Around 1,200 people packed the Jacqueline Vaughn Auditorium and the lobby of the Chicago Teachers Union hall the night of Nov. 22.
They were unionists, community organizers, students, former prisoners and police-torture survivors, kinfolk of those wrongfully incarcerated or murdered by police, Black Lives Matter activists, migrant rights activists and representatives of freedom struggles around the globe.
They came from Chicago itself and from over 100 other cities and towns in 28 states. They were there to open the three-day refounding conference of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, a coalition first formed in the early 1970s.
Standing beneath a banner saying “Fight Racist and Political Repression, Demand Community Control of the Police,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates greeted the crowd. The CTU just won a new contract after a militant 11-day strike, its second in seven years.
Davis Gates told how the CTU had changed its constitution in 2010 to make “our charge the fight for justice and the humanity of the children before us in our classrooms.” She welcomed the audience to a “house built by Black women who believed in the humanity of Black, Brown and poor children.”
Wide range of speakers
The speakers that night and throughout the weekend reflected the range of communities affected by state terror. Many had suffered personally and terribly at the hands of the state apparatus. All of them brought the crowd to its feet with chants and standing ovations.
Xicano activist and former political prisoner Carlos Montes, a cofounder of the Brown Berets, spoke of the fight against police terror and state repression in the Southwest in historic context and today. Bernadette Ellorin, North America vice chair of the International League of Peoples Struggle and spokesperson of BAYAN USA, linked the struggle against racism and repression in the U.S. to the fight against U.S. imperialism around the globe.
Amanda Shackelford spoke of the case of her son, Gerald Reed, one of many people tortured by the Chicago Police Department into signing false confessions. Reed has been in prison for 28 years. His conviction was overturned last year but he has not been released. “When I speak, I am not only speaking for my son,” Shackelford said. “I am speaking for the men who don’t have a family anymore.”
Deported Palestinian community organizer Rasmea Odeh spoke by video from Jordan. Odeh is also a torture victim, imprisoned for 10 years after being tortured and sexually assaulted into signing a false confession by the U.S.-funded Israeli occupation forces. Jess Sundin of the Minnesota Antiwar Committee described the FBI raids on her home and those of other anti-war activists in 2010 and their victorious resistance to a state grand jury.
Former Black Liberation Army prisoner Masai Elehosi spoke of the struggle to free Jamil Al-Amin (f.k.a. H. Rap Brown) and other political prisoners, and Edwin Cortes, who served 19 years for fighting for Puerto Rican independence. Rosemary Cade spoke of her son Antonio Porter, tortured by the Chicago Police Department, wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 74 years. Toshira Garraway spoke of her fiancé, Justin Tiegin, beaten to death by St. Paul police and his body left in a dumpster. Kimberly Handy-Jones, whose son was murdered by St. Paul police in 2017, spoke. Also addressing the assemblage were Dorothy Holmes, whose son Ronald Johnson was murdered by Chicago police in 2014, and La Tanya Jenifor-Sublett, who was arrested and tortured by Chicago cops at the age of 19 and spent 21 years in jail for a crime she didn’t commit. And many, many more.
Pastor Emma Lozano, founder of Centro Sin Fronteras, addressed a panel opposing police cooperation with federal agencies to oppress our communities. Her brother, Rudy Lozano, was assassinated in 1983. Sheridan Murphy, former director of the Florida American Indian Movement, spoke of the struggle to free Leonard Peltier.
Frank Chapman: ‘Taking struggle to a new level’
The guiding spirit of the conference was Frank Chapman, field organizer and educational director of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Chapman was wrongfully convicted of armed robbery and murder in 1961 and sentenced to life and 50 years in a Missouri state prison. In 1973, the original NAARPR took up his case. He was freed in 1976 after 14 years behind bars and in 1983 was elected the alliance’s executive director. He is the author of a newly published book, “The Damned Don’t Cry: Pages From the Life of a Black Prisoner and Organizer.”
“We did not call you to this refounding conference to celebrate or commemorate what we did 40 years ago,” Chapman told the crowd. “We called you here to join us in rededicating ourselves to defend the inalienable democratic right of our people, oppressed people and workers, to rise up and overthrow their oppression in this present moment of history. We called you here to join us in consolidating and uniting all the pockets of resistance to police tyranny everywhere it exists in the United States of North America and to inscribe on our banners community control of the police. We called you here to join us in renewing and taking to a new level and to new heights the struggle to free political prisoners and the wrongfully convicted.
“We called you here because we share the vision of many of you to abolish the police and prisons and see it as part of the larger vision, changing and abolishing governments that enslave and oppress us. Ending racist and political repression is our central task in this moment in history. There can be no better world in birth without the carrying out of this task. This conference provides a historic opportunity for our movement to come together in a broad united front based on the inalienable right of the oppressed and the working class to organize and fight for radical systemic change. We are not fighting for some abstract ‘we the people’ democracy. We are fighting for a democracy that recognizes our right to rebel and overthrow the powers that be.”
Angela Davis: ‘For the abolition of prisons’
The keynote talk of the first evening was given by famed activist Angela Davis, a leader of the original NAARPR, whose struggle against her political frame-up in the 1970s won support around the world.
Recounting 20th-century battles against racist and political frame-ups from the Martinsville Seven to the Wilmington 10, Davis said, “We have to continue to get people out of jails and call for decarceration, but we must also make explicit calls for the abolition of the prisons entirely. On our work against racist police violence, we must call for community control of the police as opposed to police review commissions.”
The 17 talks of the opening night rally may be seen and heard at tinyurl.com/NAARPRrefounding
Over 800 registered delegates attended workshops and panels. Topics included “How to Build for Community Control of Police,” “It is Our Duty to Fight for our Freedom: The Fight to Free Political Prisoners and the Wrongfully Incarcerated,” “The Fight Against Racist and Anti-LGBTQ Violence,” and “Families to the Front: Families as Leaders in the Fight Against Police Murder and Unjust Incarceration.”
The success of the conference reflected ongoing community struggles around the country. The largest number of participants came from the Chicago area but large groups came from California, Florida, Indiana, Texas, Minnesota, Missouri, Utah and Wisconsin.
Justice for those murdered, wrongfully incarcerated by police
In particular it reflected the hard work of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, which has fought for years to win justice for those murdered or wrongfully incarcerated by the police. It is leading the movement for a Civilian Police Accountability Council in Chicago and led the successful fight to convict Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.
Among the many organizations represented were the the Anti-Police Terror Project from Oakland, the Arab American Action Network of Chicago, the Centro Community Service Organization in Los Angeles, Centro Sin Fronteras, Chicago Boricua Resistance, the Chicago Torture Justice Center, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the Innocent Demand Justice Committee, the International Committee to Free Leonard Peltier, the International League of People’s Struggle, the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, Justice for Brian Quinones and Justice for Cordale Handy from Minneapolis, the Lynne Stewart Organization, the New Abolitionist Movement, the North Texas Action Committee, the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, the Twin City Coalition 4 Justice for Lamar, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), many chapters of Students for a Democratic Society and the U.S. Palestinian Community Network. Members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists came from St. Louis. Several union locals from around the country were also represented. Members of Struggle-La Lucha attended from Baltimore and New York City.
The final session of the conference, on Nov. 23, resolved that “this conference re-establishes the National Alliance and a renewed Black-led, Left-led, multiracial, multinational movement to stop police crimes, mass incarceration and to end racist and political repression.” The full text of the resolution, photos and other material from the conference may be found at NAARPR.org
The assembled delegates elected Frank Chapman as executive director. A continuations committee will map out the next steps of the alliance in the immediate future.