SHAUN KING: A History of Law Enforcement & White Power

Shaun King & Kendi K
Aug 26, 2020 - 3:53

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You’ve heard me say this many times before, and will hear me say it again, the American justice system is not broken. It is functioning exactly how it was intended to by the racist white men that built it. This system disproportionately oppresses Black and Brown people while ensuring the protection of white ones. 

There is one tool that has allowed this racist system to hold the unprecedented amount of power it does remain for decades: law enforcement officers. 

Slave catchers were some of the earliest forms of law enforcement in American history. Compromised mainly of poor whites who could not afford to enslave Afrikans themselves, they were hired to patrol designated areas for any escaped enslaved Afrikans, and sometimes given descriptions by plantation owners to find specific runaways. They were also known to kidnap Free Black people who had either successfully escaped to the North, been released from bondage by the plantation owner or bought their freedom, and sell them back into slavery. 

It was these same men who became police officers after the Civil War and the consequential emancipation of enslaved people. Able to carry out their violent acts under the pretense of “keeping the order,” a number of white supremacists vigilante groups emerged during this period known as Reconstruction, namely the Ku Klux Klan

What many fail to realize is the direct crossover between these white supremacists groups and the police force that exists today. From its founding, American law enforcement has centered around the oppression and brutalization of Black people. They were literally created to be the enforcers of racism. 

It is important we understand the history of law enforcement in order to make sense of how they stand today. We cannot separate their past from their present. 

Police work so closely with, and many of them are, white supremacists because they were founded by white supremacists. 

On today’s episode of The Breakdown, Shaun unpacks the recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and just how intertwined police are with white supremacist groups.

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