Policing, Prisons, and the Systemic Oppression of Black People

“All men are created equal” rang throughout a meeting room full of heterosexual white Christian males. “Freedom and justice for all” was chanted while my ancestors slaved away in cotton fields, their backs breaking as the blazing sun pierced their melanin. The justice system is a lie.  It is a mockery of the very principles on which it was founded. The justice system confines, oppresses, and demonizes little black boys. It hypersexualizes and shames young colored girls, strips them of their daddies and then mocks them for being fatherless- and for these reasons it must be reworked. Prisons must be reformed, and policing abolished.

Policing- to enforce the provisions of (a law, agreement, and/or treaty). While, it is commonly taught in grade schools around the country that officers are put in place in order to “serve and protect”, it seems that between social media snippets, news clips, and viral videos they are doing less protecting and more of using deadly force. This brutality seems to be used more so against African Americans and people of color. This however doesn’t seem so strange when considering the  origins of American Policing which, as many things do, dates back to slavery. “Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities.” (http://plsonline.eku.edu). Law enforcement would be placed to control the conduct of those held in bondage, and even after being granted freedom and some 100 years later they would be placed to patrol communities of color more so than that of Caucasian citizens. The passing as well as creation of fugitive slave laws, Jim crow laws, and others created the systemic oppression of people of color which was to be enforced by none other than police forces; “As Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver (2006:186) remark, ‘the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.’” (http://plsonline.eku.edu) . As recent as 2015, the Washington Post reported “blacks to be killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities.” and “ Another Washington Post investigation from August found that black men — who constitute 6% of the nation’s population — account for 40% of the 60 unarmed people who had been fatally shot by police by that time.” (https://mic.com/articles) These disparities indicate that something is gravely wrong with the system of policing in itself. Besides brutality, laws lave been made that stagger the independence as well as growth of the black community and allow policing to continue to unfairly target people of color. These laws vary from “stop and frisk” to the war on drugs- and whether declared unconstitutional or not, they have all played a role in systemic oppression.

The war on drugs. It was not a war on marijuana any other narcotic. It was a war on people. It was a war on families of color, and the “higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system.” (http://www.drugpolicy.org) . The war on drugs caused an extreme amount of policing on areas with concentrations of people of color, even though drug use was higher in suburban areas or majority white areas, thus leading to disproportionate arrests and mass incarceration of black people who while they “ only comprise (around) thirteen percent of the U.S. population,  are forty-six percent of those incarcerated in state and federal prisons” (http://academic.udayton.edu).  The sad truth is that laws and plans like these have always existed, and with the new administration- the fear of them is once again prevalent. The system is rigged against black people, and the only way to rid it of these injustices is to recreate it all together. But- how do we go about that? How do we ensure that there are no more Trayvon Martins? No more Dontre Hamiltons, and no more Tanisha Andersons.  A big issue with the justice system is that supreme court officials serve life terms and they have a strong tendency to follow already set precedents. This becomes a problem when people who grew up in an era of inequality have a say in modern issues because they sometimes seem to follow what they consider to be their “traditional values”. I suggest that just as with the other branches there be term limits. There should be a set length so that laws do not exceed their need. I also suggest that we abolish policing- or at least the American system of it. “In 1966, James Baldwin wrote for The Nation: ‘…the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function.’ This remains as true today as it was in 1966, only now we have bought into the myth of police “serving and protecting” wholesale. What do you do with an institution whose core function is the control and elimination of black people specifically, and people of color and the poor more broadly?” (https://www.thenation.com/) – you rid yourself of it and create a system that is altogether new.

My opponent would argue that to do this is a drastic change, and one that makes it seem as if all police officers are crooked (which I guess isn’t the case) but to that i would say, just as Desmond Tutu did, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” If an officer is silent during the brutality of unarmed as well as armed (because that is a second amendment right) citizens instead of speaking out, then he is no better that the one committing the act. I suggest an abundance of de escalation training to officers in order that they learn how to “protect” without using deadly weapons. They would say that there is a need for them. They would argue that they keep order and stability within the United States, however The Nation, an online commentator, argues that “ We don’t consider the abolition of police a viable position to take because we believe they’re the only thing standing between upstanding citizens and the violence of the deranged.” and  “… does this mean we want police, or safety and security? Safety and security are ideas, ones that may never be fully achieved, and the police are an institution that have proved themselves capable of only providing the illusion of safety and security to a select few. The bulk of their jobs has nothing to do with violence prevention.” They would argue that the justice system is there to maintain the morality of citizens; that it is there to prevent crime. However, the prison system here in the United States has created a cycle of poverty. “When an inmate is released, it can be extremely difficult to find employment, as many employers will disqualify anyone with a criminal history. With no income and with a negative background check, former inmates are often unable to find housing and pay for food and health needs.”(genfkd.org)  which leads to more crimes being committed. If someone can not  provide, they will do anything in order to.

With that being said, instead of first focusing on “protection from crimes”, I suggest we first target prevention of crime and the route of them in our nation which is social and economic instability and poverty. If we target these areas, which are where most of the crimes committed in the United states stem from, then soon there will be little to no need for police at all. Rather than protect us from us, begin to protect us from systemic oppression. Rather than lock people away from their families for minor drug related offenses, offer them rehabilitation. Rather than let people suffer, offer them healthcare. Reform the system.  I suppose that isn’t necessarily abolishing police but rather preventing a need for excessive policing. When mentioning gun reform, be sure to include that police violence is a form of gun violence. Include the safety of black bodies in the agenda. Rather than gentrify black communities, revamp them. Bring them back to life. Improve inner city education so that are less youth on the streets. Make it so that there are less black youth affiliated with gangs. Teach them. Teach them so that one day there will be no need for policing. Abolish policing. Abolish the negative connotations associated with it. Abolish the systemic oppression that it brings. Abolish the ideals that carry it. Abolish the suffering of citizens that makes it necessary. Remake. Recreate. Reform the system.

Works Cited

“A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing.” A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing | Police Studies Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2017.

Katmarwong. “10 Police Brutality Statistics That Are Absolutely Shocking.” Mic. Mic Network Inc., 09 Dec. 2015. Web. 22 May 2017.

“Race and the Drug War.” Drug Policy Alliance. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2017.

The Drug War as Race War. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2017

Smith, Mychal Denzel. “Abolish the Police. Instead, Let’s Have Full Social, Economic, and Political Equality.” The Nation. N.p., 29 June 2015. Web. 22 May 2017.

“‘Gorgeous, Legendary’: Black Woman in Flowing Dress Facing Police in Baton Rouge Wows Social Media.” RT International. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.

Wows Social Media.” RT International. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.

“Mass Incarceration: How the US Prison System Creates a Cycle of Poverty.” [FKD], [FKD], 1 May 2018, http://www.genfkd.org/mass-incarceration-cycle-poverty.

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