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Race, Place, and Suburban Policing
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
By Andrea S. Boyles
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
Race, Place, and Policing in the United States
RODNEY KING, AMADOU DIALLO, SEAN BELL, TRAYVON MARTIN, and countless other black citizens who have experienced and experience racialized policing do so in the context of long-standing differential policing strategies aimed at controlling and monitoring the locations and behaviors of blacks. Race-based differential policing practices and negative black citizen-police interactions do not occur in isolation or apart from the broader structural establishment of policing, but rarely do national debates address them within that context. Instead, incident by incident, conversations take place wherein the media, politicians, political analysts, activists, and other interested parties chronicle, compare, and propose amendments to policies that would address differential policing practices. As such, these race, place, and policing debates often fail to call attention to policing agencies, policies, and strategies as structurally prejudicial, and thus, discriminative. In the end, there is no real accountability or change, other than continuing to publically acknowledge persistent differential treatment of blacks in the criminal justice system. Acknowledging differential treatment is to see only the symptoms of the problem rather than the cause: inherent structural prejudice and discrimination.
To gain insight into how this institutional racism developed, one must understand the historically discriminative structures and trends that paved the way, and must have a clear picture of the current reality of black citizen-police relationships. In other words, the legacy of race and place is significant and should not be discounted or lost in contemporary discussions. Otherwise, we address problems on the surface rather than at the root, and risk losing opportunities for reform and social change. Furthermore, as the experiences of the past and present are interwoven and often understood and discussed as such by black citizens, likewise should this be the case with broader platforms. Take Terrance and Mark of Meacham Park, for instance. Terrance, thirty-eight, described his present experiences by linking and attributing them to his knowledge and understanding of the past:
When I grew up, I aspired to get a job and retire and be able to pull my truck and my car up on the lot and be able to sit with the old men and drink my drink, sit by the fire. Wasn't any troublemakers, [just] grown men that raised families, and they [the police] call that standing out on the street. You know, just being out congregating, and now that lot's gone, those old men got pushed off of it. Even people in their thirties, forties, fifties were waiting to get on that lot like I was and now there's no place to go. That's history, but police and Kirkwood look at it as hanging out on the streets, but I'm talking about grown men that worked at Chrysler, Ford. Just a place to sit, a whole bunch of chairs, they had their can [trash barrel] out there and yeah they got loud, but they were grown men.
What Terrance laments is a disruption of culture, a breakdown of camaraderie that once existed among hardworking, well-respected black family men in his community. Frustrated by the lack of regard for life lessons and of laughs earned and shared by these men in ways unique to their environment, Terrance feels disadvantaged and robbed of socialization processes that once gave him and other local young black men something to aspire to: exemplification of accomplishment by those most like him (black men) — something far more valuable to a disadvantaged black community than persistent police control and subjective criminalization. Similarly, Mark, fifty, discussed his experiences from a historical perspective:
When you can finally back up and look at what happened in Meacham Park, to me, it's a sin, but it's something that's gone on in our history as far as black people for hundreds of years ... to be able to take our property systematically or the policing habits that they had.
In this account, Mark is frustrated as well and describes a history of what he believes to be the routine manipulation of blacks. Like Terrance, Mark felt robbed, though his anger came from the loss of personal property rather than the loss of community property. He lost land through eminent domain, during the annexation phase, and continues to fear and fight for remaining properties in Meacham Park.
Terrance and Mark, along with others, could not tell their stories without incorporating history. It seemed the only way they could make sense of and cope with their experiences was by recognizing the plight of blacks before them. Accordingly, this project mimics the approach of the respondents. As they conceptualize their experiences by giving significance to historical parallels, I aim to do the same out of respect for the gravity of what they face and the depth of their feelings. Therefore, this chapter (1) chronicles black citizen-police relationships throughout U.S. history, providing a template and timeline from which negative interactions between the two groups first emerged; and (2) considers the current state of negative black citizen-police interactions — within the context of residential segregation — as illuminated by the present body of research examining policing's differential treatment practices.
This chapter's first focus, an overview of historical policing of blacks, opens with an examination of the precedence for differential policing set by the slave patrol. Attention is next given to how the discriminative ideas and expectations of blacks set by the Slave Codes, Black Codes, and Jim Crow laws further legitimized race-based differential policing. Then, a chronicling of situating, restricting, and the policing of blacks in particular places provides clarity into the growth and persistence of segregated urban and suburban areas. The chapter's second focus, the current state of negative black citizen-police interactions, includes a review of racial profiling and attitudes-toward-police (ATP) research, which provides further insight into interactions between black communities and the police. Finally, a look at research relying on interviews and ethnography helps assess the community context of policing and the responses of black citizens.
