Do we trust the police to defund and restructure themselves? Will community control really guarantee permanent changes to policing as we know it today?
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: This is Jacquelyn Luqman with the Real News Network. The demand to defund the police is spreading across the country. Rising up from the ongoing protests in response to the public lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as the shooting death of Breonna Taylor during a no knock warrant gone wrong in Louisville, Kentucky, the police mocking Shawn Reed on video after they chased and shot him in Indianapolis, Indiana, the attempted cover up by the police and prosecutors office of the vigilante murder of Ahmad Arbery in Glenn County, Georgia, and just last week, the fatal shooting of Rashard Brooks in the back by police in Atlanta, Georgia. And all of this after years and years of unaccounted for shootings of mostly black, Latino, indigenous people, but also of poor white people by members of what is called law enforcement across this country.
But the people in the streets contend that these alleged public servants aren’t serving the public, that they aren’t enforcing the law as much as they are acting too often as sidewalk judge, jury, and executioners, and that their police department budgets represent too sizeable a portion of most cities’ expenditures that should be reallocated to other areas that would truly serve the people and improve the people’s lives. This is the basis for the call to defund the police.
But we have to ask, is it enough to solve the problem of the epidemic of extrajudicial police murder that must come to an end? Well, here to talk with me about defunding the police and what truly changing policing would really mean, is Frank Chapman, the executive director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Frank, thanks so much for joining me.
Frank Chapman: Thank you so much for having me.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Now, Frank, of course, this conversation around defunding the police is taking center stage coming from the ongoing protests, and I feel like the last conversation you and I had last year was ahead of its time. We talked about an issue that I know you’re going to bring up later on in this discussion, but I want to start with this idea of defunding the police. Should police budgets be slashed and reallocated to other services? Because that’s the demand, and I want to get your thoughts on that particular issue.
Frank Chapman: Yeah, we’ve been involved in the struggle for community control of the police since 1969, and our organization has been involved in the struggle since 1970. We don’t have no problem with defunding the police, we just got a problem about who’s going to be in charge. If you’re going to leave the people who have created the problem in the first place in charge, then, obviously, it’s going to be a problem with the defunding. The police need to be defunded just like the Pentagon. Now, if you’re talking about budget cuts and what not, it should be substantial, because let me give you an example. A little over a hundred million dollars, the mayor of Los Angeles has already said he’s taking out of the police budget to commit to community.
That’s peanuts, and that’s when we are afraid of happening if you leave those people who are in power in charge of this. They’re still neo-liberals, they haven’t stopped being that because there’s a rebellion going on. They’re still going to try to do the budget shifts in such a way as to leave our people at a disadvantage. We need the people who are impacted by the police, and the huge budget around which they operate, to be in charge of the defunding. That’s why we say defunding cannot take place in the absence of community control. If it does, then you’re going to get a recycling of the problem. Defunding has to take place with the community in charge of the defunding. That’s how we see it.
In the legislation that we have proposed there in Chicago for an all elected civilian police accountability council, we’ve had defunding in there since we first drew legislation back in 2013.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Wow.
Frank Chapman: So, this is not something new that just came up. This has been there. What we are afraid of, well, we’re not afraid of it, but what we caution people about is this. Don’t let those who created the problem be in charge of solving it.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: And the example that you raised with the one police department committing to slashing their budget by a hundred million dollars and reallocating those funds, it is important who is doing this and who is deciding where those funds will be reallocated to. Because it does raise a few questions, that if one police department could that easily and that quickly decide, “Well, we don’t need a hundred million dollars,” people should be asking, “Well, how much more money do you have left that just giving away a hundred million dollars doesn’t hurt?” And people should also be asking, “Well, who’s deciding who will get those $100 million in funds. What are those organizations operations in the community, and what ties do they have to the people making the decisions and the police departments themselves.” So, I think it’s really important that we make it clear that we need to be asking these questions that you raised. Who is doing this? Who’s making these decisions when people are talking about defunding the police.
Now, you mentioned community control over the police. Explain what this is, why it’s important in the context of not just defunding the police, but changing the nature of policing as it exists in this country today.
