As we enter a new phase of racist and political repression in the US with the convergence of a myriad of political and social issues, how are we planning to fight against this? Jacqueline Luqman talks with Frank Chapman about the relaunch of the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
Political repression is a tactic used by the powerful to silence their opposition. It involves the threat to use or actual use of physical force to remove challenges or obstacles that they believe are in their way to achieving their political goals. We often think of political repression as something that’s done in other countries, where political organizations and leaders torch or assassinate their opposition on the way to seizing power or when they do seize power.
In the United States, political repression has been carried out against citizens who oppose the approved social order of those in power, and it’s been happening for years. It is inextricably tied to racial oppression, and police abuse and brutality are the tools used to implement it. As we enter a new phase of racist and political repression in the U.S., with the convergence of a myriad of political and social issues, how are we planning to fight against this in the coming days?
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Here to talk with me about this is Frank Chapman. Frank is Interim Executive Director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and is the Field Organizer and Educational Director of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Frank, thank you so much for joining me.
FRANK CHAPMAN: Thank you so much for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now, you have a long history with working to secure the freedom of those who are falsely in prison. What led you to this work and to the National Alliance?
FRANK CHAPMAN: Well, that’s a long story, but I’ll try to shorten it. I was first a political prisoner myself. I was wrongfully convicted in 1961 of armed robbery and murder in the state of Missouri and I was sentenced to life and 50 years. I was 19 years old at the time. And that act in and of itself, the sentencing that is, politicized me. I became determined from that point to use whatever legal methods I could use to try to get my freedom. And when I got in prison, I found out that the conditions in the prison system were very oppressive and repressive.
Black prisoners were treated far worse than white prisoners. We were forced to live under conditions like we had six men to a cell in the black cell blocks and there were two men to a cell in the white cell blocks. And we were forced to work on dangerous equipment like the embossing machine, which had a reputation for cutting people’s fingers off. The embossing was what they used to impress license plates, and so people were losing their fingers on those machines. Most of those people were black people. And so we started fighting against the conditions within the prison system. We started organizing with prisoners into protest, food strikes, whatever, to bring attention to this. And we also established a connection with the outside movement; which at that time, there was quite an outside movement because I’m talking about the 60s.
I went to prison in 1961 and I stayed in there until 1976. But it was the movement that got me out. It was the work that we did inside the prison and our getting connected with the movement on the outside, that eventually led to my freedom. I gave that life and 50 year sentence back to them and came out in 1976. And the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression played a major role in getting me out. And so, I became a part of that organization and I still remain a part of it.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That is an amazing, amazing history and a part of your life story and I really appreciate that you are doing this work with this organization. And I want to talk about that work a little bit, specifically in Chicago, because Chicago is a particularly interesting place in regard to racist and political repression. You’ve been doing a lot of work around the murder of Laquan McDonald.
There’s been a lot of background work that’s been going on in Chicago that those of us who are outside of the area don’t know anything about.
And people may also not be aware of just how deep the problems and abuse in the Chicago PD goes. For example, other than the Laquan McDonald case, there are people who are not aware that the Chicago Police Department operated torture sites. So can you frame your work in Chicago after you came out of a prison with these modern issues that have been in the news in the past few years and what it means to the National Alliance and the work it does today?
FRANK CHAPMAN: Sure. Well, let me start with the Laquan McDonald case, because there is a whole number of cases in Chicago going all the way back to 1919 when you had the so-called race riots, which is really crimes against black people led by the police in the city. And then back in ’69 when you had Fred Hampton and Mark Clark murdered in their beds, in their homes. So there’s been quite a bit of this. What happened in Chicago with the murder of Laquan McDonald, is that it was a murder that was covered up by the Mayor because he was running for reelection. And so he sat on some video tapes for 400 days.
These video tapes clearly demonstrated, documented the fact that Laquan McDonald had been brutally murdered execution style by a police officer named Jason Van Dyke. He shot this young man–actually he was legally a child; he was 17 years old. Shot him 16 times. And the first two shots took him to the ground, so the next 14 shots that was fired into his body while he laid helplessly on the ground. And this officer claimed that Laquan McDonald was threatening his life. Well, 400 days after this incident, the video was finally released as a result of people in our movement going to court and fighting for the release of this video.
And when it was finally released, it completely incensed the people. It outraged us to see this kind of modern day lynching taking place in the city. And it was bad enough already, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And so, people took into the streets by the thousands. We protested for days. We protested for weeks and we demanded that the Chief of Police be fired. We demanded that Anita Alvarez leave her office. And we demanded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel resign. And so, that was a political crisis right there. Chicago was in a tailspin. The first to go down was Superintendent McCarthy. He was the Chief of Police. And then the second to go down was Anita Alvarez. She was the state’s attorney. She was the prosecutor. But we defeated her in an election.
And then the last to go down was Mayor Rahm Emanuel and he went down on the very eve of the Laquan McDonald trial. I mean, not Laquan McDonald’s trial, but the trial of Jason Van Dyke, the murder of Laquan MacDonald. The day right before the trial started, the Mayor resigned. So I said all this to say that the murder of Laquan McDonald threw Chicago into a political tailspin which we’re still in. And we still want more results. We also want to have an all-elected, all-civilian police accountability council. We want community control of the police in this city, because so long as we don’t have that, they’re going to murder us with impunity.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So I’m so glad you mentioned community control over the police because that’s what I want to ask you about next. In relation to the relaunch of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression that happened recently, there was a very large conference where at least 1200 people representing 28 states came to the relaunch conference of this organization and the national campaign for community control over the police was introduced along with some others at this conference.
