This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in what we now know as Virginia. Their voyage was, no doubt, filled with unspeakable horror and death, and their presence would forever change the United States—especially when examining the way this country approaches policing.
When enslaved Africans arrived in America, there was certainly a desire to assert control over this specific group of people. By the early 1700s, the first slave patrol emerged in the colony of Carolina.
Be clear: The slave patrol and slave catchers set the tone for policing in the United States as we know it.
David A. Harris is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and host of the Criminal (In) Justice podcast. Harris, who specializes in law enforcement and race, says that even after emancipation, the role of the police was to enforce racial hierarchy.
“I think it’s important to remember that for black people, law enforcement [has] often been on the wrong side of history. They were enforcing slavery all those decades ago and then enforcing Jim Crow all those many decades ago,” Harris said. “People remember that. Grandparents tell stories. The photos are still there.”
See the entire video above.