A Radical’s Plea
The justification of my existence is that I exist to keep you, the citizens, safe. Ancient and modern history has shown time and time again that this is not the case. But, by definition, I am an employee of the state. My goal and purpose are to be a servant of the people. I am a private citizen with political power. I am meant to be most beneficial to the people I serve. Who am I? Politicians like police, are private citizens with political power. The difference between the two is accountability. There is a system in place that makes sure politicians are able to be held responsible for their actions; be it checks and balances, federal prosecution, or simply not being reelected. The political power and control politicians crave end up being the reason politicians so often look out for their own well-being, interests, and motives. Politicians, motives of control need to be executed, unable to perform the tasks, a tool was necessary, a tool found within the mobilization of the police. Politicians need police, and police need politicians. This symbiotic relationship has made the perfect conditions for the power police hold to only be kept accountable by their fellow officers. Policing has become more than a job, being a police officer is a lifestyle that completely indoctrinates any person that partakes in any role in the system that has been created. There can be no good or bad cops when the act of being a police officer inherently corrupts any cop’s sense of morality.
In order to go through training the police develop an overtly strong sense of camaraderie rallying themselves against the people they have, apparently, been created to serve. The training environment creates a mentality within police officers that separates them from the people they serve. So, when they are serving they hold an Us Vs them or even us or them mentality. Pitting cops against the people they are ‘by design’ created to serve. The mentality created is one that changes law enforcement’s role from a servant serving the law and its people. To a role where they become the law, abiding by a higher jurisdiction where they create the rules they want to follow. If we look further into the history of police and how they came to be we can make the conclusion that this was no accident. Police are, by design, created to abuse and terrorize. Gary Potter, a social justice professor at the University of Eastern Kentucky, he had the same questions I do when it came to the development of policing in the United States, he said this, “ Slave patrols had three primary functions: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules.” From this quote alone we can already see the way this mindset has been adapted to modern policing. They were told to deter slave revolts in the modern day, they brutalize protesters. They create and inspire fear. We as a society can fool ourselves into a false sense of morality when it comes to the police and lie about why they were made and why they still exist but the police’s own actions incriminate themselves.
People can hold the claim that it’s just a few bad apples that give policing as a career a bad reputation. I believe a tree with rotten roots can only ever produce bad apples. It’s been established that the ideas and expectations the police were created to continue into the modern day. From the National Law Enforcement Officer Fund, “Slave patrols were no less violent in their control of African Americans; they beat and terrorized as well. Their distinction was that they were legally compelled to do so by local authorities. In this sense, it was considered a civic duty—one that in some areas could result in a fine if avoided.” It was not only encouraged but expected of the police to be terrorist to the Black community. Terrorizing normal black people or even our most prominent figures, like Martin Luther King Jr., whose assassination has been confirmed to have been executed by law enforcement.
The police’s modern abuse of power can be traced back to the guidelines set by slave patrollers also, “-subject to summary justice, outside of the law-” In the times this quote was written the justice would be subjecting the escaped enslaved people to beatings, maulings or worse: death. In today’s times this mindset has only continued to be exasperated and utilized by government officials, police brutality in any form occurs because the police are making themselves the judge, jury and executioner. Most often times when someone has been killed by the police there is justification given that they were committing a crime beforehand in the case of George Floyd, according to the APD News George Floyd was arrested, “about a possible counterfeit $20 bill being used at a corner store” It is a purposeful and deliberate endless chain of terror enacted by the police. It’s not a mistake of the lack of morality they’ve been trained to have when it comes to policing.
Trained individually within separate departments around the country. The issue of being inhumane is one that plagues the entire country, not just a few departments. Training is not the issue, it is the system itself. Within that system, the police are the only tools of the government. An extension of the politicians they are believed to be so separate from. Within the 13th Amendment, there is a clause that strips a person of their citizenship if they become a felon. People increasingly become felons as a byproduct of over-policing and surveillance. Police aren’t able to take up half the country’s public spending budget on accident. Those budgets were created and agreed upon by politicians, who benefit from the power they hold by using the police as a tool.
The idea of policing is one that continues to keep so much of this country in a wonderland. Full of false hope and dreams of the police being the country’s Knight in shining armor. The reality of police and the way they function is a much more grim truth. One that, I hope, would change your perspective on policing in this country permanently. Modern policing tactics and belief systems have been adopted and accepted from Slave Patrollers. People whose entire mission was to keep people enslaved. The police of the modern day continues on with the same mission of those that came before and shouldn’t continue to be able to exist. The police are brutal, inhumane and violent.
