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Jacqueline Luqman talks to Max Rameau about the relaunch of the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, and the start of a national effort to advocate for community control over the police.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression was founded in 1973 amid the mass movement to free Angela Davis after she was imprisoned for murder in connection with the failed attempt by Jonathan Jackson to free his brother, who was author, activist, and one of the Soledad brothers; George Jackson from San Quentin Prison. The organization was a driving force in highlighting and challenging police abuse and political oppression in the 70s. The NAARPR was relaunched in Chicago this past November, where 1200 activists from around the country and around the world convened to rededicate the organization to the struggle against oppression, and to launch a national campaign to advocate for community control over the police.
Here to talk about that effort and why it is so important today is Max Rameau. Max is a Pan-African theorist, author, and organizer. He works with organizations to conceptualize and execute direct action campaigns and as an organizer with Pan-African Community Action, or PACA, out of Washington, DC, which your host is also a member of. Max, thank you so much for joining me.
MAX RAMEAU: Jackie, thank you so much for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let’s start with what the significance of the NAARPR is in the history of the struggle against racist and political repression. And why should people be interested that the organization was relaunched?
MAX RAMEAU: If you think back to the time that you described when the organization was initially founded, it was a time that many people in this day and age think back very fondly upon, where there was a lot of organizing happening, there was a lot of direct action, there was a lot of fight against repression. It was a historic time and not only in the United States, but really across the globe.
The fact that it is being relaunched now with such a successful and large gathering says something about the time that we are entering into. So if the initial stage for launching the organization was such an important moment in our lives and in the collective history of black people in particular, but certainly in the society, then the fact that it’s being relaunched now, and it looks like it’s being relaunched in a big way, time will tell of course, then that says something about the time that we’re entering into. And that means we no longer have to look back and say, if I was then, if I was around at that time, I would be doing this. We can actually say, I’m around right now and I can engage in this way or that way.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So there’s opportunity for the new generation of activists to be a part literally of relaunching history?
MAX RAMEAU: Yes, I think relaunching a history. But to the extent that we don’t repeat history, history repeats itself, it’s making history. It’s making a new history, even though we are recognizing the patterns of the old history. I think the part that is the same is that we are entering into a moment where there’s lots of engagement, lots of activism, lots of organizing happening.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That’s a lot of wonderful and important and powerful history to build on. But it’s interesting that the major focus of this conference and the efforts of the NAARPR going forward is a national campaign for community control over the police. In fact, you presented a workshop on how to build for community control of police; lessons and strategies from the movement at the conference. This might be a concept people are not familiar with. So why is community control over the police necessary as opposed to things that people might be more familiar with like police reform or like citizens review boards? What’s the difference?
MAX RAMEAU: If you think about different sectors of the society; if you think about the way schools are run, for example, you have school boards that are elected. And they’ll elect the school boards to perform a particular function. You have city councils that are elected, and they perform a particular function. Even in some cities, you have the fire board that is elected. The least democratic space in this society is the police. In some places you have an elected sheriff, but for the most part, you don’t have a direct community input that can determine what the police does in terms of its practices, its policies and its priorities.
There’s no way to do that in a direct way in most of the society, even when there is an election of a sheriff. So this would then bring the sector of police, which is the sector of our tax money that goes to pay for people to walk around with weapons, to attack and apprehend people, and deny people their Liberty. It will bring democratic controls over that sector of the society. And right now that is not controlled in any kind of democratic way. And what that means then is that as a function of society, the police really default on enforcing the wills and the mores of those who are in charge; wealthier, whiter people, and against those who are completely and totally out of power, which is low income, black and brown people.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And in a video clip that we have here, you use an example of the difference between what policing would look like under community control as opposed to what policing is now.
MAX RAMEAU: And what do you think is to happen is two things. One is we’re winning people over with the idea that we not only have the right to control who patrols our communities, but we want to do that. We assert that right and we will want it more and more. But the second thing is, as we’re going through these sessions and people are saying what they would do with a hundred organizers, it is becoming very clear that whatever we take over when we win this, after a certain number of iterations, after a certain number of years, when communities control this force in a decade, maybe even sooner, it’s going to look so radically different from what we now call police that we’re going to have to change the name of what that institution is. It will be unrecognizable from the police.