Frank Chapman: Well, this is really a struggle has been going on in our community for damn near a century, and we’ve come to some conclusions about how it has to be resolved. Not based on some abstract theory, but based on our actual experience as a movement, and it has to be resolved like this. It started back in the 60s with the Black Power movement and the Panthers. It has to be resolved like this here. We, who are impacted by police tyranny and terror, we have to be the ones in charge of the process. We have to be the ones in charge.
Now, what we have to be in charge of is saying who polices our communities and how our communities are policed. How they are policed has a not to do with the budget. Who polices our community, has to do with eliminating racism, in terms of the police department. We want to make sure that racist, Ku Klux Klan minded cops, there’s a whole bunch of them going on today, are not in our communities, policing our communities.
We want to also demilitarize the police, because the police also operate as an occupying army. It’s a paramilitary organization. And so, some of that like in Chicago, they got $1.4 billion budget. Some of that money is being used to buy hardware from the Pentagon, military hardware. I mean, helicopters, sniper equipment, armored cars, all of that stuff, you know? And so, the defunding has to also be coupled with demilitarizing the police and only our movement can make that happen. Because our movement is about putting the people in the community in charge of the policing that goes on in their communities, and once we have empowered ourselves with that power, then we can proceed to defund the police according to our program, according to what we think is necessary for the community. We can proceed to demilitarize in the same manner.
And then, we can regulate them in terms of how they conduct themselves in our communities. We can regulate them to the point of regulating them out of existence. People think I’m joking when I say that, but I’m talking about policing as it exists today. We can only eliminate that type of policing by community control of the police, by letting the people who are impacted be the ones in charge of defunding the police, demilitarizing the police, and regulating the police. If that’s not going on, then it’s just piecemeal reforms. They’ll give us some defunding on one day with a teaspoon, and take it back the next day with a shovel, because they’ll be in charge of the process, not us.
If we’re in charge of the process, we can make sure that these reforms have a permanent impact in terms of our community, because it’s about power. If we’re not changing the power relationships between the police and ourselves, then nothing changes. So, we’ve got to change that power relationship. And that’s not only true to the police. That’s true of education. That’s true of delivery of healthcare services. That’s true of all the institutions that function and operate in our communities. We’ve got to be in charge. If we’re not, it makes no sense, makes no sense.
Reparations make more sense than just defunding, because let me tell you why. We’re talking about shifting the budget-
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Right.
Frank Chapman: And we’re talking about what they call reinvestment in our communities and so forth and so on. We’re talking about doing it with the same system that has oppressed us and kept us in the situation that we’re in for damn near 400 years. Okay. So now … Well, for over 400 years. So now, if we’re serious about this, then we have to see the oppression that has been, that black people have been subjected to and how we’re still living under the vestiges of slavery with unemployment, with bad housing, poor delivery of health services, all of the social economic conditions that you talk about. Then defunding the police is not going to raise enough money to deal with all of those problems. It’s just not. We’re talking about trillions of dollars.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Right.
Frank Chapman: And so, if we’re going to demand something like budget shifts, let’s demand reparations. Let’s demand that we get reparations from the government to deal with the whole range of these problems, to completely eliminate all the vestiges of slavery in this country. That’s what we should be talking about, because like somebody asked me during a demonstration, they said, “Well, after you get community control of the police, then what do you want? What are you going to want after that?” And my response was, “Everything. Everything. We want everything. Everything that’s been taken from us, we want. Everything. You’ve been robbing us for four centuries, so we want everything. We want complete, total restitution.”
Jacquelyn Luqma…: And you know what, Frank? I’m so glad you said that. I’m so glad you brought up that question that someone asked you about, “Once you get community control over the police, what else do you want after that?” Because therein, I think, lies the crux of the issue, that people in this country are afraid of the oppressed finally having the same level of power that they have always had. At least that’s how I see it. Is that how you see it, also?
