READ UP, RISE UP

THE HISTORY OF POLICING 

SLAVE PATROLS

Policing in the Americas has always been about protecting private property, including keeping Afrikan people enslaved on the “master’s” plantations. Originating in slave patrols and night watches in the 17th century, policing of Afrikan-descended people involved surveilling, maiming, raping, and killing to prevent work stoppages, escapes, and revolts. Supported by Judeo-Christian teachings and pseudo-scientific theories, the Euro-American settler colonial state enshrined these acts of terror into laws, thereby inventing whiteness as the standard for humanity. In doing that, the state hierarchized human beings by assigning different values and distinct rights to their bodies and quarantining them in separate enclosures in order to better exploit their labor, including birthing and caring for future workers. The emergence of capitalism from feudalism has always been racialized and reached its apex in the enslavement and oppression of Afrikans. As such, policing in the U.S. functioned to uphold racial capitalism and anti-Blackness.

Slave quarters at the Hermitage Plantation outside of Savannah, Georgia.

Library of Congress

OPPRESSION RECONSTRUCTED

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, southern states in particular used policing to re-enslave and subjugate Black communities through the adoption of Jim Crow and vagrancy laws. As such, newly freed people of Afrikan descent were confined on often barren land in subpar housing, with little access to healthcare, education, and with limited job options. The state also relied on terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan to defend white supremacy by terrorizing and lynching Black people. Policing of Afrikan-descended people in the U.S. then depends on the collusion between the state and armed watchmen.

Civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

1963, Library of Congress

IMPERIALISM

In the 20th century, the United States exported its policing technologies, practices, and tactics to the Caribbean and Pacific regions in order to subordinate and co-opt local leaders, steal land, establish new plantations, extract natural resources, control unpaid and underpaid workers to create new markets for U.S. products, in effect re-colonizing the Americas to finance its rise as a global power vying for hegemony.

The mid-20th century Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements in the U.S. and the anti-colonial and independence wars in the Caribbean, Latin America, Afrika, and Asia threatened the Euro-American white supremacist and capitalist project. In response, the U.S. and its European allies worked to undermine people’s liberation all over the planet (including Black people’s gains in the U.S.) by employing war, policing and exploitative economic techniques.

African Liberation Day Coalition poster.

1977, Smithsonian

NEOLIBERALISM

The U.S., now an empire, imposed yet another stage of racial capitalism: neoliberalism. Neoliberalism includes the reduction of state oversight and decreased state expenditures on social services while expanding police budgets. At the beginning of the neoliberal turn in the 1980s, industrial jobs in the U.S. were outsourced, wages stagnated and social services cut, disproportionately impacting already underemployed Black people. During this multi-decade long global re-arrangement of land and labor, policing in the U.S. intensified, drugs were routed into Black communities and prisons multiplied with Black people disproportionately filling their walls, creating the prison industrial complex we know today.

Present-day police brutality protest in NYC.