Overview/ My Thoughts
What You Need to Know
(If you skipped the video, go back and watch it! It is my spoken word piece on police brutality)
From the 1700s until today, police brutality has existed in America. It has evolved from volunteer slave patrols into a nationwide system of racially charged policing. Racism in the hearts of some officers has led to the harassment, beatings, and killings of innocent Black people across the country.
Spurred on by hatred, racial anxiety, and the devaluing of Black life, we have come to a point where police officers will slam young girls onto the ground for the slightest verbal offenses.
This is why a new form of zone policing (getting white cops out of Black neighborhoods) and the installation of trade schools (a preventative measure to decrease police contact) are the only viable solutions. In a world of white supremacy, there are too many forces pushing out a narrative of Black criminality. It would take hundreds of years to change the racist thoughts and biases that exist within people on a large scale. The most efficient way to combat police brutality is by decreasing contact between white racist police officers and innocent Black people. Trying to change the hearts of people is ridiculous, and Black people will continue to die, cold and alone in the streets, if we do not face this reality today.
1704 is the first time we see police brutality in North America, when South Carolina adopted slave patrols, a system originally from Barbados. Established as a way of policing enslaved Africans, these patrols “policed all movement and unsupervised activity through passes, detainments, interrogations, [and] unrestrained search[es] and seizures” (Muad’dib). Each patrol was made up of about nine white volunteers who served to enforce the already stringent plantation laws. Slave patrols were established “throughout all of the states [before the Civil War], [and] … scoured the countryside…intimidating, terrorizing, and brutalizing [enslaved Africans]” (Muad’dib). The methods were embraced by white society as a necessary part of life: the most effective way to control the Black population, minimizing the threat of rebellion.
Slave patrols became the first documented instances of police brutality in the country. The new policing system fostered an atmosphere of terror, forging the path for predatory, brutal policing in America.
After the Civil War, slave patrols slowly evolved into different forms of policing. The previous leaders of patrols either became local sheriffs, organizers of “night watches” (similar to contemporary neighborhood watches), or members of vigilante groups. As we entered into the Gilded Age, the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments granted new individual freedoms to Black people. The abolition of slavery, having equal protection under the law, and the right to vote were factors that begun to integrate Black people into mainstream American society. At the same time, about 11.7 million immigrants came to the United States from Greece, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Serbia, Russia and Croatia. In order to preserve the white supremacist hierarchy in an increasingly diverse country, police departments were established to protect white neighborhoods and white businesses, but corruption in policing was widespread.
Who Fought Against it?
In 1966, the continuous harassment, beatings, and murders by the police against Black people spurred on the first mainstream, collective movement against police brutality: the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The Black Panthers are among the greatest American heroes in history. Founded by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in Oakland, California, the organization was predicated on Black nationalism, Black power, and self defense by any means necessary. Black Panther Party members read sections aloud from legal books at crime scenes, armed themselves, and marched to the California State Capitol to protest the Mulford Act.
The BPP was met with serious opposition. Federal agents, state and local police officers, and paid provocateurs were frightened by the Panthers. Black people had brought up arms to protect themselves as a unit– this threatened the white ruling class. The weapons themselves weren’t the main problem, the Central Committee for the Panthers mandated gun safety and anti-crime regulations, however, it was the mindset behind the Panthers– Black nationalism and self-defense by any means necessary– that was a major threat to the white supremacist structure.
The Current Status
The danger of police brutality is more prevalent than ever, and “Black men and boys face the highest risk of being killed by police–at a rate of 96 out of 100,000 deaths. By comparison, white men and boys face a lower rate of 39 per 100,000 deaths, despite being a bigger portion of the U.S. population” (Santhanam).
Statistics from the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) compiled between April 2009 and June 2010 found “there were 5,986 reports of misconduct [nationwide], [and] 382 fatalities linked to misconduct.” Police misconduct is ruining the lives of Black people everywhere, and for many communities, harassment, beatings, and killings have become normalized– just a part of daily life.
Excessive force within schools is common as well. Take a look at this young girl being slammed to the ground by a police officer. All because she verbally “disrespected the principal”.
When Black people are profiled and harassed, these events can have a debilitating effect on the psyche. The American Psychological Association states that, “perceived racism and discrimination—either overt or covert (microaggression) or in the forms of implicit or explicit bias—have been associated with depression, anxiety, increased substance use, feelings of hopelessness, and suicide ideation in black adults and youths” (Gibbons, 2004; Nyborg, 2003; O’Keefe 2014).
