Black and Blue: The Inherent Racism of the American Police

Black American citizens are at war with the police. It’s not full on open warfare- that would involve the police openly admitting that they target blacks more often than other races, or that blacks are the victims of police brutality more often than other races, or that blacks have higher incarceration rates than other races. When blacks attempt to point these facts out to the public, they are accused of extremism or the dreaded “reverse racism.” Worse, they’re accused of being paranoid, and that their affirmation of the value of their lives is unamerican. In reality, this is not entirely inaccurate- America has a long history of police brutality towards blacks that goes back to the founding of the police itself.

Starting in 1636, the United States established “watches,” which served to provide advanced warning against danger, followed by the first American police force in Boston in 1838.  While the police body in the North followed the U.K.’s watch model, the Southern police were established as a “Slave Patrol”, existing to round up runaway slaves and return them to their owners. According to Dr. Gary Potter of Eastern Kentucky University, the 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.  The southern American police force was established to stand on the necks of slaves and to make sure they never forgot their place- they were slaves and subject to special discipline that was never inflicted on whites. Fast forward to December of 1993, when a rapper known simply as KRS One released his second and final single, “Sound of Da Police.” In the second verse, KRS points out the following:

Take the word overseer, like a sample
Repeat it very quickly in a crew, for example
Overseer, overseer, overseer, overseer
Officer, officer, officer, officer
Yeah, officer from overseer
You need a little clarity? Check the similarity!
The overseer rode around the plantation
The officer is off, patrollin’ all the nation
The overseer could stop you, “What you’re doing?”
The officer will pull you over just when he’s pursuing
The overseer had the right to get ill
And if you fought back, the overseer had the right to kill
The officer has the right to arrest
And if you fight back they put a hole in your chest…

While it’s the go-to argument for supporters of movements such as Blue Lives Matter, claiming that the police target and kill blacks more frequently because blacks break the law more frequently is racist, and inaccurate. In several cases over the last few years, black people were minding their business- driving with their families, existing much in the same way the rest of the human race exists- when an encounter with the police left them injured or dead. And quite sometimes, it’s not even citizens who find themselves in the crosshairs of police guns, but other officers. In a recent case in St. Louis, a black police officer was shot by a fellow officer. The black officer, who was off duty at the time, arrived on the scene to assist his fellow officers after a shootout occurred between the officers and civilians they were attempting to detain. Though the officers on the scene didn’t recognize him immediately, they acted in a reasonable manner by having him lay on the ground and then walk towards them once they recognized them. However, all of this reason went straight to hell when yet another white officer showed up and shot the black officer in the arm, claiming he “feared for his safety.” Nothing the black officer did threatened this white officer in any way. There is no logical reason for what occurred, other than the white officer wanting to shoot a black man. However, race alone does not dictate racism within the police force.

In a recent episode of NPR’s Invisibilia entitled “The Culture Inside,” the causes and consequences of something called “implicit bias are discussed. Implicit bias is defined by the Ohio State Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” During the episode of Invisibilia, a black officer discusses how he, as a black man, is subject to implicit bias every day- if he goes to the bank to cash a check, he is subjected to rigorous scrutiny that he knows he would not experience if he was white. After all, how many white police officers are required to provide fingerprint I.D. in order to cash a check? He then goes on to explain that he was unaware of his own implicit biases that he encounters every day in his job duties- profiling black people the same way white people profile him. Racial bias is present within the police force independent of the race of individual police officers, because racism has become a cultural institution. With such a long, dark history of brutalizing citizens based off the color of their skin, it’s an insult to all the black men and women who have lost their lives at the hands of the police to act like it was not because of their race. In order to rid the police of their inherent culture of racism, implicit bias must be addressed, but even more so, police oversight needed. When police murder innocent men, they need to be treated like murderers and punished to the full extent of the law, instead of being able to plead that they were afraid for their safety. Black people are afraid for our safety every day, and we still make it through life without wantonly murdering people out of cowardice. If police cannot do the same, they need to find another line of work.

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