The Black Chronicles

How policing began in America: from slave patrols to traffic stops

American policing can be categorized into two historical narratives, Slave patrols, and Jim crow laws.

Slave Patrols

In southern slaveholding states, policing was born from the roots of slave patrols, groups made up of white volunteers were empowered to use “vigilante tactics” to enforce laws related to (you guessed it) slavery. They locate and return enslaved African Americans who escaped, they also crush uprisings organized by the enslaved, and punished enslaved workers who they found to have violated the “plantation rules.”

The first slave patrol started in South Carolina in the early 1700s. In an excerpt written by Michael A Robinson, every state that had not yet abolished slavery had slave patrols. Members of the slave patrol could possibly enter anyone’s home, regardless of their race or ethnicity, it all had to do with suspicion that they were sheltering enslaved African Americans.

The first police forces in the United States were mostly white by an overwhelming amount, male and were responsible to respond to a disorder rather than a crime.

“Police Officers” were trained and expected to “control a dangerous underclass” which obviously meant African Americans, immigrants and poor individuals. As today and as its been in the past, there are very few standards for hiring and training police officers.

Jim Crow Laws

After the Civil War ended, slave patrols were no more, but the people who were enslaved saw very little relief from a racist government and racist policies and became subject to the “Black Codes.” For the following three years, the “Black Codes” specified how, when and where African Americans can work, how much they can be paid,, restricted Black voting rights, when and where to travel and where to live, limiting them to specific areas of places.

When the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, the “Black Codes” quickly became illegal by giving formerly enslaved African Americans equal protection under the law. Even after the ratification of the 14th Amendment, 80 years later Jim Crow Laws mandated separate public spaces for African Americans and whites, spaces such as schools, libraries, water fountains and many more; guess whose job it was to make sure the spaces stay separate? the Police! If any African Americans ever broke the law, they’d often face police brutality.

Authorities ignored all the crimes that were committed against African Americans, the perpetrators were not punished for lynching African Americans. The judicial system did not hold the police accountable for failing to intervene when Black folks were being murdered by white mobs.

We know for a fact that white police officers disproportionately target Black drivers. Police institutional racism of decades ago still matter today, policing culture still have not change, it has only transformed.

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