POLICING AND THE EXPERIENCES OF BLACKS IN U.S. HISTORY
Centuries of contentious black citizen-police relationships can be traced to the intersection of race, place, and policing during the transatlantic slave trade. As oppression and cruelty of slaves became institutionalized, the possibility of slave revolts and insurrections significantly increased. Slave rebellions proved extremely threatening to white populations. Whites also feared freedmen, whom they believed to be supporters of and sympathizers with slave revolts.
Fear and suspicion of both slaves and freedmen fueled an increasing desire for surveillance and social control of slaves, giving rise to the creation of the slave patrols — officers designated to police slave populations. The establishment of slave patrols became the driving force behind enacting and encouraging the application of laws such as the Slave Codes, Black Codes, and later, Jim Crow segregation.
The Slave Patrol
History suggests that the slave patrols were among the first organized police forces in the United States and were formed by local and state militias, court-appointed local committees, and state legislators. Their mission was to keep both the slaves and freedmen "in place," physically and figuratively. In the physical sense, slaves and freedmen were required to "know their place" and were relegated and segregated to certain locations and to specific behaviors within those locations. Policing of slaves and freedmen aimed to restrict and monitor the movement of slaves and freedmen.
Policing slaves physically was merely one part of the mission; the patrols also sought to police in the abstract — to control attitudes and beliefs through intimidation in order to reinforce safe, less-threatening behavior, comfortable to whites. Slave patrols were threatening sights, visual reminders of slave's and freedmen's inferior status in relation to white superior status.
Slave patrol duties included frequent searches for runaways, the apprehension of slaves or freedmen caught outside of plantations or designated areas, the prevention of all slave gatherings and meetings, and searching slave quarters and the homes of white citizens suspected of assisting slaves to escape. Slave patrols were also present and expected to keep order at markets, funerals, festivals, and various other activities and events. In essence, their mission was to harass and intimidate slaves.
Slave patrols were designed to provoke fear and submissiveness among the slaves. Patrolmen went about on horseback both day and night, armed with guns, whips, and ropes. Slave patrols were prohibited from killing slaves, especially as slaves were investments for whom the state would have to reimburse the legal owners. Nonetheless, inflicting bodily harm on slaves was common. Slaves were terrorized and brutalized: women were sexually abused, captured freedmen faced being sold into slavery, and slaves were frequently threatened and received flogging, whippings, mutilation, and their few valuables were taken from them.
Slave patrols and specialized militias were appointed, paid, or in some instances called upon to volunteer by local and state militias, court-appointed local committees, and state legislators. Additionally, "the laws ... established a militia, requiring every [white] man between sixteen and sixty years of age" to serve. Many poor whites ultimately became slave patrollers because, unlike wealthier whites, they were unable to buy themselves out of patrol duty. As a result, Slave Codes — differential laws for blacks — especially created a rift between slaves and poor whites. The enactment of the Slave Codes affirmed racial inferiority for blacks and superiority for even poor whites. Furthermore, where slave control and regulation had primarily been the slave owners' responsibility, by the late seventeenth century, it had become the responsibility of the entire white population.
Hence, police harassment of blacks in the present should not be discounted as mere complaints by disgruntled blacks or as isolated incidents that periodically occur across time and departments. Rather, the police harassment of blacks should be understood, analyzed, and addressed as one of the agency's first mandates and as a significant component in the institutionalization of persisting discriminative practices.
Formalizing Restrictions: The Slave Codes, Black Codes, and Jim Crow
As slave patrols enforced restrictions and policed the behavior of slaves, these restrictions were formalized in Slave Codes. Slave Codes were laws put in place to govern slaves as chattel or property. After all, slaves were investments and the Slave Codes served to protect masters' interests legally. The codes were subjective in nature; they varied among locations and periodically changed depending on the threat level. For example, they changed depending on the influx of new slaves, rumors of plots, and insurrections in other locales, thus making all slave and freedman actions suspicious and punishable at whim.
