Community Control of Public Safety: Building a Transitional Program for Power

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“The system and its minions will never create anything that challenges the function of its police.”

That Community Control Over Police campaigns (CCOP) are essentially neocolonialism is a rather wild claim that avowed abolitionist activists, like Dubian Ade applies to the articulation of CCOP by advocate Max Rameau, an organizer in Pan-African Community Action (PACA) to which this author also belongs. Understandably Ade avoids the rabbit hole of condemning the Black Panther Party as neocolonialist, the progenitors of CCOP.

While the Democratic Party claims championship over congressional approval of police reform in the name of George Floyd, now awaiting a Senate vote, some Black circles are still debating the virtues or lack thereof in CCOP. Corporate media theater aids and abets the lopsided focus by blitzing the public with coverage of a partisan struggle over the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. Yet Ade is on the offensive against CCOP.

Principled ideological struggle should be welcomed in the liberation movement. However, it begs the question why more effort is put into trying to discredit CCOP, while the ruling class is pulling all stops to hoodwink the public with actual reformism, like the George Floyd Act.

“Some Black circles are still debating the virtues or lack thereof in CCOP.”

The George Floyd Act won't address the role and function of the settler colonial state police or the brutal repression leveled against Black and Brown people in the US. The system and its minions will never create anything that challenges the function of its police, whose role it is to enforce white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy. The issue is not individual "bad apples," as the bill is designed. So, the primary ideological struggle should be to expose such disingenuous reforms.

Advocates of Community Control Over Police (CCOP) have always made it perfectly clear that CCOP does not establishing another toothless “community review” or “oversight” board nor is it anything like “community policing.” CCOP is an attempt to build dual power accountable to poor working-class people and should never be conflated with the aforementioned.

The fundamental thing missing in arguments of abolitionists opposed to CCOP is that US police are only an extension of the capitalist settler colonial state. The focus on the police is only because they are the agents of repression for the capitalist ruling class, their front line for maintaining the oppressive system. CCOP is only a strategic and tactical approach to weakening the power of the state and to eventually abolish the white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal order. For PACA, CCOP has always been a prelude to community control over all the other institutions that now exercise colonial control over our lives, leading to the eventual abolition of the state.

“CCOP is an attempt to build dual power accountable to poor working-class people.”

The strategy starts on the local level to decisively contend for state power held by the colonized poor Black and Brown working class, while shattering the legitimacy and authority of the existing white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal settler ruling class.

At the center of the process must be the poor Black and Brown working class. A focus only on the ballot initiative aspect of CCOP, while ignoring the more major aspect of using it to organize the masses for dual power during the process, will overlook the strategic and tactical advantages of CCOP. The ballot initiative adds a moral and legal front to attack the overall power structure: i.e. the moral question of the human right to self-determination and the legal right to a democratic process vs representatives deciding for us.

Even if we do not win the ballot initiative, we will have won by using it to do the work of organizing the people. If we do win it, then the people are in a legal position to expel the occupation force from their community and use the people's structures that were created during the campaign to realize all sorts of possibilities. These structures will of course be about housing, food, safety, transportation, etc. much more than public safety. This is because intra-communal violence and crime are interrelated with security in housing, food, and other basic human rights.

“The ballot initiative adds a moral and legal front to attack the overall power structure.”

Yes, PACA says the statutory part of the CCOP strategy is to circumvent the power of mayors and police chiefs. This is because they are institutions of the broader state and the CCOP campaign is a strategy to weaken and decentralize the settler colonial state. It is not only a focus on police. And if successful in this regard, it does not mean the people are obligated to maintain any iterations of the Police Departments. In fact, it means the opposite; the people can abolish them and replace them with a force to serve and protect the working class people. They can also re-allocate funds, normally used for PDs of a given district, for childcare or education, or even to start some sort of co-op to employ the unemployed. This is antithetical to any form of neocolonialism, as Ade asserts. It may not be liberation or total decolonization, and the state will surely try to undermine it. But that is the price of liberation.

Notwithstanding the success or failure of our efforts, since our inception PACA has gone door to door, community forum by community forum etc., trying to organize the working class of our people. This is why our initial position papers focus mostly on procedural vision of taking power over police. They are meant for our people not for movement spaces where we theorize. There is nothing wrong with theorizing, as long as it is connected to the test of practice. That is the dialectical and historical materialist basis of CCOP. In the community the masses are not concerned with the theoretical soundness of the concept. A few exercises we've done are visioning exercises, where the people are given scenarios related to securing public safety and are asked to come up with programs to address it. Every time the people come up with remarkable solutions that include prevention and root cause solutions. They also hit us with hard scenarios asking what we would do in situations that involve immediate lethal violence. These things teach us. We learn with the people.

“CCOP strategy is to circumvent the power of mayors and police chiefs.”

No one can possibly know exactly how real community control will look in practice. We will learn it with the people as we attempt to build it. The ballot initiative and the Civilian Police Control Board are the least significant aspect of the CCOP campaign but they are given the most attention by those debating it against defund and abolish. We in PACA will take some responsibility for that. But we all should be working together to build mass permanent organization with one another. Whether defund police, abolish police or CCOP, if the ultimate goal is not to abolish the capitalist, imperialist settler state with poor working class mass based organization at the center, then we are all arguing in a vacuum.


Netfa Freeman is an organizer in Pan-African Community Action (PACA) and on the Coordinating Committee of the Black Alliance for Peace. And is also co-host/producer of the WPFW radio show and podcast Voices With Vision.

This article was first published by Black Agenda Report