Long History of Police Brutality

Since the inception of policing, police brutality has existed. Policing in the United States has been primarily concerned with the protection of property and began in the early 1600's with slave patrols. During labor movements in the late 1800's and early 1900's, police brutalized workers fighting for decent wages, working conditions and the right to unionize.

Minneapolis – November 2015

Police shootings of unarmed people and incidents of police abusing their authority have provided glaring examples of rampant police brutality. Most recently, a Minneapolis police officer shot an unarmed black man whom several witnesses claim was handcuffed.

Beginning with the civil rights movement in the 1950's and 1960's, police brutality reached new heights and recently incidents of police brutality have been frequently captured on video; a few examples are below.

Malcolm X

More than 50 years ago, Malcolm X stated: “the police commissioner feeds the type of statistics to the white public to make them think that Harlem is a complete criminal area where everyone is prone towards violence. This gives the police the impression that they can then go and brutalize the Negroes, or suppress the Negroes, or even frighten the Negroes.”

“This force that is so visible in the Harlem community it creates a spirit of resentment in every Negro. They think they are living in a police state, and they become hostile toward the policemen. They think that the policeman is there to be against them rather than to protect them. And these thoughts, these frustrations, these apparitions, automatically are sufficient to make these Negroes begin to form means and ways to protect themselves in case the police themselves get too far out of line.”

Malcolm X could make the same argument today about Ferguson, New York, Baltimore or any number of cities or recent incidents.

Watts Riots

On August 11, 1965, a black driver, Marquette Frye, was arrested for drunk-driving, the driver's mother, Rena Price, got involved and Mr. Frye, a passenger, and Ms. Price were arrested. The treatment by the police caused anger to onlookers. Rumors spread that the police had roughed Frye up and kicked a pregnant woman; angry mobs formed and the situation escalated and suddenly turned into a riot.

The second night of the riots, comedian and civil rights activist, Dick Gregory tried to calm down the crowds, he was shot in the leg. Mr. Gregory, who was born and raised in St. Louis, discusses the incident below and makes a very interesting observation about police brutality.

Thirty-four people were killed, and more than 1,000 injured, during the riots that lasted six days.

Black Panthers

In October of 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was created in response to challenge police brutality in Oakland, California and their movement spread across the country.  The original purpose was to arm black men to patrol their neighborhoods and monitor the behavior of police officers.  In 1969, community social programs, including free breakfast for children, and community health clinics became core activities of Black Panther Party members.

Black Panther membership peaked in 1970, with offices in 68 cities and thousands of members.

Huey P. Newton Gun Club

The Huey P. Newton Gun Club has formed in South Dallas, Texas utilizing the state's open carry law to patrol their neighborhood in the spirit of the Black Panthers. The group was started by two former Army Rangers and they have begun drills and training others in self-defense. See article for addition information.

The movie Panther (1995) portrays the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, tracing the organization from its founding through its decline. Creative license is taken but the general trajectory of the Party and its experiences is factual.

Rodney King – Los Angeles Riot

In 1991, the first videotaped incident of police brutality went viral. The beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police was broadcast worldwide and clearly showed Los Angeles police engaged in excessive force and a Los Angeles grand jury indicted four of the police officers.

The California Court of Appeals granted a change of venue to the city of Simi Valley, citing potential contamination due to saturated media coverage. Simi Valley was predominantly white and the jury consisted of 10 white members and no black jurors.

All four white officers involved were acquitted on April 29, 1992, and people began rioting after the verdict was given, resulting in over 2,000 injuries, 53 deaths and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. The riots ended when the California national guard was called in.  The riots resulted in federal civil rights prosecution and two of the four officers were convicted and imprisoned.

Sister Souljah, a raptivist, appeared on an episode of Bill Cosby's "A Different World", and expressed sentiments held by many; which still ring true today.

The Issue Is Race

Months after the verdict in the Rodney King case and riots in Los Angele, Phil Donahue hosted a PBS special, "The Issue Is Race: A Crisis in Black and White". It's disheartening to watch this show from more than 20 years ago because many of the exact same issues are still major problems today.

Slavery Back in Effect

Slavery was so profitable that it fueled the wealth and independence that made the United States a world power. This country that describes itself as the land of the free has never fully made good on that promise. During the last decade of slavery, slaves seeking freedom were given the diagnosis of Drapetomania,  a supposed mental illness,which caused black slaves to flee captivity.

After the Civil War, and the North's abandonment of reconstruction, a new form of oppression, Jim Crow, created conditions not far removed from slavery.  According to legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness", there are more Black men under some form of correctional supervision (incarceration or probation) now than were enslaved prior to the Civil War.

In 1995, Sister Souljah released the video, "Final Solution: Slavery Back in Effect", which imagines a police state where blacks fight against the re-institution of slavery; the video was banned by MTV.

Sister Souljah during an interview about the Rodney King/ LA Uprisings that occurred earlier that year was quoted as saying ‘If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?’.. her remarks were connected to a much longer response and in full context makes sense, but isolated subjected her to criticism. Sister Souljah provided a jarring response to Governor Bill Clinton's negative comments about her in 1992 made while he was running for president.

School Psychology Weaponized

Mental diagnosis is once again being used against black students. African American students are disproportionately represented in special education. 85% of all special education students receive drugs. African American males are only 3% of the public school population, yet they make up 30% of students separated from the “normal” students in school by placement into special education. See Dr. Umar Johnson, a nationally known school psychologist, comments about black children in special education.

The labeling of these students is sabotaging and endangering their education, destroying futures and leading to increased mass incarceration; the last form of legalized slavery.

Policing without deadly force

Somehow police in other countries can successfully capture suspects wielding weapons without resorting to deadly force.

UK man with a knife is taken down by a couple of police officers with pepper spray and police clubs.

A black man with knife captured in London by police using a taser. This man would have certainly been killed in the United States.

Below a man with a machete, who appears to be under the influence of drugs is taken down by police alive using plastic riot shields.

The fact that so many police officers were devoted to capturing the man with the machete may seem like a waste of manpower, however, in the U.S., when a person is killed by police; a similar number of officers often arrive at the scene and remain much longer processing the scene, logging evidence, and crowd control.

UK Traffic Cops Arrest Suspect Trying to Run Away

The video camera is our greatest weapon against police brutality. Police unions across the country are fighting body cameras, so the question must be posed; what is it they don't want people seeing? Continue pressing your alderman, mayor and other politicians for mandatory police body cameras. Record encounters you witness of police, use ACLU mobile app. You never know when the next innocent victim will be you, your child, friend or neighbor!

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