Stephen Douglas said, “Slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere. unless it is supported by local police regulations.”
That is the Freeport Doctrine and it functions still today as the underlying basis for policing in the U.S. – the control of Black people.
Let me lay out what I mean when I say that we have to get to the roots of our conflicts and distortions. Why is it important to know where, how and why policing started? The reason is to avoid missteps, wasting time and energy and money, not to mention good will, and spinning our wheels with cosmetic solutions. Cosmetic solutions are those which do not get to the roots, stay on the surface, and often function to make certain people feel good. Examples are civilian review boards, civilian review boards with Black people and other unrepresented groups on them, increased press coverage of police misconduct, a revamping of our laws and procedures, segregating the police force so only Black policemen patrol Black communities (as if Blacks have not dispersed out into the wider society), and so on.
Retraining is another one that is offered up without thought but in the hopes it sounds good and lets community leaders off the hook. Not well thought out: what evidence is there that retraining police officers works, is effective? The process of retraining well over one millions officers is prohibitively expensive. However, I will address the first obstacle since that one goes to the heart of my argument for diving toward the roots.
I and my wife have had a lot of experience offering what used to be called multicultural training and now is called diversity training. As recently as two years ago, we attended a circle of people who, almost by definition, should be totally on board with such training. The first obstacle was several African-Americans in the group who apparently wanted no part of upsetting any White people. Along with presenting to groups of various kinds, we have been in many such presentations and they range from accommodationist to outright hostile. Neither approach helps.
I myself have presented to hostile groups, usually minorities who are not keen on hearing about their problems from a White guy. Some of my students were pretty racist and part of my job as a teacher was to get them to open up their thinking – not change their minds but just open them up – and they could be a bit hostile b/c they had a whole community backing them up (East Valley of Maricopa County, AZ).
Although individuals have testified to us the value for them of what we have done, on the whole I don’t think we moved many people off the spot they were on. One exception is Anytown, a human relations camp for 16 year olds where kids encounter each other in a forced situation where cabins are assigned so that everyone is mixed up on axes like urban-rural, rich-poor, and religion and ethnicity. All were selected by their schools and so were high-achievers. Some wonderful experiences were to be had in these camps but one of my triumphs was to alter the format of culture night. Previously, the “identified minorities”, almost always Jews, Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, would be pulled out to put on skits or performances representing their “cultures”. White kids would just watch. So I got permission from the director to poll those kids to see what cultures might be represented there. Pow! Tons. Kids who knew Greek folk songs, who could read a poem in Russian, who could perform an Italian folk dance, and on and on. One girl adamantly refused (quite a few kids had no idea what background they came from and so they did a Heinz 57 Variety skit), saying she had no ethnic associations. Then, when she saw the other kids preparing their skits, she broke down and said her family was terribly split along Austrian-Croatian lines and so, even though she knew the cultures, what she presented was how glad she was to bury those horrible family fights over religion, ethnicity, language and even food. A cap on how the diversity is great but can be a burden.
Hundreds of people have in later years told how much Anytown affected them. But even that experience needed follow-up. So what would work?
We have to realize that the police force is a mirror of the community that hires them. The vast majority of police officers do not misbehave. There needs to be a message delivered from every portal that misbehavior will not be tolerated by doing things like letting prosecutors pamper the officers whose testimony the prosecutor makes his case on. That means revamping the justice system. For that you need that same community to supporting that. You don’t have that. Think Ferguson, MO. Plenty of Black and Asian and Hispanic and Jewish communities tolerate behavior on their inhabitants’ part that creates friction; it’s not just Whites.
With all that, it would take decades to smooth out the wrinkles in a system that has gone on for 400 years, a system whose primary purpose is not law enforcement but the suppression of movement, agitation, activity, gathering, organizing, promoting, furthering, and demonstrating among African-Americans. As Chris Hayes puts it, anything that strikes White people as disorder requires the heavy hand of the law.