The Visible Man: The Inequity of “Protect and Serve”

 “On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions.”

– Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, 2020.

“I [patroller’s name], do swear, that I will as searcher for guns, swords, and other weapons among the slaves in my district, faithfully, and as privately as I can, discharge the trust reposed in me as the law directs, to the best of my power. So, help me, God.”

– Slave Patroller’s Oath, North Carolina, 1828.

“The history of police work in the South grows out of this early fascination, by white patrollers, with what African American slaves were doing. Most law enforcement was, by definition, white patrolmen watching, catching, or beating black slaves.”    

– Sally Hadden Author, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, 2001.

“We are the hunters.  We hunt, that’s what we do.”

– Police Commander, (encouraging younger officers (2018).

“The video of George Floyd being slowly suffocated by a police officer on the streets of Minneapolis while three fellow officers looked on is sickening. It represents a disgusting abuse of power, and all four cops should go to jail for murder. I think it’s safe to say that most of the world agrees. People are marching in the streets across the country and around the world in the name of George Floyd. The outrage and anger is understandable, but blaming all police officers is not. The overwhelming majority of cops are good people doing a dangerous job. They became police officers to serve and protect, and 99.9 percent honor their duty.”

– Russell Kent, Columnist, Galion Inquirer, June 10, 2020.

“The wolf has somehow convinced the sheep that the sheepdog is the dangerous one and that he must be removed.  I pray for the sheep [when] the wolf has all the sheep to himself.”

– Maggie D., Detective Sergeant 

“There have been wolves masquerading as sheepdogs for 400 years. Now the true sheepdogs are paying for their silence for turning a blind eye while the wolves in sheepdog’s uniforms ravaged the sheep that they are sworn to protect and serve. Maybe the sheep have had enough or perhaps they should be patient and wait…. another 400 years?”

– Micheal Kane, Clinical Traumatologist

 

My Dear Readers,

In years past, I was repeatedly asked by white people variations of the question: “Why do black people…”

  • Distrust the police
  • Fear the police
  • Hate the police
  • Are paranoid about the police

The answer is as simple as it is complex.

 

Imagery & Reality

When it comes to the police, the imagery white people are taught focuses on community service, self-sacrifice, and the idea that the policeman next door is the thin blue line standing between the good-guys and bad-guys.

Black people live in the reality where community policing turns into law enforcement.  The police do not live next door.  Instead they act as hunters, barreling through neighborhoods seeking to punish and subdue. Black people, no matter guilt or innocence, young or old, minor infraction or major crime have been deemed “bad-guys” who deserve swift and ruthless punishment.

Our nation’s history and the well-documented experiences of black people in this country teaches police officers exactly why the relationship between them and the black community is so adversarial. It is about power and control.

The police have been given the power and the black community must be controlled and its males rendered powerless.

When speaking of policing, the lines are distinctively drawn. Strict belief systems serve to force people into diametrically opposed camps: strongly supportive or strongly against the police and their tactics.  In light of recent events, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery by active and retired officers, police have been trying to sure up their image through reiterating their supposed commitment to their “Protect and Serve” oath and be on their best behavior in the communities where local policing actually exists. But cracks are beginning to spread and the image will soon fall away exposing the reality underneath.

 

Dominance & Control

The definition of dominant group is a group with power, privilege, and social status.  It is the social group that controls the value system and rewards in a society.  The dominant group is often in the majority but not necessarily.

The definition of minority group refers to a category of people who experience relative disadvantage when compared to members of the dominant social group.  Minority group membership is typically based in observable characteristics such as ethnicity or race.  They are easily targeted as they have relatively little social power.

The message that is consistently given by law enforcement and its supporters is the following:

“The overwhelming majority of cops are good people doing a dangerous job. They became police officers to serve and protect, and 99.9 percent honor their duty.”

 – Russell Kent Columnist, Galion Inquirer, June 10, 2020.

And yet there is no doubt of the impact through violence, trauma and psychological injury created by the 0.1 percent of the police officers who misuse their badges, dishonor their oaths and create distrust among the people they swore to “serve and protect.”

 

Fear: The Tool of Serve & Protect

Then there are the questions surrounding those who are serving and protecting:

  1. Who is being protected and from whom do they feel they need protection?
  2. How can the police officer serve and protect those who feel they are being targeted, profiled and look upon as suspects?

Which community, the dominant group or the minority group, holds a historical relationship with policing in the United States?  Answer? Both.  Historically the police have been used and manipulated by whites to enforce the laws created by the white community by whatever means necessary to control the black community and monitor the movement of its members, particularly males.

