in the two generations since Dr. King called this country “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, today.” 

The bigger the Congressional Black Caucus gets (it now stands at 50 full-voting members in the House), the more servile to party corporate leadership it becomes. By wide margins, the Black Caucus has opposed ending militarization of the police (80 percent “nay,” in 2014); supported elevating the police to a “protected class” and making assault on police a federal “hate” crime (75 percent, in 2018); and voted to further empower the FBI to spy on citizens (two-thirds of the Black Caucus, in 2020). Nearly half the Black members of Congress supported the bombing of Libya and NATO’s invasion of Africa in 2011, and the vast bulk of them have signed off on every escalating war budget put forward by Presidents Obama and Trump. In short, the Black Caucus is a bulwark of systemic racism and U.S. imperial warfare. Not one serving Black congressperson has raised a peep about the ongoing slaughter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than six million have died under four U.S. presidents.

"The Black Caucus is a bulwark of systemic racism and U.S. imperial warfare."

The biggest luminaries of the Black Caucus, including “Auntie” Maxine Waters, of California, South Carolina’s James Clyburn, and New York’s Hakeem Jeffries and Greg Meeks, are today rallying around New York Democratic incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel to beat back progressive Black challenger Jamaal Bowman, a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Caucus has slavishly followed every directive of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi since she ordered them to refrain from holding hearings on Katrina, in 2005. They are collaborators in the duopoly’s greatest crimes against Black America, and the world.

The “street power” that has been so dramatically manifested over the past month will be dissipated and ultimately wasted if organizers put forward demands that leave the levers of power in the hands of local Democrats, of whatever color. The demand to defund the police is unassailable, in principle. However, if in practice it devolves to endless and debilitating dickering with local legislatures over funding that will inevitably be cut across the board due to collapsing tax rolls, no lasting transformation will be achieved, and the movement will splinter and fade. That’s why we at BAR support community control of the police – the institutionalization of grassroots people’s power to shape and oversee the mechanisms of their own security and end forever the armed occupation of our communities by hostile forces. 

"The demand to defund the police is unassailable, in principle."

Chicago has the most developed movement in the nation for community control of the police. Spearheaded by the recently re-founded National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, led by Frank Chapman, the Alliance turned a 60,000-strong list of anti-police protesters into a force that has changed the political complexion of the city council, 19 of whose 50 members are now co-sponsors of the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). But Chicago’s newly elected Black mayor, Lori Lightfoot, opposes community control and defunding the police, ostensibly because defunding would lead to disproportionate lay-offs of minority officers.

Frank Chapman explains that community control of the police empowers the people to create whatever security mechanisms they see fit. It’s not a question of defunding the police versus making them accountable to the people:

“All of the reforms being called for, including abolishing and defunding the police – reforms that directly affect the current existence of the police as outside occupiers of our communities -- are embedded in CPAC,” said Chapman. “CPAC is the way to ensuring these demands are met. CPAC puts the power of reform in the hands of communities through directly elected representatives. That’s community control. With community control, we decide the if, when, and how of policing – up to and including abolition. With community control, we can defund, demilitarize, and regulate the police out of existence. Communities can reimagine a world without police – but not without the power to do so themselves. We’ve heard nothing from our elected leadership about this broad demand to reconceive public safety, except for the 19 alderpersons who support CPAC.”

"We decide the if, when, and how of policing."

Lori Lightfoot is a guardian of white oligarchic power in Chicago, an exemplar of the melanin-over-substance politics practiced by the Black Misleadership Class – the same craven crowd that, in their formative years, preached that the movement of the Sixties must shift from the “streets” to the “suites.” In urban America, some of the oligarchs’ most dependable servants are Black, and nearly all are Democrats. Their strategy will be to entangle proponents of defunding the police in endless fights over whether dwindling tax dollars will go to police or social programs, while ensuring that the community controls neither. In the process, movements are demobilized and a portion of those activists that remain are “captured” – joining the Democratic clubhouse. 

To avoid this path to oblivion, the movement must be clear that victory is measured in Power to the People. Demand community control, not only of the police, but of education, housing, health care and all the other services that civilized societies require. Beat the oligarchs in the streets – and ultimately, take their suites and put them at service to the people.

Glen Ford

Glen Ford

Glen Ford is the Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report. He can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

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