While America was so wrapped up in the injustice of Attorney General Barr hiding the Mueller report, Antwon Rose’s mom faced true injustice and despair: she watched her son’s murderer – Michael Rosenfeld – go free. Yet again, institutional power eclipsed justice for a black family, and the media barely paid any attention – while the rift between law enforcement and the black community widened.
Let’s review why.
Understanding The Black Community’s Relationship with The Police
In order to understand why the black community is and always has been distrustful of the police and not just merely conjecture and fear, you have to go back in history, to the days of slavery.
Source: Affinity Magazine
Associate Dean and Foundation Professor at Eastern Kentucky University, Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D. states:
“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. As Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver (2006:186) remark, “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.”
“Whites,” no matter how poor or low on the food chain, could not be enslaved. “Blacks” on the other hand, were legally allowed to be enslaved by anyone—whites, other free blacks, and even people of mixed race. The distinction was maintained by a legally sanctioned system of surveillance, intimidation, and a brutal force whose purpose was the control of blacks. Slave patrols, also called, “paddy rollers”, were the chief enforcers of this system; groups of armed, mounted whites who rode at night among the plantations and settlements of their assigned “beat”—the word originated with the slave patrols—seeking out runaway slaves, unsanctioned gatherings, weapons, contraband, and generally any sign of potential uprising. They were the stuff of folklore and songs:
Run Nigger run, Patty Roller will catch you, Run Nigger run
I’ll shoot you with my flintlock gun.
Run nigger run, Patty Roller will catch you, Run, nigger run, you’d better get away.
Slave patrols usually consisted of three to six white men on horseback equipped with guns, rope, and whips.
The system continued largely intact after Emancipation and the defeat of the Confederacy. Legally sanctioned slave patrols were replaced by night-riding vigilantes like the Ku Klux Klan, whose white robes, flaming torches, and queer pseudo-ghost talk was intended for maximum terrorizing effect. Lynching and shooting took place alongside the more traditional punishments of beating and whipping; blacks’ economic value as slaves had evaporated and with it the constraints on the lethal force that had offered some measure of protection under the old system.
White supremacy continued as the dominant reality for the next hundred years, a social and psychological reality maintained by terror, surveillance, and the letter of the law. Its power was such that even the New Deal—the most profound reordering of American society since the Civil War—left white supremacy intact. Twenty-six lynchings were recorded in Southern states in 1933.
Present Day Understanding of the Black Community and the Police
In the past several years, there have been a number of high-profile instances of police brutality against black Americans. According to new data from YouGov Omnibus, black people living in the US are significantly more likely to believe those police officers are biased against people of color. They’re also more likely to say it’s common for innocent people to be arrested or convicted of a crime, and that Black Lives Matter movement has been effective.
When asked how much they generally trust their local police, only 14% of black Americans say they trust their police force “very much.” The general population was more than twice as likely (33%) as the black community to choose this answer. Meanwhile, only 7% of the general population and 13% of black people say they “don’t trust [the police] at all.”
Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI.
On average, there were 96 such incidents among at least 400 police killings each year that was reported to the FBI by local police. The reports show that 18% of the blacks killed during those seven years were under age 21, compared to 8.7% of whites.
The disparities appear to be even starker for unarmed suspects, according to an analysis of 2015 police killings by the Guardian. Racial minorities made up about 37.4 percent of the general population in the US and 46.6 percent of armed and unarmed victims, but they made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police.
One of those potential factors: individual cops’ racial bias. Studies show, for example, that officers are quicker to shoot black suspects in video game simulations. Josh Correll, a University of Colorado Boulder psychology professor, who conducted the research, said it’s possible the bias could lead to more skewed outcomes in the field. “In the very situation in which police officers most need their training,” he stated, “we have some reason to believe that their training will be most likely to fail them.”
If you had to spend your whole life enduring widespread marginalization, seeing your family members being raped, kidnapped and murdered by the authorities, and having a substantiated and intelligent recognition of the reality that this sort of savagery and oppression have been the plight of your people since they were first seized from their country, shackled to each other, put on boats of disease and death; sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, then when reaching their destination, forced into slavery for centuries. Wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you be angry at the group of people created to report you when your people tried to escape to freedom, and also monitor ONLY them when they were legally set free? How would you feel?
In an analysis of national police-shootings data from 2011–14, for example, Cody T. Ross, a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of California, Davis, concluded there is “evidence of a significant bias in the killing of unarmed black Americans relative to unarmed white Americans.” The probability of being black, unarmed and shot by police is about 3.5 times the probability of being white, unarmed and shot by police, he found (PLOS One, 2015).
Other data show that black people are also more likely to be stopped by police. Stanford University social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD, and colleagues analyzed data from the police department in Oakland, California, and found that while black residents make up 28 percent of the Oakland population, they accounted for 60 percent of police stops. What’s more, black men were four times more likely than white men to be searched during a traffic stop, even though officers were no more likely to recover contraband when searching black suspects (Stanford SPARQ, 2016).
While research points to some patterns in implicit bias, we still have a lot to learn about the ways that biases influence people’s decisions and behavior in the real world, says David M. Corey, PhD, a police psychologist and founding president of the American Board of Police and Public Safety Psychology. “Yes, implicit bias can affect us. The more important questions are, which persons are affected, and under what conditions?”
How would you feel if it were your children and men being systematically murdered in the streets on a daily basis? Understanding the relationship that the black community has with the police, can help you understand our plight. Speak up when you see us being mistreated by the police, that could result in our death. We, often times, don’t have the luxury of seeing the inside of a courtroom. Only the inside of a body bag and no judge has convicted police of murder or manslaughter while using lethal force in the line of duty, since 2005, and that’s according to the esteemed criminologist, Phillip Stinson of Bowling Green State University. Does this sound like equal protection under the law to you? It does not to me, nor anyone that looks like me and that is why we have a huge distrust of the Police Departments in this country.
For more on police and African-American shootings, go the APA Public Interest blog “Psychology Benefits Society,”https://psychologybenefits.org, and search for “police.”
Renee’ s Column, “Dem Words: Wednesday Words of Wisdom”, breaks down everyday issues from the perspective of the black community.
Her hope is that through her words, she can get more people in her community and across America to become consistently involved in our democracy and become educated and re-informed about how politics does, in fact, affect our every day lives.
Everyone of every race, religion, gender, and creed are encouraged to read this blog each Wednesday and increase your awareness of the African American experience. This is for everyone….so we never have to worry about history repeating itself! Let’s say enough is enough and let’s stay engaged, and keep those around us engaged as well!
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