The police have managed to sell the “officer friendly” image to the public for so long that the public believes that what it gets in exchange for the tax dollars they pay is the protection and service of the main spear-bearers of the State; the police. What minorities actually receive from time to time all too often is a constant reminder that after the Civil War ended in 1865, blacks have been staying in America on a month-to-month lease courtesy of a couple amendments to the U.S. Constitution, some well argued Supreme Court cases, and three or four major pieces of legislation. Throw in some emotional need by minorities to serve in the Armed Forces and blacks end up buying into a citizenship narrative that simply is false.
In reality, to be a citizen you have to be invited. The nation has to view you as a person, community, or society that holds the same values as the nation. Blacks were never invited and those in control of the State in 1865 hadn’t quite figured out what to do with their uninvited guests. It is this lack of a cultural invitation versus a legal invitation that has primarily kept blacks out of the American political economy.
As an interviewee, a resident of Ferguson, Missouri, opined to The Economist, “The problem is that we don’t belong here. We should have never come on those boats from Africa.”
Not that many black Africans had a choice during the African slave trade, but if there is one group that has been standing under the exit sign holding the door open and asking blacks to leave, it has been the police.
What we refer to as the modern police force came into being in September 1829 when the London Metropolitan Police was established. This police department became the model for police forces in Europe and in the United States. The police force, both in Europe and the U.S., were developed to respond to social tensions and unrest in municipalities. At the heart of social tensions were urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. In the American south, historians add slavery to the core of social tensions.
Slave patrols were the forerunners to police departments in southern and slave states including Georgia, Florida, Missouri (yes Missouri), and South Carolina. Slave patrols hunted down runaway slaves and regulated the movement of black slaves and free blacks alike. In other words the boys on the Ferguson PD have two hundred years of experience to rely on. It’s in their DNA, at least when they have their uniforms on.
Given the shooting of Michael Brown; the death of Eric Garner, bigoted remarks in social media, and the history of policing in the United States, the observation made by the Ferguson resident is not surprising.
What would be surprising is if more Americans became attuned to this reality ..