How did a traffic stop for an alleged illegal lane change lead to the brutal arrest and eventual death of Sandra Bland? Anyone watching that heartbreaking video account of the interaction between this white cop, Brian Encinia, and this young African American woman, must go on to reflect on the culture of racist violence among American law enforcement entities. We must ask questions about its prevalence and its roots. Beyond our grief, we must now come together to expose the terrorist threat posed by racist elements in our police departments, with a view to exposing and prosecuting the rampant criminality of those whose motives are corrupted by the vile hatred of racism.
An article by Victor E. Kappeler PhD, Foundation Professor and Associate Dean of the School of Justice Studies in the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University, makes the following salient historical points:
"The birth and development of the American police can be traced to a multitude of historical, legal and political-economic conditions. The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, however, were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities. For example, New England settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native Americans (National Constable Association, 1995), the St. Louis police were founded to protect residents from Native Americans in that frontier city, and many southern police departments began as slave patrols. In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation's first slave patrol. Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.
Policing was not the only social institution enmeshed in slavery. Slavery was fully institutionalized in the American economic and legal order with laws being enacted at both the state and national divisions of government. Virginia, for example, enacted more than 130 slave statutes between 1689 and 1865. Slavery and the abuse of people of color, however, was not merely a southern affair as many have been taught to believe. Connecticut, New York and other colonies enacted laws to criminalize and control slaves. Congress also passed fugitive Slave Laws, laws allowing the detention and return of escaped slaves, in 1793 and 1850."
Professor Kappeler strengthens his argument via other scholarly sources (Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver (2006:186) who observe : "the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”
Anyone witnessing the blatant criminal brutality demonstrated in the actions of members of police forces in today's Ferguson, New York City, South Carolina, Texas, Tulsa, and other American states and cities, must stop to reflect on the origins of American policing as stated by Kappeler and associates. There can be no doubt that the behavior of the officers in question and those who continue to justify their behavior through what former NY City policeman Frank Serpico calls "testi-lying", must be understood in the context of this history. Serpico experienced the terroristic treatment of his own colleagues. He bears the scars of that abuse. The terror that characterized slave society continues to be reflected in the actions of law-enforcement departments that have a view of people of color rooted in the social dynamics of slave society and its aftermath. The terrorism that was used to deny the humanity of persons of color is still evident in the callous practices of today's "slave patrols". The ruthless criminality of these officers has led to a national outcry, symbolized by the declaration "BLACK LIVES MATTER!!!".
In America today we are willing to invade countries to defend the Human Rights of people. We are committed to fight against terrorism wherever it exists. We call out the perpetrators of murder and target them for international scorn and the sting of Justice. What about the terrorism that is daily perpetrated against Black People here... When will we see the same commitment to obliterating the scourge of hate in our midst? When will the rotten apples in our police forces be singled out for the treatment we reserve for terrorists? That is what they are. That is how they should be treated. The assumptions that informed the slave patrol are alive and well in Ferguson, Waller County, NY City, Tulsa, South Carolina, Florida, and every place where certain white police officers see people of color as less than human. Some of these officers have been shown to be members of the Ku Klux Klan, who were primary actors in the original slave patrols.
Our ancestors were terrorized for over four hundred years in order to maintain the control that an evil system of exploitation needed to secure itself. We will not submit to these atrocities anymore. The random stops that Whites are spared, and which become the excuse for chasing us down, running us over, slamming our faces into concrete sidewalks, pressing their hard knees into our spines, choking the breath out of our bodies, and shooting us in our backs must be called what they are... Acts of terror. Our society must end its practice of local policing as slave patrols. The time has come to acknowledge that terrorism by any other name ... is still an evil. It must be discredited and stamped out. It is time to do to others as we would have them do to us.