The Black Lives Matter Movement has taken center stage since the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, while he was walking home wearing a hoodie and had a bag of skittles in his pocket. George Zimmerman was, not surprisingly, acquitted of the charges because of his white privilege and the history of black lives when encountering law enforcement. This article will cover the evolution of the police and its relationship with the steady freedom of black and brown-skinned people, in addition to the constant endangerment of the black community.
To begin my article I would first like to provide a brief history of law enforcement, specifically police officers in American starting with slavery. Yes, the creation of the police was to catch the criminals but one has to first define what or who was considered a criminal in colonial America. Being that American society and culture were and still is controlled by white Americans and the setting of slave times the criminal is obvious: African slaves. White control in early America means America is based on the foundation of what is considered right and wrong to white people, one of which is catching slaves. At this time slave patrols and night watches were created to catch runaway slaves. To further demonstrate the severity and influence of white idealism in the American criminal justice system, slave laws were created to protect the white slave owner’s interests. Contrary to popular belief the presence of slavery was not only in the south but the north as well. Slavery was considered the fuel of the economy, so the creation of slavery based laws, for the American society to survive was essential for anyone who participated in the slave trade, directly or indirectly.
White Americans being the enslavers and using Christianity and European-based rules of civilization determined that African slaves were always the criminal. Even if a slave was freed and could live among society slavery created a dangerous ego, pride, and ethnocentrism from white Americans that would continue to be experienced by people of color for generations to come. White America determined the foundation of who were considered criminals and who were considered heroes, therefore creating the laws of the American criminal justice system. To not acknowledge this simple fact of who was automatically and unjustly portrayed as the criminal means not accepting the needed improvement of modern-day law enforcement.
The Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in the United States on January 1, 1863, or it was supposed to. This presidential signed document meant that all slaves, in both the South and North, were freed. But the security of freedom was a facade that revealed the new age of Jim Crow, from the late 19th century into the mid 20th century, which legalized
anti-black racism in America. Even after the abolishment of slavery African-Americans were still discriminated against, targeted, hunted down, and lynched by white Americans. For the American feast, there was no seat at the table for black people. Yes, slavery was illegal but it wasn’t illegal to discriminate or target black Americans. The emancipation just created a more modern “justifiable” version of slavery: the criminal justice system. At this time black Americans were still seen as criminals and were therefore targeted for crimes that they did not commit, like Emmitt Till. He was a young 14-year old black boy, in 1955 Mississippi who was mutilated by white rage, ego, and barbarism. Emmitt Till was originally from Chicago but was visiting family in Mississippi. He went to a grocery store and allegedly whistled or flirted with, Carolyn Bryant, the white daughter of the store owner. Four days later her white father and his half-brother kidnapped Emmitt Till and brutalized him by beating him, shooting him, stringing him with barbed wire, and a metal fan before they dumped his body in a river. It isn’t known exactly who found his body but the discovery led to a jury, of all white men, acquitting the 2 men of the charges. It wasn’t until recently, in 2017, that Carolyn Bryant revealed that she lied about the event. Carolyn Bryant purposefully killed a young black boy. A little more than 100 years since the abolishment of slavery and black people are stilled treated as second-class citizens. This is a prime example of how far white Americans go to fulfill their ego and pride, harming, and constantly taking the lives of others.
Fast forward 10 years, the Civil Rights Act of 1965 was passed to give everyone equal rights. This very term of, “equalness”, is present in another important document almost 200 years earlier: The Declaration of Independence. This document highlights the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Being “equal” is a very basic idea but when applied to the human realities it is very hard to come by and fight for. This fight goes on today with the Black Lives Matter Movement that was sparked by the murder of a 14-year old young black boy, Trayvon Martin in 2012. Since then the movement has been calling out police brutality against black men, women, and children. A little more than 150 years since the abolishment of slavery and black people are stilled treated as second-class citizens. For centuries law enforcement was used to justify the discrimination and killing of black and brown people which are now constantly being brought to the forefront with the new advancements of technology. This new era brought injustice exposing technologies which include body cams and cop watching. Law enforcement has gotten away with atrocities of black bodies for centuries, but body cams and cop watching are holding them more accountable in bringing police injustices to light. Although there is much more to do than just “catching them on camera”, it’s a new and useful way indirectly stopping potential black deaths in the community.
Many white Americans may believe and hold true that America is a perfect country where everyone is equal and there are no problems whatsoever, and if there are problems it’s either not their fault or they think the discriminated group is lying. In reality, discrimination, murder, economic disparities, appropriation, and other elements of injustices and bigotry have existed in the roots of American history. From slavery to emancipation and from Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement white power has and always will determine the safety of black and brown lives in America. Black Americans are still fighting for their lives to be equal and treated properly still, after 400 years of post-slavery in “racist for almost 600 years”
America. Criticizing the American police force and criminal justice system does not mean that black Americans hate America, it means they want to see a better one. Living in a country that holds many different ethnicities, languages, religions, and cultures means that a “one size fits all” structure, like the criminal justice system, is very ineffective for the people who don’t fit, AKA everyone who isn’t white, specifically non-white and non-male. If white American citizens truly believe that America is a great country they will take every step to ensure it is that way for every American citizen.
DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece, not a research paper, so what is written in this article is the opinion I have created from witnessing constant police brutality in the media, knowing and constantly learning about my own black history, and knowing my place as a black woman in the era we are in right now. When “white Americans” or “white America” are stated in this article I am referring to racist, bigoted, narrow-minded white Americans and therefore America.