This article is dedicated to the memory of Freddie Gray – another young man whose life was cut short while in the custody of those who were sworn to protect and serve.
This country has once again been riveted by news of death and suspected police brutality. New reports of such events seem to now appear every month. It causes one to ask the question: What is the deeper issue at hand?
Police brutality is not a new thing and is definitely not unknown to those of us who live in lower-income neighborhoods (where cases of police brutality is most frequent). However, what is not known to the masses is the fact that many origins of modern police tactics, in the United States, come from what was known as the Slave Patrol. In fact, the institution of slavery and the control of slaves were 2 of the most formidable aspects of U.S. History which shaped early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became your modern-day police departments, were both created to control the behavior of those who were labeled negro, black and colored.
Slave patrols were organized groups of men (of European descent) who enforced “discipline” upon slaves in the South. Their function was to police slaves, particularly, defiant slaves. Slave patrols were called “patrollers,” “patty rollers,” or “paddy rollers” by the slaves (in fact, the term “rollers” is still used by some when describing the police). These paddy rollers traveled in what became known as a “paddy wagon” (a term used today for a police van – like the one Freddie Gray was confined in). They were first established in South Carolina in 1704, and spread throughout the colonies. In a 2006 article, found in the Journal of Criminal Education, entitled Ignoring the Past: Coverage of Slavery and Slave Patrols in Criminal Justice Texts, it stated:
“the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”
The colonists wrote laws that constricted slaves way before slave patrols existed. These laws, which were implemented, set curfews for slaves, strengthened the Southern militia, prevented slaves from engaging in commerce, and established the “neighborhood watch”. These are examples of some of the laws and ideas that molded what we know today as slave codes. Slave codes differed from state to state. During the time of slavery, Maryland (the state where 25 year-old Freddie Gray died while in police custody) was considered one of the “tobacco colonies”, due to tobacco being the major cash crop for that region. The slave codes of the tobacco colonies (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia) were based on the Virginia code, which was originally created in 1667. The 1682 Virginia code contained the following statues:
– Slaves were prohibited from possessing weapons
– Slaves were prohibited from leaving their owner’s plantations without permission
– Slaves were prohibited from lifting a hand against a “free white person”, even in self-defense
– A runaway slave refusing to surrender could be killed without penalty
In light of these codes and the history of the slave patrol, we can see how these codes are still being enforced on those classified as Negro, Black, Colored, African-American, etc. (which are titles that delude to slavery). It is interesting how some people are offended by the term “thug” and even claim that it is the new “N-word”, yet they ignore the historical fact that the very titles of Negro, Black, Colored and African-American all delude to the N-word, either directly or indirectly. A number of those slave laws, and codes, made a clear distinction between those identified as negroes and those identified as Moors (refer to the 1705 slave code of Virginia and the 1848 slave law of South Carolina). Moors were those who were considered neither slaves nor “niggers”.
Just to be clear, I am not implying that those who identify themselves as Moors are immune to the unjust acts committed by that percentage of police officers who are corrupt. Nor am I implying that all police officers operate as modern-day slave catchers. However, I am stating that those of us who are conscious of our plight, as Melanated people in this country, must take the necessary steps to transform our neighborhoods into thriving communities that provide opportunities for our youth instead of despair. The first of those steps include proclaiming our nationality as a collective and implementing our nationality to economically build our communities. Nationality is that quality or character which arises from the fact of a person’s belonging to a nation. As Prophet Noble Drew Ali stated:
“If you have a nation, you must have a free national name in order to be recognized, by this nation, as an American citizen. This is what was meant when it said ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of Heaven and all these things would be added unto you’.”