So can you explain why the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression had to be relaunched as an organization? What it means for the effort to pursue community control over the police, not just in Chicago, but around the country and what it means in relation to the political climate that we’re facing right now.
FRANK CHAPMAN: Well, in Chicago we have been fighting at the grassroots level for community control of police for over seven years now. That fight was initiated with the murder of a 21 year old black woman by the name of [inaudible 00:10:30]. And we started out with about 150 people supporting us in Inglewood, a black community in Chicago. And now we have over 60,000 people supporting us throughout the city. We have an average of 1000 supporters in 38 wards, and Chicago has 50 wards. In every ward in the city, we have some supporters. So we have been able to build a mass movement here. It was a dream of Fred Hampton to build this kind of a movement.
So we’ve been able to build a mass movement here that’s really putting the question of community control of the police on the political agenda, on our political agenda. And we’re not asking for community control of the police, we’re demanding it. We’re not asking them to pass a piece of legislation, a city ordinance that will empower our people to hold the police accountable for the crimes that they commit, that will empower our people to say who polices our communities and how our communities are policed. We are demanding this and we’re demanding this here with a mass movement like this city has never seen before and like this country has never seen before.
So we feel that it was time, given that Chicago is not at all unique in this. It may be the epicenter of the fight, but it’s not unique. This is going on in Ferguson, Missouri. This is going on in New York City. This is going on in Los Angeles. This is going on in Jacksonville, Florida. This is going on in Dallas, Texas. This is going on all over the country. And so, we felt it was an appropriate time to call for a national refounding conference of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression because we are a mass defense organization defending the rights of the people that are organizing protests.
And we felt it was time to bring all of the various pockets of resistance that existed in Baltimore, in Washington DC, in New York, in Seattle, Washington, in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, all over the country, St. Louis, Missouri, to bring all of this together into a national conference where we can begin to coordinate and build a national movement that’s going to make a real difference in this country. Because so long as this repression takes place, so long as our communities are living under police tyranny, then we don’t have the organizing space to fight for jobs.
We don’t have the organizing space to fight for equality and justice. So we’re saying that we got to put an end to this police tyranny so we will have that organizing space. And that’s why we called this conference. And people from all over the country came. People from Seattle, Washington came, people from the West coast, the East coast, the South, the Midwest, every region of this country was represented at that conference. 28 different states and over 100 cities. And 300 different organizations.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Oh, that is incredible. That is incredible. And I think that’s important, in this next question I’m going to ask you, because I want you to explain the difference between community control over the police and things like police reform in the next three minutes that we have.
But I also want to ask you, why is this important, community control over the police, especially as we’re facing something, the DOJ announced this week, this Operation Relentless Pursuit that will be launched initially in seven cities? They claim it will be a militarized surge of policing to combat a violent crime in those cities, but what would community control over the police do in those targeted areas by this effort to alleviate the kind of repression that we think we’re going to see under this effort?
FRANK CHAPMAN: Well, community control of the police would be a block stop of this kind of repression. And also important to this process is community control of the police would be to block stop the mass incarceration, because the police are on the cutting edge of mass incarceration. Before you see a jail cell, before you see a prison, you see a police officer. And in Chicago, these police officers have been torturing people, mainly juveniles who confessed the crimes that they didn’t commit and sending them to jail for life sentences, and two life sentences, and all kinds of ridiculous things.
Also, going all the way back to Nixon when the so-called, stop the drugs, the war against drugs. The war against drugs ended up being the war against our community. And so as a result of that war against drugs, our communities had been heavily impacted with mass incarceration. Most of the families in an African-American community are impacted on by this. And so, fighting police crimes is fighting all of these things as well. Until we can get democratic control of the police, we can’t hardly do anything else, because they are killing us. They are imprisoning us. They are stopping us from building the kinds of movements that we need to build to get justice in this country, to get justice for our people.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now, this is certainly the tip of the spear, so to speak, this Operation Relentless Pursuit that was just announced. And because we know the history of policing in this country, we know that this is not going to be the beginning of much of anything good for our communities, but we are incredibly thankful that we have people on the ground in communities who are doing this work and have been doing this work to combat this kind of repression, like Frank Chapman.
So I really appreciate the time you have spent to talk to me today about these issues and educate our viewers on not just the refounding of the incredibly important organization, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, but also to educate them on the need for community control over the police where they are. So thank you so much, Frank, for joining me today.
FRANK CHAPMAN: Yeah. Okay. I wanted to put it in a pitch for the organization, but you got me off.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Absolutely. Please do.
FRANK CHAPMAN: Okay. If people want to get in touch with us, no matter where you are in the country. Go to our website, NAARPR.org, and get in touch with us. Join our organization, join our movement because we, the people are the only ones that can stop this police tyranny under which we are being persecuted and unjustly imprisoned.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Mr. Chapman, thank you so much for joining us.
FRANK CHAPMAN: Thank you.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network from Washington, DC.