So now, for example, if the police are going down the street and there’s a person urinating on a building, the job of the police is to protect the building, the brick, the concrete from the damage of human waste, right? That’s the job that they have to then tackle the person, arrest them and lock them up in a cage. People are sad. If someone’s doing that, we need people to go out there and find out what’s wrong with that person. Why aren’t they in a house doing that? Do they need something to eat? Do they need some medication? Are they unable to wait till they go to the bathroom?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: In light of the way policing would look different and be different, operate and function differently under the community control of police paradigm, how does the NAARPR’s campaign shape this conversation?
MAX RAMEAU: That part of the conversation is just taking shape now. One of the problems is that we don’t know what it means to have control over a police force. We haven’t had that in so many. We just assume that the police are the police, and the police do whatever it is the police does. And we now have to rethink, well, what if instead of the police just doing whatever it is they do, what if we were able to say, “This is what we want this particular force, this particular function of society to do.” So that’s a brand new thing.
I think the important part about this National Alliance is that it’s going to be able to, on a national level, connect people and say, what do we want this force to do in society, and how do we want it to behave? And then say, well, we then we want the things in place that allow us to dictate to this force what it does. And that means, by the way, that in some areas we could say this is what we want police to do A, and in other areas people can say we want police to do B. And that’s what community control ultimately means; is that the community decides what the police ends up doing. So I do think that that’s an important democratic function, but I don’t think we fully realize the implications of it because we have not had that before. And sometimes, you have to practice something before you see what the implications of it are.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And there are certainly organizations around the country at the community level that have been advocating for community control over the police. And I’m glad that you noted that it might look different; this concept of community control over the police might look different for one community as opposed to another community. What does NAARPR’s national campaign do to help those grassroots organizations in this effort? Does it help them in this effort?
MAX RAMEAU: I think it will help. I think the help is going to come in a few ways. One is it will provide a lot of research and background, so now there are local organizations that are thinking how can we get community control? What is community control? And I think a national group that is thinking about this and that is pulling resources from all kinds of local groups can then set up one or more than one model to say this is what community control over police is or what it could be. And then, local organizations can take that model or those couple of models and apply it to their local situations. I think that’s one of the big ones, is just say we’re going to do some of the crowdsourcing of thought about what community control over police could look like. So modeling that I think is going to be one of the big ones.
The second one I think is going to be able to allow local communities, that would want to fight for this, to connect to a larger fight. So the local powers that be can’t just say, here’s a group of radicals who no one else in the country is thinking like them. This is some out of the box idea. We can then turn around and say, no, there actually are several other local organizations doing this and this, in fact, is a national movement towards this. And that will I think make many people feel much more comfortable about joining a campaign that they may agree with but have some hesitation around, and will also prevent those who are in power from completely isolating the organizations and the organizers who are advocating for community control, which actually is democratic control over the police.
I do want to say one of the items you had raised before; you asked what is the difference between community control and oversight, for example.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yes.
MAX RAMEAU: This is a huge distinction. What oversight is means that one group of people are in charge and they have power, and another group of people then can look over the shoulder of the first group. So if the police do something wrong, or someone thinks they do something, the police are in charge of what they do, who they put out, and then how they respond to wrongdoers. So then they investigate themselves. Civilian oversight means then that some civilians can look over their shoulder and have their hands behind their back and say, I’m watching the way you are conducting the investigation into yourself. If that’s what you want, then that’s one thing.
