The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Chicago Police:
“Civilian Oversight”

Aug 2, 2021

On July 21, Chicago’s city council approved the creation of a new civilian oversight council for the Chicago police.

This new council is the latest result of a long struggle. In 2013, reformers got over 100,000 signatures to establish an elected civilian board to oversee the Chicago Police Department. This was in reaction to killings by cop, like the shooting of Rekia Boyd in 2012, and the police hierarchy’s repeated coverups and defense of brutal cops. At the time, the demand came to nothing.

Then in 2015, after another attempted coverup, the video came out of a Chicago cop shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times as he was walking away. In the wave of protests that followed, linked to those about police killings in other cities, including Michael Brown of Ferguson and Eric Garner of New York, activists renewed their call for civilian control of the police. Instead, in 2017, the city launched a new board with a new name—but no power.

Last summer, protests erupted on a much bigger scale after the shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Once again, many protesters in Chicago demanded civilian oversight of the police, and repeated the demand after Chicago police killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo as the trial for Floyd’s killer was getting underway.

Advocates argue that the new oversight body will dramatically improve relations between cops and those they police by creating trust between cops and “the community.”

In reality, the new citywide council’s members will be chosen by a complicated system of electing local council members, who would appoint a nominating committee, which would itself nominate citywide council members—who could then be rejected by the mayor. The council will have the power to issue a vote of no-confidence in the Police Superintendent—but not to remove him or her. It can propose some police policies, but again these can be overridden by the mayor.

In other words, this council in no way gives control over the cops to residents of the working class and poor neighborhoods where police brutality is rampant, and no one paying attention actually thinks it will. It amounts to one more powerless board that can do nothing but give some cover to the city’s leadership by expressing outrage at the next police murder scandal, carrying out an investigation—and changing nothing.

The fact that it has taken such a long fight to get even a powerless oversight council shows that this city’s ruling class needs the violence of the police to keep under control that huge share of the population that this system leaves out. As this system falls further into decay, the ruling class will inflict more police violence, not less.

No new reform, no oversight board can alter the fact that the violence of the police is rooted in the basic functioning of this capitalist system in decay. To really take on police violence will require taking on that system.