Frank Chapman: Absolutely. Here’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about an unfinished revolution in this country that was started back during the Civil War. From 1861 to 1865, you had a Civil War. At the time the Civil War broke out, the highest investment in the country was in a slave. That was the highest investment in the country that anybody could make was to buy a slave. Because the slaveholders were raking in something like over $300 billion, all right? And it was only 300,000 of them.
So now, when the Civil War broke out and when it ended, one thing changed forever, and that was the buying and selling of human beings. But not slavery, because they brought that back in the form of the 13th amendment, where they said slavery is abolished except for convicted persons. And then, for a very brief period, from 1867 to 1877, you had what is called Black, what Dr. W.E.B. Dubois called Black Reconstruction. But that was a revolutionary period in our history where democracy really happened for about 10 years, where black folks were in charge of their own political destiny in those areas where we constituted a majority. And in those areas where we didn’t constitute a majority, we coalesced, a coalition with poor white farmers and made some of the most radical changes in the history of this country. Public education come out of that period. The women’s suffrage movement come out of that period.
But that revolution was not finished, it was stopped. The Reconstruction governments were overthrown through Ku Klux Klan terrorism, and then set up in its place was a police like state called Jim Crow, which lasted for damn near 90 years. So now, we didn’t finish that revolution. We’re still dealing with it now, in terms of voting rights … Take any problem that black people have, it’s because that revolution was not finished. But we can’t go back in history and finish it. It won’t be just us getting democratic rights and what not under the system like we could have done it then, but they missed that opportunity. So now, it means that in order for us to get those rights, we got to change the whole damn system, from top to bottom.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Frank, I have to ask you, when people say things like, “Well, listen. A lot of police departments have already instituted reforms. There are community control boards and community oversight boards where members of the community are involved in some part of the process of reviewing police conduct.” What’s your response to those efforts of reform that have been implemented in some areas? Have they been useless? Are they worth anything? Are they really reforms, and do reforms matter? Can this system be reformed?
Frank Chapman: Yeah, reforms matter, but for whom? If it’s a reform to maintain, if it’s a reform that does not change the power relationships between the oppressor and the oppressed, if it’s a reform designed to maintain the status quo, then that’s the reform that works for them. If it’s a reform that changes the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed, in terms of power, then that works for us. Like the abolition of slavery worked for us, you know? Doing away with Jim Crow worked for us, you know? And so, we know how to get those kinds of reforms. It’s got to be a social upheaval. That’s, that’s how we get them. You don’t get those kinds of reforms by politicians suddenly having a change of heart and suddenly deciding that, “Well, we haven’t been treating these people fairly and it’s time for us to be fair.”
Well, what’s fair? You mean you’re going to give up your super profits that you get from exploiting us? You going to give that up? What’s fair? Like Frederick Douglass says, “A kinder slave master is not fair.” We want to get rid of slaves. Just to be better fed and better clothed under the same system that continues to exploit us and use us like animals, that’s not fair. We want to overturn this whole system and create one that is truly fair to the people. And then, we want to be the ones who decide what is fair. Let us decide that, not you. You have no moral authority over us to decide what’s fair. You’ve been exploiting us and abusing us for four centuries. You don’t have no moral authority to tell us about what’s fair. You need to get out, we need to get you out of there.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: And another issue that people are raising, Frank, in the context of changing policing in America is the issue of qualified immunity. I feel like this is certainly a legal issue that needs to be addressed. The police are immune from being sued individually for some acts of violence that they commit against people. And this is, I think, where the police unions come in and defend police officers and, according to some laws, individual people who might be able to sue the police department for a wrongful death in a civil suit, or they may be able to sue the city, cannot sue the individual person who actually took someone’s life. So, this is an issue that’s been raised in this discussion around policing.
Frank Chapman: Yeah, that’s another example of injustice. But also, look at it like this here. Tell me what union in the United States of North America defends its members if they are accused of the crime of murder? What union does that? What union defends their members if they are accused of any crime outside of the … If they’re accused of stealing in the workplace, what union comes to their defense?
Jacquelyn Luqma…: I don’t know that there is a union that exists that does that.
