Afro-American Patrolman’s League

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Afro-American Patrolman's League

Origins

After being on the police force for about a year, Officer Edward Palmer experienced the “shoot to kill” order issued by mayor Richard J. Daley during the Black uprisings and looting that occurred on the Westside of Chicago following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those events had a significant impact upon him.

Several Black police officers became concerned for the safety of unarmed Black leaders and Black citizens in general, being killed by white reactionaries. Officer Palmer decided to organize Black officers and began with a small cadre who also had not been on the force very long. Renault “Reggie” Robinson, Curtis Cowsen, Willie Ware, Wilbur Crooks, Jack Dubonnet and Tom Mitchell, who was not a police officer and Palmer, became the Afro-American Patrolman’s League. Howard Saffold and others came shortly, thereafter. They met initially in Palmer’s apartment and later, after chipping in, opened their first office on east 63rd Street.

From an initial group of 10 Black police officers who had been regarded as “Uncle Toms” and in the words of famed Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton,” “Dashiki Pigs”, emerged a group of African American police officers affirming their commitment to the community where they lived. At one point, Chairman Fred ironically told Buzz Palmer that Palmer stood a good chance of being assassinated because he was “more dangerous” then he was. A month later, Fred Hampton and Peoria, Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman, Mark Clark were killed by Cook County State’s Attorney Police on December 4, 1969.[1]

Supporters

Understanding that in order to adequately defend and protect the Black community, this small band of Black officers would need an umbrella of support. The endorsement of Black organizations in Chicago was imperative.

Richard Durham, although not a Muslim, editor of Muhammad Speaks was recruited. He convinced Palmer that Black police needed to demonstrate their support of the community and thus the slogan “We Support the Black Community” was born. Support came from all sides of the city and the Garfield Organization under the leadership of Frederick Douglass “Doug” Andrews proved to be one of the “League’s” staunchest supporters.

Leaders of the AAPL received training in organization development via grants from the Ford Foundation which was held at such places as the University of Chicago and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, to name a few. The League and its’ pioneers were endeared by the community and respected by law enforcement entities all over the nation. Palmer’s life later became the basis for a PBS television series titled “Bird of an Iron Feather”, written by “Muhammad Speaks” editor Richard Durham.

The League got involved in what many termed controversial situations of which eventually struck the “ire” of Mayor Richard J. Daley. Once after providing protection for Rev. Jesse Jackson during a labor dispute, Daley threatened to have members of the League removed from the Chicago Police Department, namely, Officer Palmer.[2]

"Coup"

In 1970, a “coup de tat” occurred within the ranks of the AAPL and Palmer was removed from leadership. It appears that some members had taken the position that his positions were too militant and were injurious to the League’s mission. Palmer had also been on a leave of absence from the department and while doing so, was the head of security for Malcolm X College. When he applied to return to the Chicago Department, he was informed by a subordinate that his leave of absence had not been honored and that his name had been removed from the police department rolls. Quoting Palmer, “it was a blessing in disguise as I am now engaged in wider, more progressive, more encompassing international work and leadership”.[3]

References