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by on July 21, 2020

STRESS begin in 1971 in Detroit. “Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets” (STRESS) was a police program to patrol the streets of Detroit.

Historian Jill Lepore’s excellent piece “The invention of the police“starts with the history of the king needing men (sorry, women!) to maintain the peace. However, modern policing didn’t begin there, nor did it begin with Thomas Pain’s diction ‘the law is king’. Modern policing began because of slavery, Lepore said.

She reminds us that “the government of slavery was not a rule of law. It was a rule of police.” Lepore doesn’t forget the history of slave laws beginning in the U.S. as early as 1680, or the slave patrols. The horror of free blacks -especially the ones calling for violent uprising or equality under the law – led many cities to form police forces for the first time.

Policing may have been developed to deal with the threat of free slaves, but ipolicing isn’t limited to the black community in any way.

Between 1840 and the nineteen-twenties, mobs, vigilantes, and law officers, including the Texas Rangers, lynched some five hundred Mexicans and Mexican-Americans and killed thousands more, not only in Texas but also in territories that became the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. A San Francisco vigilance committee established in 1851 arrested, tried, and hanged people; it boasted a membership in the thousands. An L.A. vigilance committee targeted and lynched Chinese immigrants.

In addition,

In the eighteen-seventies and eighties, the U.S. Army engaged in more than a thousand combat operations against Native peoples. In 1890, at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, following an attempt to disarm a Lakota settlement, a regiment of cavalrymen massacred hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children. Nearly a century later, in 1973, F.B.I. agents, SWAT teams, and federal troops and state marshals laid siege to Wounded Knee during a protest over police brutality and the failure to properly punish the torture and murder of an Oglala Sioux man named Raymond Yellow Thunder. They fired more than half a million rounds of ammunition and arrested more than a thousand people. Today, according to the C.D.C., Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police than any other racial or ethnic group.

By the turn of the 20th century, at which time Jim Crow laws had been upheld by the Supreme Court, the police forces had been turned into military forces by former military men. Domestic policing adopted “the kinds of tactics and weapons that had been deployed against Native Americans in the West and against colonized peoples in other parts of the world, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.” Today’s police officers are disproportionately veterans of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many suffering from post-traumatic stress, Lepore reminds us, and that it has been found that “officers who are veterans are more likely than their non-veteran counterparts to be involved in fatal shootings. In general, they are more likely to use force, and more likely to fire their guns.” Police still use military weapons, even in situations where no weapon at all is necessary.

Regarding men in the police, for instance, in Philadelphia in 1911 about eleven per cent of people arrested were African-American. When a new police chief, a veteran of the Spanish-American war, and thee Philippines-American War, took over “that number rose to 14.6 per cent in 1917. By the nineteen-twenties, a quarter of those arrested were African-Americans, who, at the time, represented just 7.4 per cent of the population.”

In the “Progressive Era” 1920s “police patrolled Black neighborhoods and arrested Black people disproportionately; prosecutors indicted Black people disproportionately; juries found Black people guilty disproportionately; judges gave Black people disproportionately long sentences; and, then, after all this, social scientists, observing the number of Black people in jail, decided that, as a matter of biology, Black people were disproportionately inclined to criminality.” This hasn’t changed.

Currently, by population, by per capita incarceration rates, and by expenditures, the United States exceeds all other nations in how many of its citizens, asylum seekers, and undocumented immigrants are under some form of criminal justice supervision.

The effort to police any community that’s not white has long been a bipartisan effort. Lyndon Johnson declared a ‘war on crime’ in 1965 asking Congress to supply police departments with military-grade weapons. During the Watts riot that year the LAPD said fighting protesters was ‘very much like fighting the Viet Cong’. Johnson also asked Congress to pass the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, which had the effect of diverting money from social programs to policing. Richard Nixon ended the era of many social programs completely, and focused on building more prisons.

Use of Force Criticized in Protests About Police Brutality | Voice ...

The line ‘crime is a national-defense problem’ could be attributed to many people, but it was Joe Biden who said this in 1982. In 1984 “Biden and other Democrats in the Senate introduced legislation that resulted in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act,” and a decade later Biden helped draft the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, whose provisions included mandatory sentencing, Lepore reminds us. In 1991 Biden also introduced the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights, which provided protections for police under investigation. It’s an odd choice to nominate the person for president who helped develop our modern criminal justice system in this era of protests against police brutality.

In Detroit when the police developed STRESS they worked in disguise as taxi drivers or a ‘radical professor’. So many black men were killed that black police officers demanded the program be disbanded. This, Lepore, says, was the beginning of the movement to defund and reform police departments. The police in America are not the kings men; they are public servants and despite attempts to make it otherwise policing is not a partisan issue. Even police are police reform. It’s time to end STRESS against communities and create a system that affirms society, rather than oppresses it.

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