For community control over the police! Now is the time to demand elected civilian review boards

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After every sickening murder by cops, politicians and police chiefs shake their heads sadly and create another toothless police commission. From Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond, outraged protesters have lost their patience with the system. (Keep visiting for continuing reports on Baltimore.)

Many of these protesters want to bring this system down. Until that day, what can be done? Mounting a national campaign for elected civilian review boards!

The Freedom Socialist Party has a long history in this struggle. Through Seize the Time for Oppressed People (STOP) in the 1970s, FSP and Black construction union militants organized against Seattle police harassment of people of color, gays, women, the poor, and youth. After Rodney King’s savage beating in Los Angeles in 1991, FSP organized with the Coalition Against Police Abuse (CAPA), former Black Panthers, and other movement activists.

STOP and CAPA each wrote amendments to their city charters that would have set up strong, authentic review boards. What follows are elements from their proposals.

Real authority

The board would give civilians the power to investigate and resolve all complaints of police misconduct, including assault, discrimination, infiltration of community groups, sexual harassment, and false arrest. It could mandate training for officers or discipline, up to and including firing. It could protect whistle-blowing cops. And it could require the city to pay for damage caused by police.

Elected, paid, independent

Review board members would be elected. In LA, CAPA proposed that one paid, full-time member be elected from each of the city’s 15 districts and serve four-year terms. Each member would appoint a special investigator who had unrestricted access to crime sites and the power to subpoena police department records and personnel. If a review board panel decided in favor of a complainant, the case would be turned over to the special city prosecutor.

Special city prosecutor

An elected special city prosecutor, independent of the city attorney’s office and the City Council, would handle all criminal cases against police officers and have full subpoena powers.

Affirmative action

Staff for the offices of the special prosecutor and the review board would be hired on the basis of affirmative action policies.

The efforts of CAPA and STOP to win elected civilian review boards were each blocked. But both campaigns blew police brutality wide open, forced politicians to implement some reforms, and handed down a framework for other activists in the unfinished battle to curb police brutality. Click the links below to view the full ordinance proposals. Let’s do it!

Civilian Review Board proposals:

CAPA’s proposed amendments to the Charter of the City of Los Angeles

STOP’s proposed ordinance presented to the Seattle City Coucil

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