The Racist Roots of Campus Policing

by BENJAMIN WOODS

“Overseer, Overseer, Overseer, Overseer
Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
Yeah, officer from overseer
You need a little clarity?
Check the similarity!”

-KRS One, “Sound of Da Police”

On Sept. 16, the Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI) held a rally at the flagpole on The Yard in support of Troy Davis, inviting community members and the media to protest the injustice of the impending execution. Not only was the media barred from campus, but HUPD stated that because the protest was not authorized by the university, the rally could not take place.

When the point was raised that fraternal organizations did not need authorization to do stepping routines on the yard, SAMI was told “that’s a tradition.” Well, in the militant tradition of Howard student takeovers in 1925, 1968, and 1989 SAMI preceded with the rally, consequences be damned.

Why did the campus police attempt to stop the rally? In an article entitled “The Modern Campus Police” John Sloan shows that contemporary campus police are a response to the student rebellions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Think about it, Black students all over the country were taking over administration buildings and the anti-war movement was in full swing.

Since campus security could not put down these rebellions, the National Guard often had to be called in. At places like Jackson State, South Carolina State, and Kent State some students were even killed in campus rebellions. Therefore, the campus police did their historical and assigned role: putting down any and all potential radical student activity.

Thus, the campus police and the American police force appear to have similar origins and purposes, maintaining “order” and squashing any potential acts of rebellion. Several scholars and commentators have traced the origin of American policing to the slave patrols in the American south. Slave patrols were composed primarily of lower class whites who put down insurrections of enslaved Africans and caught those who attempted to escape enslavement.

Armed with this information, no Black person should be shocked by the over-policing in our communities or by that campus police officer who flies on his Segway to the scene of a student protest, but is mysteriously missing when you need an escort.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense stated that the role of the police in Black communities is similar to that of an occupying army. The primary purpose of police is to protect property: Howard University, its image, reputation (oh yeah, and you, the student [intellectual property],too). Whether on campus or in the community, understanding that the purpose of the police is primarily one of social control can only serve to enlighten and enhance our inevitable interactions with them as Black youth.

This does not mean that individual Black policeman are our inherent enemies, but the police are an institution. Although individual Black policeman are our potential working class allies, unfortunately, that is not usually the case at Howard, or in the world.

As students, acknowledging and challenging the racial roots and consequences of policing—in all its forms–is an important step towards stopping the trend of criminal injustice in our communities.

Benjamin Woods is working on his Ph D at Howard University. He can be reached through his website: www.free-the-land.blogspot.com

This article originally appeared in the Howard University student newspaper the Hilltop

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman