Slave Patrols Then, Police Killing Blacks Now
by Geraldo Rivera | Apr 20, 2015
As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in America, many powerful commentaries are being written comparing the harsh treatment of runaway slaves with the persistent use of deadly force by cops confronting unarmed black men. After reciting the melancholy litany of recent cases, Garner, Brown, Ford, 12 year old Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley in Brooklyn, Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix and Tony Robinson last week in Madison Wisconsin, author Edward Ball wrote powerfully in Sunday’s Times about the past impacting the present.
The great-great-grandson of slaveholders, who unlike actor Ben Affleck accepts his family’s dark legacy, Ball describes how young black men who did not have proper papers were regarded as suspect. “My ancestor William Ball often rode in a slave patrol, as did other male members of my family, as well as every other slaveholding clan. Deadly force was often used against slaves who resisted being taken into custody.” Edward Ball wrote in Sunday’s Times that, “…lying behind such recent events (police killings of unarmed black men) is a mentality that originates during the slave period, and provides police action with an unconscious foundation. A mentality that might be called part of the legacy of slavery.”
I don’t know how anyone can compute the connection between slavery and police killings, and many of the commentaries fail to mention the disproportionate crimes committed by young black men. There were 30 shootings this weekend in and around New York City all involved either young black or brown men.
Still, it is hard to deny that many cops perceive blacks to be more of a threat than whites in similar situations. For instance, would South Carolina Officer Slager have shot Walter Scott in the back if Scott was white not black?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that the perception exists in too many black families that police represent as much a threat to their sons as crooks.
We can’t undo the past, what Ball calls “Slavery’s enduring resonance,” but we can make every single police killing a presumptive federal civil rights case. It is the least we can do.