America, Home of the brave, land of the free. This is the ideology we’ve been taught throughout the existence of the United States. A motto of the American Spirit. Home of the free in a country that created its wealth over generations of slavery, how is that brave at all? Within mainstream education curriculum, there have been unmistakable efforts to create a false history of the United States always being the good guy. It’s forced us to never truly reconcile with the reality of America’s actual past. In the article written by Khushbah Shu, 400 Years Since Slavery Timeline, it’s revealed that, despite many people’s first recollection of the British colonizers’ migration to America being the Mayflower, “- a year earlier, 20 enslaved Africans were brought to the British colonies against their will.” This is the first of many instances where enslaved people’s reality, what is simultaneously American History, gets erased.
A reason for this erasure is the belief that black people aren’t slaves so slavery shouldn’t continue to be acknowledged in the modern day. Slavery is over, that is a fact. Slavery being over provides a nice cocoon of deniability, allowing White Americans and the American government to cast away and deny the very obvious links between slavery and modern policing. Deniability has far too often been the excuse for minimizing the influence slavery has had on the United States as a whole. An argument we can all agree on is that slavery was bad, but how can we reconcile the systems that have been created as a consequence of slavery, if we don’t fully accept how detrimental slavery was, in and of itself. People only find comfort in acknowledging slavery within the fact that it’s over. Its being over isn’t justice enough for the systemic issues that have resulted because of practices started while slavery was still ongoing. Slavery cannot turn into an issue of the past if descendants of enslaved people continue to suffer the same ways they did hundreds of years ago.
Saying slavery is inhumane isn’t enough to recognize the complete lack of humanity’s presence for actual centuries. To truly get the correct understanding of how inhumane slavery was we must first look at how we define what it is to be humane. The best way to do that is to look at what our county defines as the freedom to our quality of life. Humanness in the face of commodifying actual humans seems redundant. The rationalization is that enslaved people weren’t people. They were slaves, and the violence they faced was a byproduct of the time. But even within the time period slavery existed, there were still people who saw the lack of humanness and knew it wasn’t moral. People like Samuel Wood. Injured Humanity Graphic Arts is an article written by Julie Melby. Here we are able to find out that Samuel Wood was a Quaker and a New York Printer. In the midst of the political warfare that would eventually end in the criminalization of the Atlantic Slave trade; Wood, wrote Injured Humanity.
It was his attempt to shine light on the injustices endured by enslaved people during their transportation from Africa to America. He wrote an article; its title which is an argument in itself is, Injured Humanity; Being A Representation of What the Unhappy Children of Africa Endure from Those Who Call Themselves Christians. Here we can find first-hand accounts of the quality of life enslaved peoples were granted, “ to divide them into different classes: the first consisting of those bought for the use of the plantations: the second of the in and out-door slaves. The field slaves are called out by daylight to their work: if they are not out in time, they are flogged.” There is nothing human about being forced to live outside, being reduced to a location, and knowing that at any moment in time, you can be beaten. From our very own government, the United States states on the OECD Better Life Index, “Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family.” They were deprived of housing. They were deprived of safety. From Injured Humanity, “ but husbands and wives, parents and children, are parted with as little concern as sheep and lambs by the butcher”. Enslaved people were denied the most basic of our principles of what we define as being human in this country.
Samuel Wood in Injured Humanity wasn’t even advocating for the eradication of slavery as a whole, only the advocation to stop stealing people from across the world. This was the violence they faced before even stepping foot on American soil and truly experiencing chattel slavery. Which is its own beast. Jeniffer Hallem paints a gruesome look at the day-to-day lived experiences of enslaved people in her article, The Slave Experience, “ The female slave was, moreover, faced with the prospect of being forced into sexual relationships for the purposes of reproduction. Perhaps more harrowing, she might be witness to her daughters suffering the same fate.” The violence of chattel slavery is something that can’t be fully understood without being experienced. It’s a violence that has been passed down through generations and still affects us today. In the article, The Legacy of Trauma, written by Tori Deangelis, it’s stated that “The legacy of slavery continues to affect African Americans in a variety of ways. For example, research has shown that African Americans are more likely than other racial groups to experience poverty, unemployment, and incarceration.” This is a direct result of the lack of humanity given to enslaved people during their enslavement.
