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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Black America's Fear of Police Rooted in History

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on April 11, 2021

Black America's fear of the police is rooted in history and can be traced all the way back to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed most forms of slavery in America. The Amendment, however, contained a big exception to the prohibition on slavery that allows pre-1865 slavery to exist under certain conditions today.

The Amendment states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist with the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction." The exception in the Amendment authorizes a permissible form of legal slavery in America -- slavery within state and federal penal colonies, complete with all of the degrading and inhumane indicia of pre-1865 slavery.

To be clear, inmates in America's state and federal penal colonies are legally and technically "slaves." See, Ruffin v. Commonwealth, 62 Va. 790, 21 Gratt. 790, Virginia Supreme Court 1871. For political correctness purposes, these slaves are called "inmates."

Unbelievably, America is the only nation in the Western Hemisphere whose national constitution authorizes any form of legal slavery.

The Re-Enslavement of Blacks Appeased Old Confederacy White Southerners

Not surprisingly, the Thirteenth Amendment's exception to the ban on slavery was an appeasement to white Southern farmers and business owners in Confederate states who lost free slave labor when the South lost the Civil War. Southern states used this exception to establish and enforce laws called "Black Codes" which permitted the re-enslavement of up to 800,000 blacks during the period between the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and the turn of the 19th century.

"Black Codes" criminalized hundreds of petty offenses. For example, it was a crime for a black minister to preach to a black church congregation without first obtaining permission in writing from the local white chief of police. Additionally, unemployed blacks could be arrested on sight and imprisoned up to a year for vagrancy or loitering. Also, the children of a "vagrant" could be "apprenticed" to a local white "employer" for little or no pay.

Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina leased out convict labor under a formal and inhumane peonage system. These states made the practice of arresting and convicting blacks in an all-white criminal justice system a very lucrative business.

Thousands of marginally qualified and poorly trained white men were hired across the South as police officers. They were charged with the responsibility to search for and arrest as many blacks as they could find who violated the Black Codes. Lawlessness reigned among these "police officers."

Once arrested, these black men, women, and children would be leased to plantations where they would harvest cotton, tobacco and/or sugar cane. Sometimes, they would be leased to work at coal mines or railroad companies. The owners of these companies would pay the state a nominal fee for every inmate who worked for them. This was true prison labor; it was also state-created and enforced peonage. Sadly, the prison peonage system did not end in America until World War II began in 1940.

By the turn of the 19th century, America's all-white federal, state, and local law enforcement communities were aggressively working in concert with all-white local, state, and federal judges to re-enslave innocent black citizens, using the Thirteenth Amendment as the enslavement vehicle. These groups also strictly enforced de jure and de facto racial segregation, "Black Codes," Jim Crow laws on every subject imaginable, and the growing and brutally oppressive peonage system.

A Long Tradition of Police Violence Against Blacks

"Fleeing" felon statutes authorized white law enforcement officers to shoot black suspects in the back if they attempted to flee from police officers. These statutes were not struck down until the 1980s. However, this small measure of progress has not stopped the unrelenting waves of police murders of unarmed black suspects across the United States.

What is more, blacks cannot help but notice that white mass murderers/active shooters are rarely killed by police at the scene of their crimes or during the process of arrest. By and large, they are treated with the utmost respect by the white law enforcement community.

Police torture of black men, women, and children during interrogations was a common tool of law enforcement agencies nationwide until the early 2000s. Torture is still widely practiced by police and tacitly condoned by law enforcement chiefs and judges in many Southern states.

Torture within state and federal penal colonies is legendary nationwide. It occurs on a regular basis within the Special Housing Units of federal prisons. White correctional officers who relish dominion and control over inmates of color seem to be drawn to this modern-day enslavement plantation.

No past or present U.S. president should ever lecture China, Russia, Iran, or any other foreign country about its treatment of prisoners until the torture of inmates in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has ceased. "Torture," as I define it, includes the act of stripping a male inmate naked, physically restraining him with straps, and spraying his testicles with burning chemical mace, as was done to inmate James Summers (Reg # 51863-074) in 2020 in the Special Housing Unit at the federal prison in Manchester, Kentucky. It also includes the vicious beating of inmates who are forced to walk backwards in a crouched position with their hands cuffed behind their backs."

I can specify other acts of torture if the Bureau of Prisons has a genuine interest in stopping it. These acts are just as ugly and violent. And, they are happening on American soil.

Racism Within Police Agencies Has Been Protected by the Courts

All of these acts of systemic law enforcement racism were sanctioned by the federal, state, and local courts, except for a brief period of civil rights enforcement by a few courageous federal judges from 1954 to 1980. The rest of their time in America, blacks have caught pure hell from the police and courts in every aspect of their lives.

To make matters worse, the Federal Bureau of Investigation operated a formal program to target, discredit and destroy non-violent, law-abiding, civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Mrs. Rosa Parks, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and thousands of other innocent and peaceful freedom fighters, from 1956 to 1971. The program was called COINTELPRO. The program, which was sanctioned by then-FBI Director Herbert Hoover, actually tried to force Dr. King to commit suicide in 1963. COINTELPRO, which enjoyed the strong support of local white reporters, federal, state, and local police agencies, and federal and state judges around the nation, destroyed thousands of innocent black lives.

COINTELPRO continues today as an informal, off-the-books racist law enforcement program in FBI offices in Southern states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, among others. Birmingham, Alabama was a citadel for COINTELPRO activities in the South through 2020.

To this day, the federal courthouse in Birmingham proudly displays the wooden "robe closet" of one of the federal bench's most notorious and unreformed racist judges -- U.S. District Court Judge Edwin Nelson (deceased).

From 1980 to 1995, white federal law enforcement officials gathered annually in Tennessee to carry on an orgy of overtly racist conduct at a gathering called the "Good Ol' Boys Roundup." More than 1,000 agents and their guests gleefully celebrated their racism with acknowledged white supremacists.

The imprisonment of blacks, when measured as a percentage of their numbers in the general population, outpaces the imprisonment of any other ethnic group in America. As expected, federal courts are leading the way in enslaving black criminal defendants and in executing federally imprisoned "slaves."

In 2021, the greatest threat to the fair administration of justice in America for black citizens is no longer the white men and women who wear white robes, who burn crosses at night, and who lynch blacks from trees. They have been replaced by today's so-called "respectable" white "conservative jurists" who wear black robes in their courtrooms, who routinely eviscerate a black defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial, and who consistently re-enslave blacks on a wholesale basis without flinching.

This is why African-Americans have historically feared the police.

PHOTO: Former officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd's neck.

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