It is a historic stereotype created by the white community, is that black males are inherently violent and therefore require a heavy hand by those who know and understand their brute strength and wild animal nature.  Policing is the manifestation of that heavy hand historically used against blacks to control and monitor.

For many police officers today, the mandate remains the same. Police, once viewed as the scum of white society were needed to control those they feared, black males, but soon came to benefit the greater society leading to the formation of the symbiotic relationship between the Police and those who empower them.

 

Symbiotic Relationship: Serve & Protect

A symbiotic relationship is one in which people exist together in a way that benefits them all.  It is a relationship, each provides for the other the conditions necessary for the relationships’ continued existence.

There has been a symbiotic relationship between those who enforce the law (police) and the dominant community. That relationship embodies what the “serve and protect” oath was meant to be.

 

Inverse Symbiotic Relationship: Law Enforcement

An inverse symbiotic relationship is one in which, while interacting with one another, one member of the relationship becomes larger or stronger while the other becomes smaller or weaker. It is a relationship which is opposite or contrary in position, direction, order, or effect.

There has been an inverse symbiotic relationship that has existed historically between African Americans and the police since slavery originated in the American colonies.  The foundation of this relationship remains unbalanced and based on fear and intimidation to this day.

 

The Slave Patrollers or “Paddyrollers”

Historically, policing originated in the American South in South Carolina and Virginia as slave patrols (Sally E. Hadden, Slave Patrols. 2003).  They were created in the late 17th century and continued through to the end of the Civil War. County courts and state militias formed the patrollers and they were the primary enforcers of codes governing slaves throughout the south.

These patrollers were created due to whites living in constant fear of slave rebellions.  The responsibilities of the slave patrols were to control the movements and behaviors of the enslaved populations.  Slave patrols served three main 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 the law.

Typically, slave patrol routines included enforcing curfews, checking black travelers for  permission passes, catching those assembling without permission, visiting and searching slave quarters, inflicting impromptu punishment, preventing any form of organized resistance and occasionally suppressing insurrections.

Through these actions, the slave patrols inspired well-justified fear on the part of the slaves.  The fear was reinforced as the “patrollers” generally made their rounds at night, with their activity and regularity differing according to time and place.

“Patrol duty” was often compulsory for most able-bodied white males.  Some professions were exempt, but otherwise avoiding duty required paying a fine or hiring a substitute.

As stated earlier, slaves lived in fear of the patrollers.  Sally E. Hadden cites a 1937 WPA interview with W.L. Bost, former slave:

“The paddyrollers they keep close watch on the pore niggers so they have no chance to do anything or go anywhere.  They jes’ like policemen, only worser.” (p. 71).

Hadden notes that the patrollers did face social and legal checks on how harshly they behaved, because slave owners “did not take kindly to excessive or unnecessary damage to their human chattel.”

 

Pleading: Protection from Policing

On December 3, 1865, after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the end of the Civil War in April of 1865, a group of Black Mississippians wrote the state’s governor demanding respect for their newly won freedom.  They stated:

“’All we ask for is justice and to be treated like human beings.’ They recalled vividly ‘the yelping of bloodhounds and tearing of our fellow servants to pieces by slave patrols’. They call for an end to these violent abuses.”

Take notice that even though the Civil War had ended and their freedom legally authorized, the slave patrols were still being used by white groups to enforce control and perpetrate violence against the now former slaves.

 

Common Themes of the Past & Present Symbiotic Relationship

Whites have consistently lived in fear and suspicion of blacks from slavery to this current day.

  • Whites have, using federal, state and local laws, restricted the movement and activities of blacks.
  • Whites have used policing as a method to control, impose restrictions upon and sanction the actions and behaviors of blacks.
  • Similar to the slave era where violent methodology was permitted or ignored as long as the patrollers did not commit “excessive or unnecessary damage to their human chattel,” today’s dominant group ignored or remained silent about violence perpetrated by police as long as they deemed the violence being done as “not excessive”.

 

The Coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, & Social Media: A Perfect Storm & The Loss of Control

COVID-19, which has sadly taken the lives of over 142,000 Americans, has played a major role in what has become an enormously effective movement for change. Hundreds of millions of Americans were quarantined in their homes with nothing more to do than watch TV and peruse social media. While doing so, the actions of the police in the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery sparked worldwide protests and showed the white community exactly what the black community had been experiencing under the guise of protecting and serving.

The white community could no longer deny the injustice that had been occurring since the 17th century.

 

The Sleight of Hand-We Have Been Played

The media, including print journalism and even entertainment companies, have teamed with the police to play up the image of the good cop chasing the bad guy.  Television shows showcasing the “hero cop” such as Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday, are portrayed as honest, hardcore, fact-driven professionals who methodically gather evidence without prejudice or bias.