Frank Chapman: But there is one union that does, the police union. The police union defends murderers. The police union hires lawyers. The police union does … And then, when we take them to civil court and sue them, our tax paying dollars is what goes into the settlement. So yeah, you mean, is that the kind of [inaudible 00:20:16] that you’re talking about?
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Basically yes, to keep them from being individually sued at all. That’s being taken off the table. There have been-
Frank Chapman: Not only sued, but also keeps them from being criminally charged.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Yes. Yes. And that’s-
Frank Chapman: The same process also keeps them from being discriminatory … And makes us pay taxes, tax paying dollars, for the police repression that exists in our community. They murder our people and then we, our tax paying dollars pay off the settlements.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: And we pay for it.
Frank Chapman: Yeah, so that’s just really ridiculous.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Yeah. I don’t think that there is anything that encapsulates the completely unequal and oppressive power relationship between policing, as it exists today, and the policed. And we’re not talking about, Frank, mostly white people in middle class and upper class communities, because in some regards they already have community control over their police. They, if they don’t like the way the police are operating in their communities, they complain and things change.
It does not happen in our communities, so we are really talking about changing the power dynamic between specific groups of people and the law enforcement apparatus that’s used by this capitalist white supremacist system to control that oppressed group of people. And I just have to say, Frank, that the statistic that you gave a little earlier, about 300,000 enslaved people generating, did you say $3 billion of profit?
Frank Chapman: Yeah, $3 billion. That was what the slave holders, that was what their property value was estimated at combined at the time Civil War broke out, about $3 billion. Which was a whole lot of money back then. Now, that would be damn near a trillion dollars.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Wow. Yeah.
Frank Chapman: So, yeah. And the highest form of investment, in other words, what you got the greatest amount of return on, was to buy a slave and to sell a slave. Buying and selling slaves. Buying and selling slaves.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: And people would be mistaken if they think that this capitalist system that we are struggling against still, and even more intensely in the streets right now, has changed that much from that time during our ancestors’ enslavement. The system hasn’t changed. They’ve just changed the nature of enslavement to look a little bit different, but it’s still the same system.
So, Frank, you and your organization have been fighting for community control over the police and community control over our communities for 30 years, since the 70s. We have got to be serious. We have got to be serious in understanding what we are fighting for, what we’re fighting against, and what we want on the other side of this. So, how do people connect with you and your organization, the National Alliance Against Police, I’m sorry, Against Racist and Political Repression in order to get those connections and get this right? Get this revolution right and finish it this time.
Frank Chapman: Okay, that’s easy. Go to NAARPR.org, that’s our website, and you can join our organization. We had an international day of protest on May the 30th. Just on that one date, and that was doing this rebellion, right? On that one day 700 people came into our organization nationally.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: Wow.
Frank Chapman: On that one day. Now, people have been constantly joining since, so you can help make a movement like ours irresistibly powerful by simply joining it and getting engaged in this struggle. So, we encourage everyone within the sound of my voice to go to NAARPR.org and become a part of this movement, become part of this organization, to make sure that the changes that we’re advocating, to make sure that the change that we’re dreaming about, that we can make that happen. Because only we, the people can make it happen. The politicians are not going to make this happen.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: And, I have to end by saying that I think, Frank, that you and I feel the same level of intensity and urgency as we’re talking about this issue. I hope that came across in this discussion that we have had, that people are watching right now. Because we are in the midst of a very serious struggle for where we will go as a country and what will happen to us as a people, so time is of the essence, and we don’t have any time to keep playing games and playing nice with people.
So, I really appreciate you, Frank, coming on and laying down the truth and the history behind this push for what needs to be community control over the police and nothing short of that. So, I really, really honor and appreciate your time today.
Frank Chapman: Okay, we thank you as well.
Jacquelyn Luqma…: And I thank you all for watching. This is Jackie Luqman in Washington, DC, the belly of the beast. Stay angry, my friends. Stay in these streets, finish the revolution.
Production: Genevieve Montinar, Taylor Hebden
Studio: Taylor Hebden