With the evidence provided it is undeniable that slavery was inhumane, corrupt, and violent. Proceeding with this philosophy we can also come to the conclusion that anything that was created in response to, or because of, slavery is also inherently inhumane, violent, and corrupt. Further into the course of slavery when the country was divided into the Northern free states and the Southern Slave States it became more of a common occurrence for enslaved people to try to escape. In some cases, they’d go free, in others they’d be caught by ‘patrollers.’ A definition of their duties from the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, “Slave patrols served three main functions.’(1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside the law”’ this comes from Slave Patrols: An Early Form of American Policing. Slavery and having the mindset to be overtly violent is ingrained in the DNA of law enforcement in America. Therefore it should not exist.
The police cannot continue to exist. They were created on irredeemable values and goals; like reenslaving escaped slaves and enforcing unnecessary terror and violence within communities. Slaves no longer exist, though the police continue the tradition of robbing humans of their own autonomy through the system of keeping people incarcerated. Police presence wreaks havoc on lower-income communities. Our modern policing is just a reframed version of what slave patrollers were told to do hundreds of years ago, which the police continue to create and support through the prison system. Support for the police stems from the fear of crime. The belief is that when the police are present crime will decrease. An unfortunate truth though is that the places with the highest police presence do not have the highest crime rates, they have the highest white population. Police presence in one community is not the same as the other, over-policing and highly surveilled life has become far too often a common occurrence. If supporters of the police that support law enforcement believe that police presence decreases crime it is simply not true. I’d go further to say that police presence is less of an indication of crime and more of an indication of control. Control of the neighborhood and its inhabitants, a show of power to latinx, black, and indigenous people of color. When the police are present crime doesn’t cease to exist, where can we continue to find justification for their presence? Admitting that the police don’t prevent crime means we as a society must admit to ourselves there is a bigger reason we are so reluctant to let go of this branch of government that continues to abuse its citizens.
Incarceration supporters subscribe to the idea of ‘out of sight out of mind’ when it comes to incarcerated persons. Many continue to subscribe to the rhetoric of ‘The War on Crime’ that created the circumstance of increased police presence across America. According to conservative scholar Arthur Rizer, in Nixon’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention in 1968, he used the words law and order over 21 times. From our knowledge of history, we know that this is simultaneously occurring with the rise of the civil rights movements that occurred from 1965-1977. I suggest to my conservative reader to see this as not a coincidence but as a methodical effort of increased policing and incarceration through the dehumanization of black communities.
Arthur Zimmer and Laus Trautman are conservative scholars who believe in conservatism but are also able to recognize incarceration as an issue that advances political beliefs in their article, The Conservative Case for Criminal Justice Reform, even though they are able to recognize the alarming issue of incarceration has created for us as a society. They say, “ Over the course of almost half a century, this war on crime helped to quadruple America’s incarceration rates.” If the government is waging a war on crime, should the goal not be for the crime to cease? In the same article they state, “363 in the 1960s, then rose further to 548 in the 1970s, then to 663 in the 1980s ‘, about violent crime within the United States. They use this statistic to find justification that the creation of the war on crime was justified but I believe it does the opposite. There was the crime that existed before the mobilization of the police but in the efforts of depleting the crime that existed it increased. If the war on crime is not about decreasing crime we can only conclude that its goal and the goal of the police furthermore is to increase incarceration not prevent crime from happening.
According to J. David Hacker at the National Library of Medicine, at the height of slavery the most people ever enslaved was, “approximately 10 million slaves lived in the United States, where they contributed 410 billion hours of labor.” In 2023, not including those experiencing so many different forms of incarceration, like halfway houses or parole, according to the Prison Policy Organization there are 1.9 million people incarcerated. From Alexi Jones at Prison Policy, “4.9 million people are arrested and jailed each year, and at least one in 4 of those individuals are booked into jail more than once during the same year.” If the point of prison is retribution what is the point if once they get out they are all the more likely to return? It is understandable why supporters of the police hold the belief that criminals are criminals that just continue to do crimes. Looking at the history of the police being figures that recaptured enslaved people, this notion cannot stand as an inalienable fact. Incarcerated people continue to get incarcerated because the police have been grandfathered into a system where they go after people they have already caught.