Similarly, Black Codes were postemancipation laws enacted to regulate free blacks. Their purpose was to regulate the locations and behaviors of emancipated slaves, and more importantly, to monitor and mandate their continued employment. Since southern planters and former slave owners depended on slave labor, following emancipation, they feared a loss and shortage of laborers. Realizing that freed blacks were important to southern agriculture, planters worked to negotiate and bargain contracts with them. Some blacks agreed to stay on and work, while others fled the plantations, leaving a shortage of field laborers. Free blacks migrated to cities and towns, away from the plantations that were a reminder of slavery. southern white land owners, unable to retain or force freed blacks back to the land, turned to the Black Codes as a means of doing so. White southerners pushed for laws that would force blacks back to field work or other menial labor. In 1865, the first Black Codes were officially enacted.
Under Black Codes, black populations continued to face racialized policing along with ordinances that were not applicable to whites. Generally, these laws were "designed to drive Negroes back to the land and compel them to work." In the event of noncompliance, blacks faced vagrancy and loitering violations. They could be punished by fines, imprisonment, and slavery for up to twelve months. Vagrancy statutes were particularly broad — blacks could easily be convicted for the appearance of idleness; immoral conversations, behaviors, and actions; unwillingness to sign work contracts or to commit to some form of labor; and so forth.
The Black Codes attempted to legally reimpose a version of slavery. They extended the control and policing of black populations mostly by criminalizing idleness or what was believed to be unproductive actions. Likewise was the case with the subsequent enactment of the Jim Crow laws, which advanced the criminalization of blacks, exacerbating it by codifying the separation of the races.
Jim Crow laws solidified white supremacy and black subordination and came from a climate of "economic crisis, political opportunism, and racial fears." While white populations had previously been motivated by fear of revolt, southern whites were especially intimidated by the black vote and place in politics. Consequently, segregation served as a way to nullify and disenfranchise blacks politically, and to further restrict blacks in all facets of social life.
Jim Crow laws included complete separation of the races in businesses, hospitals, schools, the military, transportation vehicles, cemeteries, restrooms, elevators, residential areas, hiring practices, entrances and exits of most facilities, penal institutions, and all other locales. Jim Crow laws also barred interracial dating and marrying. Under Jim Crow, no black person was exempt from surveillance, scrutiny, accusation, and the abuse of white persons who felt justified in doing so through white superiority. This left southern blacks defenseless, particularly as the police upheld, supported, and in many instances, inflicted brutality upon blacks individually and collectively.
Jim Crow laws gave way to policing black life not just by police but by any white citizen. With the implementation ofJim Crow and other, similar rules and regulations, black populations began experiencing policing and fear that harkened back to pre-emancipation days. A black man in the text below recalls being confronted by the police in the Jim Crow South:
Negroes who have lived South know the dread of being caught alone upon the streets in white neighborhoods after the sun has set. ... The color of a Negro's skin makes him easily recognizable, makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target. Late one Saturday night I made some deliveries in a white neighborhood. I was pedaling my bicycle back to the store as fast as I could, when a police car, swerving toward me, jammed me into the curbing. "Get down and put up your hands!" the policeman ordered. I did. They climbed out of the car, guns drawn, faces set, and advanced slowly. "Keep still!" they ordered. I reached my hands higher. They searched my pockets and packages. They seemed dissatisfied when they could find nothing incriminating. Finally, one of them said: "Boy, tell your boss not to send you out in white neighborhoods after sundown." As usual, I said: "Yes, sir."
The legacy of controlling space and place with regard to black populations in the United States is deeply rooted, and extends beyond the deep South. The vulnerability and susceptibility of blacks to segregation in the Midwest and the North can be understood best through a look at all-white neighborhoods or "sundown towns."
Sundown Towns in the Midwest
Restricting blacks to certain locations occurred far beyond the South to states such as Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, California, Oregon, and others, and sundown towns played a significant role in these confining practices. A sundown town is "any organized jurisdiction that for decades kept blacks or other groups from living in it and was thus 'all-white' on purpose." Sundown towns were off limits to blacks, particularly after dark. Loewen (2005) extends the term sundown to "sundown neighborhoods," "sundown states," and even "sundown nation."
Excerpted from Race, Place, and Suburban Policing by Andrea S. Boyles. Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations, ix,
Foreword, by Rod K. Brunson, xi,
1. Race, Place, and Policing in the United States, 17,
2. "You're nothing but trash over here ...": Black Faces in White Places, 49,
3. There's a New Sheriff in Town: The Police Making Contact, 93,
4. "It's the same song ...": The Tragedies of Kevin Johnson and Charles "Cookie" Thornton, 133,
5. The Road to Reconciliation, 164,
Conclusion and Discussion, 187,
Appendix: Study Participants, 211,