When we see an example of police brutality in action, racially disparate policing becomes part of the conversation. Though we know racism plays a huge role, rarely do we make the necessary connections between the racist ways that policing in America began and how Black/Brown communities are policed today.
That is repeatedly proving to be a fatal mistake.
The History of Racist Policing
Policing in America started when White, land stealing, slave owners needed a security force to protect the land they stole from Native Americans and to keep the Africans they kidnapped and enslaved from escaping.
Imagine a bunch of Rich White Folk arrive at place called Native Land, break into all the homes and apartments there and force all of the Native Land Citizens to flee or face death. Then imagine the Rich White Folk decide they don’t want to actually do any of the work needed to develop the land they just stole, so they go to Africa Land, kidnap all of the healthy Africa Land Citizens they can find and drag back them to Native Land to work as slaves on the property the Rich White Folks just stole.
The Rich White Folks then decide they need to use any means necessary make sure the Native Land Citizens never get their land back and to prevent the enslaved Africa Land Citizens from escaping.
So the Rich White Folks hire some of their Poor White Cousins to work as their security forces. The Poor White Cousins are happy to help because they now have steady paychecks and can dream of becoming powerful and wealthy like their Rich White Family Members.
Those Poor White Cousins? Those are the cops.
How You Start is How You End
That’s how policing in America began. It was a well-funded vigilante group designed to keep Rich White Folks safe on their stolen land and to keep their enslaved victims from escaping. And Rich White Folks justified all of this with a new theory they created called White supremacy which said that non White people weren’t human and deserved what they got.
If this history is not factored into our solutions for racist policing practices today, any effort we make to stop racist policing is destined to fail.
Last week, my husband Brian Favors and I were able to host a brief discussion about the history of racism in policing for BRIC TV, Brooklyn’s nonprofit New York Emmy-award winning cable channel and digital network. Our guests (who were just awesome) included Monifa Akinwole-Bandele, a blogger, human rights activist, and community engagement consultant, working with Communities United for Police Reform, and Jason D. Williamson, a senior staff attorney with the Criminal Law Reform Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law.
Our discussion is in the video below and I invite you to watch it and let me know what you think. How does knowing this history shape police and criminal justice reform work now? What can activists do to ensure racist policing solutions are actually getting to the roots of the issue? Sound off in the comments and let me know if you are aware of any innovative policing solutions that the rest of us need to know about.
Racism in policing may be here to stay. But when we know that we can create more effective solutions that can get to the heart of the issue.
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