The Original Nightwatch
Disclaimer: This post is written to provide a historical context essentially provide a lesson. It is no secret that the African American community has a very complex relationship with law enforcement in the United States of America. I understand and realize that there are many responsible and professional police officers in this country. We must examine the historical context to solve a problem. Furthermore I encourage all of my readers to obey the laws of the land and demonstrate respect anytime you must interact with police officers. Many of these men and women are their risking lives to protect and serve the citizens of this country.
The television network A&E just premiered a new reality series called "Night Watch" the show chronicles the lives and work of EMS, Firefighters, and Police Officers in New Orleans, Louisiana. The title caught my attention because many people are not aware of the connection between the police and the word "Night Watch." Race and police brutality have been the focus of many news segments recently with the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner just to name a few. Unfortunately there are larger numbers of black victims that have died or been physically harmed because of police brutality.
Police Brutality is defined as the use of any force exceeding that reasonably necessary to accomplish a lawful police purpose. Police brutality is a civil rights violation that occurs when a police officer gets excessive force by using an amount of force with regards to a civilian that is more than necessary. Excessive force is not subject to precise definition, but it is generally beyond the force a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer would use under the circumstance. The use of excessive force is also a direct violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution regarding cruelty and protection of the laws.
Auandaru Nirhani " Policing Slaves Since the 1600's: White Supremacy, Slavery, and Modern US Police Departments" argues that our modern police departments origins can be traced to racist and repressive colonial institutions in America. The first policing systems were called Night Watch, Barbadian Slave Code, and the Urban Slave Patrols.
In the article the author also suggests that the police force of the U.S. was modeled after the British Metropolitan Police Structure, although when policing the poor working class, migrant, and brown and black neighborhoods in the present, resembles the procedures of the 18th century Southern Slave Patrols, which developed from Colonial Slave Codes in slave holding European settlements during the early 1600s. Auandaru Nirhani supports this claim with the following statement. " English island and mainland colonies adopted the Barbadian Slave Code as model, including Jamaica in 1644, South Carolina approximately in 1670, and Antigua in 1702."
Slave Patrols in the American Southern Colonies emerges from both the "Night Watch" and "Barbadian Slave Code." The "Night Watch" was used in the Northern colonies while the Barbadian Slave Code was used settlers of South Carolina in the early 1700s. The agricultural economic system of the South depended on the slave trade. Eventually the African slaves outnumbered the white southern population in some colonies not all. Southern whites became afraid of riots and violence which led to establishment of organized groups of vigilantes to keep the slaves under control. White men were trusted to lead these groups. All white men ranging from ages 6-60 were required to enlist and conduct armed patrols every night. They were obligated to search slave residences, breaking up slave gatherings, and protect the communities by patrolling the local roads.
Scholar Sally E. Hadden stated that " Free blacks and suspicious whites who associated with slaves were also supervised. Slaves lived in a state of trauma."
Slave Patrols: Law & Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas ( Harvard Historical Studies)
Author Sally E. Hadden, 2003
Policing Slaves Since the 1600's: White Supremacy, Slavery, and Modern US Police Departments
Author Auandaru Nirhani ( Can be found online published January 7, 2012)