The Historic Role of Police Brutality|
by Roland Sheppard Thursday March 27, 2008
The Historic Role of Police Brutality
in the Black Community and African American Oppression
by Roland Sheppard
The Police originated from the first slave patrols in 1704, which
first got established in the South and lasted until 1861. Their
original role was to catch run away slaves.
An important part of Black history is the Destruction of
Reconstruction, which lasted for a decade after the Civil War, and the
establishment of Jim Crow in the South and racial segregation in the
North. Reconstruction officially ended with the "Compromise of 1876."
Reconstruction was lead by the Radical Republicans who had a majority
in Congress. They were advocates and fighters for racial equality.
Their position was that the former slaves, or freedmen, who were
homeless, landless and not educated, had to be rewarded for their
loyalty to the union and needed to be made whole in order to have
The Radical Republicans tried to enforce the Confiscation Act of July
1862. This act included giving land to the former slaves - 40 acres
and a mule. They also set up the Freedmen's Bureau, designed to
provide education, health and welfare for Black people in the
transition from slavery to freedom.
President Andrew Johnson, who came into office after the assassination
of Abraham Lincoln, defended the former Southern slavocracy and
violated the law of the land as passed over Johnson's veto by the
Radical Republicans in Congress. Johnson's argument was that Congress
was illegal, for it did not include the former Confederate states, who
committed treason by forming the Confederacy.
In response to Johnson's refusal to enforce the law of the land, the
Radical Republicans tried unsuccessfully to impeach him. They lost by
one vote. If Johnson had been impeached, Benjamin Wade, who was an
advocate for 40 acres and a mule, Black and women's suffrage and
radical reconstruction, would have become president.
President Johnson ended the Freedmen's Bureau and opposed all actions
to give freed male slaves the right to vote. He refused to enforce the
law when former slaves were prevented from exercising their rights by
the violent Southern police forces and the Ku Klux Klan, which was
formed in 1865. He also supported the Black Codes passed by several
These codes said that unemployed Blacks were vagrants, who could be
arrested and hired out to the highest bidder and forced to work for
that person for a prescribed time. Employers were also given the right
to physically punish these workers. These codes also made it illegal
for Blacks to bear arms.
It was illegal force and violence, or terrorism, by the police and Ku
Klux Klan along with the restoration of former slave owners' property
rights by the Democratic Party and non-radical Republicans that laid
the basis for the overthrow of Black Reconstruction after the Civil
War and the institutionalization of legal segregation, Jim Crow.
Blacks were and are indiscriminately lynched and framed up to enforce
April 14, 1866, Thomas Nast Harpers Weekly Political Cartoon of Andrew
Johnson kicking out the Freedmen?s Bureau with his veto, with
scattered black people coming out of it.
The major historical role of the police
From that time to the present, the Black community has been a virtual
police state. Police violence has been and is a necessary institution
of the ruling class of the United States to enforce the ongoing
re-segregation and gentrification of society and to intimidate the
Black minority and other oppressed and exploited minorities in this
country from revolting against the racist polices of the government.
Massacres, tortures and assassinations of Blacks have continued
unabated. These acts of terrorism have been carried throughout this
nation by the police, the government under the rule of both the
Democratic and Republican parties, the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of
the White Camellia, the White Brotherhood, the Pale Faces, the '76
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s effectively eliminated Jim
Crow. Today, it does not legally exist, but we are witnessing the
drive of the ruling rich to make de facto Jim Crow the rule of the
land. In fact, the public schools in this country are more segregated
today than they were in the 1960s.
As the ruling class and their Black and white politicians are leading
a war on those in poverty, they are turning prisons and the welfare
system, workfare, into institutions of forced labor, de facto slavery.
At the same time they are systematically destroying affirmative action
and re-institutionalizing unequal opportunity for the Black masses.
Police violence is as necessary to this process of re-subjugation of
the Black community as it was for the destruction of Reconstruction.
Malcolm X explained that police brutality also induces periodic
"police riots" in order to further intimidate the Black community.
Outspoken critics of police brutality are very often victims of the
police and police violence. This violence goes hand in hand with the
increase in hate crimes across the land.
Mumia Abu-Jamal and Kevin Cooper are a prime example of "legal
lynching" by the police forces of this country. Police violence and
hate crimes and hanging nooses in the Southeast Sewage Plant in San
Francisco and many other jobsites are part of the overall attack upon
the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement.
Mumia has been on death row and in jail for almost two decades. He was
and is an outspoken critic of the police and was framed for the murder
of a policeman. To add insult to injury, while Mumia sits in jail, the
confessed killer of the policeman is free to roam the streets!
In order to stop this process of de facto re-segregation and police
violence, it is necessary to stop support to both the Republican Party
and the Democratic Party, the party of the Confederacy that overthrew
Reconstruction through force and violence, and their control of the
racist federal, state and city governments - and to once again return
to the effective mass action strategy of the Civil Rights Movement of
the 1960s in opposition to the government.
Historically, mass actions, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March
on Washington etc., are the only activities that have proven to be
For more information, read the Harvard Civil Rights Project's report at
Roland Sheppard is a writer and activist and former BA of the Painters
Union in San Francisco.
This article was first printed in the San Francisco Bay View, National
Black Newspaper www.sfbayview.com 4917 Third Street, San Francisco
California 94124 Phone: (415) 671-0789, Fax: (415) 671-0316, Email:
"while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill
ideas." - thomas sankara
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