But we think that we deserve a lot more than that, particularly if we are paying people to carry guns, and to deprive people of liberty in the community. So what we want is not the right to look over the shoulder of the police, but the right to say to the police, you are our employees and you’re going to do what we say you’re going to do. And then if then a investigation is required, we will conduct the investigation, not you. So I think those are two of the major things is that we’ll be able to then say to them, this is what we want you to do, and not just have oversight over what they say they’re going to do. And then, we would also say we’re going to conduct any investigations into wrongdoing, not allow you to conduct your own investigation.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Critical differences in how you see policing as opposed to what people understand as police reform and why they’re very different. That’s very, very important. There were activists, over 1200 from around the country, at the relaunch conference a few weeks ago representing about 28 states. But what needs to be noted, and I think what is very interesting, is there were also activists from other countries. So how does the push for community control over the police in this country connect to issues of police and political repression in other countries, particularly the countries that were represented at the conference?
MAX RAMEAU: I think this is going to help clarify a number of political issues for us here in the United States, and also help make stronger connections with global fights for liberation and against oppression. I think some people in the United States think of black communities essentially as the same as white communities, except we have some harsher dealings with the police, et cetera. I think, however, these connections, what they’re going to make clear, is that black communities are, in fact, a domestic colony inside of the United States.
And we can see that when we see that the way police relate to low income black communities is more closely aligned with the way that the police relate to Palestinians in Palestine or the way the US military deals with civilians in Afghanistan or in Iraq or other places where they have invaded and are occupying. And then that will make clearer to us, once we see that they want to fight for the exact same things that we want to fight, and for the exact same reasons, we’ll be able to see that we’re actually a domestic colony in the same way that those who are living in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine are now colonies.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And in particular, there were representatives who expressed statements of solidarity, and I believe there were activists from Bolivia, from Venezuela, there were solidarity statements for people standing up against oppression in Chile and in Brazil. Are issues of police oppression and political repression the same in those countries as what we understand as the fight against police and political repression here also?
MAX RAMEAU: I think they are almost identical. I think there’s some minor differences and we can attribute them to cultural differences, which are important by the way, but there can be some cultural differences in the way they express or who the particular targets are; black communities versus indigenous communities, as it would relate to Bolivia or some of the other places in South and central America, for example. But the fundamental relationship is the same; is you have a relatively small number of wealthier, whiter people who then are able to use the police as their own security force to enforce the oppression and exploitation that they levy against low-income, again, indigenous or black people.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So this sounds like an incredibly important chapter in this global struggle against political and police repression. So I want to end by asking you, Max, what are the next steps for NAARPR in this fight for community control over the police? What can viewers do to get involved in this effort and in this organization?
MAX RAMEAU: Under the leadership of Frank Chapman, who presided over the National Alliance’s revitalization, the relaunching of the National Alliance, he has announced that there would now be a steering committee, who would then provide the general direction of the organization. And then, there will also be some connections between local organizations in different cities. And those connections will again have to do with modeling. Here’s a model, here’s a couple of different models, and then sharing information among all of those local cities.
I think there’ll also be some kind of technical support. So if a local organization in some city somewhere in the United States wants to launch a community control over police campaign, they could then come to the National Alliance website, and they could get more information there, or they could call up the Chicago Alliance, which is where Frank Chapman is headquartered–he’s in Chicago himself–and could get to get more information from that organizational or from Frank himself.
So I think the next steps are going to be consolidating the agreement that the organizations and individuals made there and getting better organized so that we can communicate with one another effectively. And then, I think the next steps you’re going to see in early 2020 is you’re going to have full out launches of these campaigns in a number of cities, where different community groups are going to say, we want community control in our city, in our County, in our communities. And the way they’re going to do that is they’re going to launch campaigns to either get it on the ballot or to have it run through the city or the County commission.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Well, political education, networking, and organization and eventually mobilization; that sounds really familiar, doesn’t it, Max?
MAX RAMEAU: Yes, it sounds just like we’re back to the future right now.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And I thank you so much for joining to talk with me about the relaunch of this incredibly important organization, to focus on this very important issue, and we look forward to what will come in 2020 in the future under the banner of the NAARPR. Thanks so much for joining me, Max.
MAX RAMEAU: Thank you, Jackie. I appreciate it.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
Studio: Taylor Hebden, Bababtunde Ogunfolaju
Production: Genevieve Montinar, Bababtunde Ogunfolaju, Andrew Corkery