In the same stride as the slave patrollers being tools of the master and the system, police have continued to be a tool of white supremacy. Conservative reporter and avid police supporter, Sean Hannity, talked about the quick response the police had to a mass shooting in Nashville and said, “Amazing response from law enforcement, you know what, tonight, we don’t know the exact motives, but these guys saved the day” this is the common belief held by conservatives and law enforcement supporters alike, that the police are saviors. Supporters, more specifically white supporters use the police as knights in shining armor calling them whenever they see fit. In areas of mass gentrification like Denver, according to USA Facts, whose white population was 52% in 2010 and rose to an astounding 55% by 2021, within that time police calls and police presence increased exponentially but the crime did not. Five points, a historically black neighborhood in Denver had a black population of 2,011 in 2010 by 2017 this number swindled to 1,724 within this time Black people continued to be 3.4 times more likely to be arrested.
Police Score Card is an organization connected to the Denver police department that keeps track of its budget including statistics of how much is spent per resident per police officer. From the Police Score Card, we can see that in 2010 the police department’s budget was 202.4 million and in 2020 the budget has ballooned to $279,169,00 from the drastic increase in the budget a supporter would assume that crime increased to the same degree. But from Macro Trends we learn that within these ten years, crime rates went from 542 crimes per 1000,000 to 730. A difference of 188 comes out to each crime being worth a $408,000 increase to the police budget. From a supporter’s perspective if the money is flowing into the police should crime not be decreasing? In this endless loop of supplying police departments with massive budgets crime does not decrease. When does it stop?
White people move into black neighborhoods without checking their bias and project it onto the community around them through the police. Research from Braden Beck shows that “For every 5 percent increase in property values, neighborhoods experienced a 0.2 to 0.3 percent increase in discretionary arrests.” It’s not that crime is increasing. Just that now the population living within this environment is seen as something needing to be controlled, kept, and patrolled. Though the police are controllers of the entire United States population, the police continue to be a burden the Black community has to bare. Generational relations between the black community and the police have not changed. They cannot change. No longer enslaved, we live as free people, why I ask do we allow ourselves to live in a society where we are recaptured and patrolled?
Deangelis, Tori, The Legacy Of Trauma, American Psychological Association, 2019
Hallam, Jennifer, Slavery and the making of America. The Slave Experience Men, Women, and Gender, Thirteen.org, 2004
Melby, Julie Injured Humanity- Graphics, Princeton, 2009
NLEOMF- Slave Patrols: An Early Form of American Policing
Shu, Khushbah 400 Years Since Slavery- Timeline, The Guardian, modified 2021
States, United Better Life Index- OECD, OECD, 2023
Wood, Samuel Injured Humanity; Being A Representation of What the Unhappy Children of Africa Endure from Those Who Call Themselves Christians, Published by Samuel Wood., 1805
National Law Enforcement Officers Funds, Slave Patrols an Early Form Of Policing, NLEOMF.org, Accessed 2023
News, APD, Timeline of Events since George Floyd’s Arrest and Murder, 2022
Potter, Gary, The History of Policing in the United States, Eastern Kansas University, 2013
Beck, Braden, As Neighborhoods gentrify, Police presence Increases, 2015
National Library of Medicine, From ’20. and Odd’ To 10 Million: The Growth of the Slave population in the United States. Accessed 2023
Crimes, Denver, Compare Denver Neighborhood Crime Rankings,2022 and 2013, Accessed 2023
Trautman, Laus and Zimmer Arthur, The Conservative Case for Criminal Justice Reform, 2018
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Policy, prison, How Many people are locked up in the United states?, Accessed 2023
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Sagner, Wendy and Peter Wagner, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023, Prison Policy, 2023
It’s been a pleasure to watch this paper develop through the weeks, QueenRandom.
Your controlling metaphor, that today’s police ARE just the modern equivalent of slave patrols, functions very well as metaphor, but isn’t convincing as fact as you describe it. If we got a glimpse inside police training from your paper, or had testimony from cops about the pressures they felt to suppress certain constituent groups, you could make the case on factual grounds.
Your most impassioned and compelling language is in sections where you’re just riffing, but the best numbers come when you compare the slave population to today’s prison population. You could probably really nail down a strong statistical case for the parallel trends of property values, changing demographics, police budgets, discretionary calls, and the racial breakdowns of arrests. That’s not quite your paper type, but your points are stronger when you do have those numbers to wield.