Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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HISTORY OF RACISM IN AMERICAN POLICING

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THE HISTORY OF THE POLICE

On June 5, 2020, PBS NEWS HOUR published an article titled “Two-thirds of black Americans don’t trust the police to treat them equally. Most white Americans do.” At some points, most parents have “the talk” with their children. In a household with black kids, “the talk” is to prepare us for police interactions. The rules that black parents teach their children to prevent us from being a victim of police brutality, oftentimes don’t prevent anything because of deep-rooted racism.

For white individuals, it can be challenging to understand why two-thirds of black Americans don’t trust the police; they believe that police are here to protect. However, that has not always been the case for black people. The modern-day police were once “slave patrols,” whose mission was to control slaves. A 2014 article was published at Eastern Kentucky University titled “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing.” It was written by Dr. Victor E. Kappeler, the Associate Dean of the School of Justice Studies.   The article reads, “In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation’s first slave patrol. Slave patrols helped maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially considered property.”

Additionally, there came the Slave Catchers, whose goal was to capture fugitive slaves, even in free states, for money. Slave Catchers would often go to black communities and kidnap black people. Slave Patrols and Slave Catchers didn’t have a lot of differences, but the common goal was always to make sure that black people were treated as property. 

The Reconstruction era, defined as the time from the end of the Civil War in1865 to1877, was when slavery abolished and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were adopted. During that time police racism runs deep in the justice system in the South. A Time article reported that in big cities like Boston in the North where the first public-funded police were founded to protect goods. However, in the South, the article stated “during Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.” 

Unfortunately, corruption in the 1800s from the police would persist into the 1900s, a turning point in policing. The Civil Rights movement during the 1960s exposed the bitterness in the police. According to Insider, “ During the 1960s, African Americans began to challenge the way police were treating their communities. To protest the treatment and racial profiling, riots, boycotts, and peaceful protests broke out in the US, mainly in the South. In response, the police used harsh tactics to keep order, including tear gas, high-pressure water hoses, and attack dogs. Some of these events were televised nationally.” Does that sound familiar?

With the deep-rooted racism in the police, it is apparent why a Harvard study claims that black people are six times more likely to be killed by police. It is a shame to see the same system that was built to keep us in chains–that our ancestors revolted against–is the same police system now that is placing their knees on our necks until we suffocate. We learn about history to prevent us from repeating our mistakes, but now, over 300 years after the Carolina Slave Patrols, we are still struggling with the same issue. It’s time to rethink the police system.