Unit 2: Codes, Patrols & Policing
To Recap from the 300 Years in Module One, Unit One and answer to a question:
In that module I shared the history of nearly 6,500 documented lynchings, that it happened until 1981 and also occurred in the North.
I was asked how often it was prosecuted. The answer: To this day, there is no Federal anti lynching law. Since at least 1900, members of the House and Senate have tried to make lynching a federal crime. The bills are consistently blocked. On June 4, 2020 the bill was considered by the Senate, but Senator Rand Paul by unanimous consent preventing the bill from passing. This means that it was up to State and localities to prosecute the crime. This means that almost no lynchings were ever prosecuted because the same people who would have had to prosecute and sit on juries either participated or were generally on the side of the action or related to the perpetrators in the small communities where they lived.
There is always more to learn. One thing I just found out about is regarding one of the last lynchings in the North, in Marion, Indiana. It was the basis for Billy Holliday’s song Strange Fruit and the postcard of the event is widely circulated. It took place in Grant County and what I didn’t know was that at the time Grant County had a very large Quaker population (see below). Click here for more information on Quaker involvement in the KKK.
Our educational material continues this with examining Black Codes, Slave Patrols and Policing Today. For the complete version click here. Black codes were laws enacted through the South both during and after slavery that governed slaves and free people of color. They included things such as teaching or attempt to teach, any slave to read or write, he or she shall be sentenced to receive thirty-nine lashes on his or her bare back. Different States had different Black codes but most were designed to restricted black people’s right to congregate, own property, conduct business, buy and lease land, and move freely through public spaces. After emancipation a central element of the Black Codes were vagrancy laws. Enforcement was done by the police.
So since enforcement was done by police, how were the police organized? The common knowledge is that American law enforcement started in the early 1800’s as night watchmen systems moved into centralized municipal police departments beginning in Boston and soon cropping up in New York City and elsewhere. These were white, male and focused on disorder and controlling a “dangerous underclass” that included African Americans, immigrants and the poor. However that is only half the story. The other half is that policing in southern slave-holding states evolved from slave patrols made up of white volunteers empowered to capture runaway slaves as well as use vigilante tactics to enforce laws related to slavery and also to prevent further escapes by any means necessary including torture.
It is believed that after the passing of the 13th Amendment, more than 800,000 Blacks were part of the system of peonage, or re-enslavement through the prison system. Peonage didn’t end until after World War II began, around 1940.
Knowing this history makes it easy to understand the situation of today’s policing in communities of color (click here for further information). The reasons unarmed people in these communities are killed today are as simple as Ronell Foster fatally shot by Vallejo, Calif., police Officer in 2018 after being stopped for riding his bicycle without a light. Sandra Bland for a broken tail light, Eric Gardner for selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps, Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, George Floyd suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill, Dreasjon Reed running from a police officer, Breonna Taylor, sleeping in her own bed, the list goes on and on. But then there are the children; Police have killed more than 100 children since 2015 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago and 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, 12- year-old Tamir Rice, 13 Year Old Tyre King, then there was the killing of Kameron Prescott, 6 Year Old and Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 7 Year Old, finally there is the killing of elders, 68 year old Eurie Stamps and 92 year old Kathryn Johnston. We don’t understand these victims as real people who had lives, loves, interests and family (click here for an action that makes this visible). Another thing about all these killings and the thousands of others is we don’t talk about the ripple effects of the trauma of the families and communities that have lost loved ones, nor is any attention given to the ones who aren’t killed but are disabled by such encounters.
There were only 27 days in 2019 where police did not kill someone. Imagine if this was the environment and reality that you and your children faced every minute.
Given the above, what is our spiritual responsibility?
thanks for listening,
The following is further relevant material:
Jim Crow Laws
Ku Klux Klan
Jim Crow Laws Expand.
By HISTORY.COM EDITORS| JAN 11, 2022
Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. Named after a Black minstrel show character, the laws—which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968—were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death.