BLACKS AND THE POLICE IN AMERICA
This problem is so deep and wide and covers so much history that I shudder to attempt to comment on it. But as a writer, thinker, citizen, and one with a vested interest, I feel constrained to offer my thoughts.
Let us start with slavery in the Americas. Blacks entered at this point as property, chattels that were bought and sold, pledged as security for loans, less than human, existing at the mercy of their owners, and subject to the law as defined by their owners.
As the Colonies evolved and defined themselves, the status of Blacks grew to be worth three fifths of a human being, but still a chattel. Their only rights and protection under the laws was in their worth to their masters as producers of wealth, no civil rights.
America engaged in a Civil War not to free the slaves, but to keep the Union together. Freeing the slaves became a tool to weaken the Confederate States and shorten the conflict. The end of slavery in America did not improve the legal status of the former slaves. They were still three fifths of a person at law, legally less than equal. Even President Lincoln, the great Emancipator did not consider Blacks as equal to Whites and his earlier confrere Jefferson was as indifferent, commenting that Blacks had a muskiness about them making them different, which he seemed to enjoy in bed where he fathered many children with Sally Hemmings, his wife’s known half-sister. (The writer has had acquaintances from this relationship).
The Reconstruction Period had great promise for Blacks. Several were elected as Congressmen and appointed Senators from Southern States, but with Lincoln taken out of the equation things fell apart.
Blacks came out of slavery totally unprepared to make a living in a wage economy. No land, very few skills, no money, no benefactors, and a Democratic Party in the South bent on reversing and destroying any advantages granted to them under Reconstruction.
The presidential election of 1876 was pivotal. The disputed election wound up in Congress, and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the winner over Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, but only after a historic deal was made. Hayes would become President and he would cede control of the South to the Democrats. He would withdraw all Federal Troops from the south, reverse Reconstruction by not interfering in respective States activities. In short order Black State Representatives were removed from office, properties of Blacks were destroyed or confiscated, the Ku Klux Clan ran rampant, and the Jim Crow era was established. This was a bitter period for Blacks, lasting from 1876 until 1961, the life span of the writer’s paternal grandmother.
There seems to be some element in the U.S. psyche which needs some group to look down on, and after all these years of toil and trials, large elements of the American public still select Blacks as objects of their dis favor, expressed in the exercise of their powers by some members of the Police Forces.
The trial and conviction of police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has forced an intense spotlight on the nation’s attitudes towards Blacks. Some may feel that the evidence of mistreatment of Blacks by the police is now so observably flagrant as to usher in a new dawn of cohabitation in this magnificent land called the USA, but much is left to be done.
The Country as a whole has to disabuse itself of the notion that it must have a group to look down on. This will not be easy. America has to accept that it is a racist society before the cure can begin. The police must be retrained in their role as protectors of the public. Recruitment practices must be upgraded. Too many police officers approach Blacks with fear. To Blacks in general this is unjustified, but to the police fraternity this is normal taught practice. They all do it, all over the country, to the extent that parents constantly lecture their Black sons on survival procedures in exchanges with the police. We now have to find ways to protect ourselves from those trained and commissioned to protect us.
Blacks have obligations also. First and foremost they have to survive. One’s rights will always be more satisfyingly argued if one is alive to participate in the arguments. Blacks must try to reduce the fear factor that that officer expresses.
The society and Blacks need to work together to help lower- income and marginalized folks want better jobs and self-improvement, and to access training for higher paying sustainable jobs to bring this about. This will not be as easy as it would appear. So much mistrust and mistreatment has taken place over the centuries that healing will be a long process.