by Netfa Freeman
A United Nations Working Group preliminary report on human rights violations against Black America advocates Black community control of police. That’s the general position of Pan African Community Action, one of the groups that testified before the UN experts. Community control of police would shift power, enforce democracy and allow folks to re-imagine community security as “a social force to actually protect and serve” Black people.
From Civil Rights to Human Rights, Black Community Control Now!
by Netfa Freeman
“This UN presence marks another important step forward to obtaining true independent oversight and justice for many who have lost their families to anti-Black police terrorism.”
Now that the fact finding visit to the U.S. by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is over and their preliminary findings seemingly catalog an endless list of racial discriminations and repression by the U.S. state, the struggle of African/Black people must gear up for a next phase. Certainly this UN Working Group (WGEPAD) has been to the U.S. on the same mission before and cited similar issues although but not as extensive and bone chilling.
In 2010 the particular members of this Working Group were different, and as would follow so too were the members of this delegation. Today the WGEPAD is chaired, and this delegation was led, by Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France, daughter of the late revolutionary psychiatrist, philosopher, intellectual Frantz Fanon. Ms. Fanon-Mendes-France is well established in her own right in the fields of international law, conflict resolution, as well as on racism and discrimination. In 2009, she received the Human Rights Award by the Council for Justice, Equality and Peace.
This time the WGEPAD’s visit came on the heels of a series of non indictments following the brutal murder of Black women, men, children, and queer and transgender African/Black people by U.S. police. The visit began January 19, ended the 29th and was to examine the oppressive conditions of Black people living in the U.S. In February 2014, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-24 the International Decade of People of African Descent and this UN presence marks another important step forward to obtaining true independent oversight and justice for many who have lost their families to anti-Black police terrorism and is seen as something more than the ineffective federal investigations.
“The WGEPAD included an explicit call for reparations for Black people.”
It is no small victory that this time –unlike in 2010-- within their preliminary findings released at a press conference on January 29th, 2016 the WGEPAD included an explicit call for reparations for Black people, alarm at and call for urgent remedy for the rampant killings of Black people by police with impunity. The findings also embraced the radical community call for community control over police saying, “Following the epidemic of racial violence by the police, civil society networks calling for justice together with other activists are strongly advocating for legal and policy reforms and community control over policing and other areas which directly affect African Americans.”
The Working Group recommends that “Community policing strategies should be developed to give the community control of the police which are there to protect and serve them. It is suggested to have a board that would elect police officers they want playing this important role in their communities.”
While WGEPAD appreciated the grassroots community’s push to have control over the police, they are still not as clear on the issue and the particulars as our movement must be. We must be clear that people of African descent in the U.S. are a domestic colony and that the police are NOT here to protect and serve us. That is to say our treatment in this country reflects the outlook and policies the U.S. government and the Western world practice against all African people globally. The treatment of African/Black people in the U.S. is a direct extension of a colonial subject status in relation to white society and the police are an occupying force for political control by the capitalist class.
One need only examine the historical development of the modern U.S. police. The earliest form of the modern American police lies in the brutal Southern slave patrols legislated through the slave codes that started in South Carolina in 1712. “The plantation slave patrols, often consisting of three armed men on horseback covering a ‘beat’ of 15 square miles, were charged with maintaining discipline, catching runaway slaves and preventing slave insurrection,” according to The Iron Fist and The Velvet Glove; An Analysis of the U.S. Police.
“People of African descent in the U.S. are a domestic colony and that the police are NOT here to protect and serve us.”
This comprehensive 1975 study by the Center for Research on Criminal Justice goes on to explain that “in the North and West, the police institution evolved in response to a different set of race and class contradictions.” There they originated as private security to protect the property of capitalist, to break up worker strikes, and prevent worker protest for fair working conditions.
In present day, while their form has been expanded and their image spun by media and public relations departments, the essential function of police remains to enforce the will and protect the power of those in charge.
In practice this means that police officers' main priority is to protect the wealthy and their property from oppressed Black communities, the homeless population and anyone that doesn’t conform to the ruling class.
With Community Control Over Police the priority of police becomes protecting all human beings, not just the wealthy and their buildings. This is a call for Community Control Over Police as a means of shifting power, enforcing democracy, deconstructing the historic relationship between the police and the Black Community and reimagining a social force designed to actually protect and serve it’s population as policy, not as a meaningless slogan.
The WGEPAD report must now be seen as a window of opportunity toward intensified grassroots organizing for Community Control Over Police, what this can look like and the steps it will take to win it. Some organizations like the DC based organization Pan-African Community Action (PACA) have begun to do just that.
“PACA is also calling for a non-elected and randomly selected civilian board from the ranks of the community itself to exercise full community control over police.”
Between now and the September 2016 release by the WGEPAD of their full and final report Black organizations need to intensify the struggle to build a powerful movement led by the most impacted of our communities. The struggle continues. Organizing around the WGEPAD visit wasn’t done because Black liberation rest in the hands of the UN. It was done to expose the domestic contradictions in the U.S. Empire on a world stage. It was done to forge practical relationships between local and national forces. It was done to spread in the Black community the idea that we have an inseparable connection to African people all over the world.
For its Justice 4 Zo campaign PACA is calling for an independent dual track investigation, conducted by the United Nations or the Organization of American States, into both the death of DC resident and 27 year old educator Alonzo Smith by special police and the social and economic conditions that lead to the disproportionate stops, arrests and deaths of Black people at the hands of the police. PACA is also calling for a non-elected and randomly selected civilian board from the ranks of the community itself to exercise full community control over police, including the budget that is allocated, setting priorities, policies and the hiring and firing of individual police officers.
This year’s visit by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was historic and empowering. But the struggle to build African/Black power in the U.S. led by the most impacted in our communities continues.
Pan-African Community Action says, "This new 21st century belongs to African/Black people. This decade is the decade of organized African/Black resistance. Forward then to Community Control. Community Control NOW! Tomorrow, the United States of Africa.”
Netfa Freeman is an organizer in Pan-African Community Action, the Events Coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies, and radio producer and host for Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM, Washington DC.