Current practices traced back to early slave patrols
Police brutality toward Black men in the United States has been a recurrent topic in the Black community. The killings of Alton Sterling, Terrence Clutcher, Walter Scott and others around the country, and locally Philando Castile and Jamar Clark, compelled the Northside organization Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) to host a summit addressing “Safety Beyond Policing.”
The summit was held at one pm on Saturday, October 8 at the NOC office on 1101 West Broadway, presented by Tony Williams and Shiranthi Goonathilaka, community organizers for NOC.
“In the history of policing, the American police system was built up from the very beginning to oppress people of color, in particular Black folks and slaves,” said Williams
According to Williams’ presentation, the tactics by slave patrols to break up large gatherings and assemblies empowered by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 are currently employed by police discouraging youth protests in the present day.
“It’s a history that has consistently been complicit to the murder of Blacks, indigenous [people] and other ethnicities and has consistently worked to preserve the capital of White men at the detriment and cost of the bodies of these ethnicities,” Williams reported.
The first formal Slave Patrols were founded in the Carolinas in 1704, said Williams, and their purpose was to track down runaway slaves, killing them and/or returning them to their proper owners and preventing slaves from assembling, focusing on social control. The Compromise of 1850 was signed in order to found additional slave patrols, so that slaves that escaped to the North would be returned to the South, leading to the imposed policing system.
“The policing system we have today is a direct historical descendent of the slave patrols,” said Williams. “The random searching of slave quarters…is the same thing as stop and frisk, where police feel they have the right to stop any Black man or women they see on the street to search them and make sure they’re not breaking any laws.
“White communities have a very different process for policing than Black communities. They were informal arrangements and people who volunteered for the job. It wasn’t until Black folks were freed and showed up in White communities that the White supremacist system created explicit slave patrols to imprison Black folks for the use of White capitalists,” said Williams.
According to Occupy MN Data, subsequent criminalization has increased by 800 percent since Richard Nixon became president in 1971 and launched the “War on Drugs.”
“If someone has been convicted of a crime, they can be pushed into slavery and involuntary servitude,” Williams added. “Thus, the criminalization of nonviolent offenses in the present day is essentially the new form of slavery.”
In 1994, Bill Clinton signed the Three Strikes Act, contributing to mandatory minimum sentencing for three or more convictions, regardless if they were nonviolent offenses. “We are the single highest incarcerator in the entire world, with five percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of the prison population,” Williams reported.
After the presentation, the audience was separated into groups by topic to discuss and probe possible solutions to decrease policing methods for nonviolent offenses.
“Enough is enough,” said Williams. “We don’t need more body cameras. We don’t need more training. It’s time for us to seize the momentum and start talking about taking these systems back to make sure the policing system we have is dismantled.”
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Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org