“African-American males who are racially profiled to be criminals and perceived of wrongdoing by law enforcement are at increased risk of subsequent symptoms of anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder” (APA, 2018; Aymer, 2016). Young Black teens who are profiled and harassed by racist police officers are more likely to fall into depression and become suicidal.
Who is working on the problem?
Currently, the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) is one of the largest organizations made to solve the problem of police brutality. In 2013, the Black Lives Matter Movement was created by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. The movement was made to spur dialogue surrounding police brutality, and call attention to the injustices Black people face at the hands of police. The movement has been a platform to celebrate the lives of unarmed Black folk who faced police brutality, including Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Mya Hall, Walter Scott, and Sandra Bland. As Missouri ACLU activist Gillian Wilcox puts it, “BLM’s focus has been less about changing specific laws and more about fighting for a fundamental reordering of society wherein Black lives are free from systematic dehumanization” (Wilcox). This movement has been a place for Black scholarship, Black leadership, and Black community. On a critical plane, it can be argued that Black Lives Matter protests renewed the value of Black life in the eyes of our community, because now people are fighting for Black lives, giving new importance to Black bodies. Just the name of the movement itself, Black Lives Matter, has helped break down the normalization of violence and police brutality in Black neighborhoods. On a political level, the movement has forced the passing of significant bills, including the “Right to Know” bill on police transparency that was signed into California law in 2018.
A New Form of “Zone Policing”
The first solution would be the diversification of the police force. Matching the racial demographics of the police officers to the city zones they police could help mitigate conflict. The first step would be to investigate the hiring process. Black applicants have been “unfairly screened out… by restrictions on indebtedness, the college credit requirement and psychological testing, among other factors” (Hinkel and Richards). To combat this, all departments must be required to hire officers in proportion to the city’s population. This alone will not be sufficient. Officers on the ground and in the neighborhoods are the most important factors in police brutality, so after fixing the hiring process and diversifying the police force, the next step would be to distribute officers in a way that would reflect the racial demographics of each city zone. Simply put, it would be getting white cops out of Black neighborhoods. This would be a new form of Zone Policing.
Will Black Cops be just as Brutal?
While this seems promising, there is an argument that Black police officers would not be less brutal towards other Black people than white officers. It is important to note the “Du Boisian conceptualization of race and professional identity — namely, that African American police officers have to negotiate and reconcile two historically distinct strivings — the strivings to be “blue” and the strivings to be “black” — in one “dark body”” (Rodriguez). W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness is very applicable here, in the sense that Black officers may feel conflicted between being “hard on crime” and being “soft” if they aren’t as brutal as other officers. This could pose a concern for our new solution, because in an attempt to ensure the department that they are just as “blue” as other officers, Black police may find themselves as cruel and violent as white officers involved in misconduct. These actions would not be brought on by racial anxiety towards Black people, but by internalized racism, and the need to be accepted outside of the Black community. This is just speculation, and has not been proven to be true.
Plan B: Trade Schools
My personal stance is we take the “try or die” approach: diversify the police force, and if Black officers do not mitigate the levels of police brutality, install trade schools in Black neighborhoods. This approach is preventative, and attempts to get Black youth in school, creating their own businesses, and reinvesting into the community. In order to decrease contact with the police, Black people can enroll in trade schools where they will learn how to be carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and other skilled laborers. This will grant them the opportunity to make a living and stay busy, which keeps Black youth from hanging around stores or block corners where they would normally be profiled. Trade schools would also increase high school completion in Black neighborhoods. There is an argument that the “school to prison pipeline” would be true for trade schools, putting more Black kids in contact with the police. This is not the case because these centers will not have police officers in the school, instead they will have teachers that match the demographics of the school. The teacher portion is important because students will be able to relate to their teachers, and in turn feel more comfortable confiding in them in order to solve problems before they escalate to disciplinary action.
For Now Solutions
On a personal level, I can:
- Advocate for a new system of zone policing based on racial demographics and push for the installation of trade schools during Oakland Youth Advisory Commission meetings.
- Continue to advocate for the value of Black life in spaces that I normally occupy, like policy debate, school assemblies, and tutoring centers.
- Keep asking others: What do Black deaths mean to you?
- Never forget those we have lost to police brutality. I can remember the faces and stories of those taken away much too soon, and I can remind myself of their pain– so as not to forget that the bloodshed will never cease until the viable macro solutions are put into place.