One memorable quote by Sgt. Friday best describes the perceived plight of the common police officer:

“You’re a cop, a flatfoot, a bull, a dick, John Law… they call you everything, but never a policeman”.

The first run of Dragnet had 100 episodes airing from 1951 to 1959 then revived for a second 98 episode run from 1967 to 1970 on NBC. This was by no means the only pro-police television program.

Cops, a television program filmed in a documentary/ reality style, ran for 31 seasons showing 1100 shows, sometimes 15 to 20 times a day inundating the viewing public with a false idea of what policing was. Dan Taberski, creator of the Running from Cops podcast stated:

“[The Cops television show] consistently presented bad policing as good policing, tasing people when they shouldn’t be tasing, using illegal holds, siccing dogs on people without proper warning – just over and over.”

 

Eight Minutes 46 Seconds: The Thin Blue Line-Crumbling

“George Floyd is not a wake-up call.  The same alarm has been ringing since 1619. Y’all just keep hitting snooze.”

The moment by moment replaying of the eight minutes 46 seconds that a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the neck of George Floyd while three fellow police officer stood idly by protecting the police officer from concerned onlookers psychologically traumatized the dominant group. The callous disregard for life shook the foundations of who and what they were taught the police were. This was the first time they saw that “protect and serve” was not the same for everyone.

 

The Breach of the Symbiotic Relationship

The symbiotic relationship between the police who enforce the law and the dominant community they serve has been damaged and the people psychologically impacted. Now that black and white communities share in witnessing these events, they may bring them to a common understanding; trauma and fear of those who offer community policing to one and exert law enforcement upon the other.

 

Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane

“He can run, but he can’t hide “

 – Joe Louis “The Brown Bomber” World Heavyweight Champion (1937-1949)

My Dear Readers,

White America, you knew about police treatment of black people.  You knew of the racial profiling.  You knew about their suspicious and negative feelings particularly about black males.  Be honest. Look in the mirror and embrace your truths.  You knew.  You had to know.  You heard the complaints of African Americans. You have listened to the whispers and read the stories.

The police have been living by the unwritten contract demanding they protect you from them.  From the time of slavery, whites have feared their slaves.  They have used the patrollers to control and monitor them.  The slave master stayed out of the way of the violence and abuse, being silent and only speaking up when the police went too far and “damage or destroyed” his property.

Following the freeing of the slaves, whites feared the former slaves even more.  They created laws, black codes and sundown ordinances and, once again, used the police to maintain order, surveillance, and control. The silent agreement was to ignore black peoples pleads for protection so that they could continue to exist willfully ignorant.

Unfortunately for both the police and white America, the death of George Floyd, just as in the days of slavery, this time, went… too far.  White America could not unseen it. White America may not have believed it could happen, yet it did. You and the world saw, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, a police officer press his full weight onto the neck of black man and watched that man take his last breath. The brutality could no longer be denied.

As for black America, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are a continuation of the brutality exhibited by the patrollers from the slave days. Breonna Taylor, as she slept in her bed, was killed by police. The patrollers would come into the homes of slaves during the night unannounced, with actions that could lead to death of the slave. Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a retired police officer and his son who felt they had the authority to stop and question him while jogging. The patrollers or any white man had the authority to stop and question a slave or freedman and that person was at risk death as a result of the stop.

During the funeral services of George Floyd, Reverend Al Sharpton made the call for “change”.  I strongly disagree.

African Americans have endured change in this land for 401 years.  We have changed from slaves to freedmen and women.  We have changed during segregation, discrimination and, Black Codes.  We have changed through civil rights laws, voting rights legislation, equal housing and fair employment decrees.  We have changed through having to endure 12 forms of racism and 14 sub-types of traumas. We have seen change that contributed to high unemployment, high incarceration, high dropout rates, and high rates of addiction, mental illness and suicide.

However, what we have not seen is TRANSFORMATION.  In transforming there is no going back.  With transformation, we can only go forward.

***************************************

Loving Father & Creator,

I want to walk the landscape called life.  The landscape is open, it is vast, and it is wide.  The landscape is mine. Grant me transformation.  Let me go, my blessed Lord, so I can live the life I want and see more and achieve more than the trauma that is before me.

“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly.”

 – The final words of Elijah McClain.

He died on August 3, 2019 by physical restraint. A knee on his chest. During a police encounter as he was walking home.  The police stopped him due to a report of a black man acting suspiciously with a hoodie over his head.

 

Until We Meet Again… I am the Visible Man.

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