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Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context

In light of the now almost daily images of black people being brutalized and/or killed by America’s “finest,” the question is this:  Are we really in the midst of a surge in police brutality against black folk, or has the widespread use of more and more sophisticated and user-friendly video and audio technologies simply made capturing and documenting this “issue” easier and more likely?

Black people have been complaining against, fighting against, marching against, writing against, singing and praying against police brutality since the slave patrols of old.

But nobody other than other black people would believe us. “Well meaning” whites both North and South did not want to believe (or admit) that it was the local sheriff who led the nightly lynching raids of the Klan, or who supplied the explosives used to blow up black churches, black schools, black businesses and black homes.

Nobody other than other black people would believe (or admit) that it was the city, county or state policemen who administered the beatings to those uppity blacks who insisted on registering to vote.

And when black people seemed to regularly, mysteriously disappear during the dead of night down in the swamps and bayous along the Gulf Coast, and the countless river banks and stream beds, nobody other than other black people would believe (or admit) that the “disappeared” were last seen stopped along the side of the road by the flashing lights of a “police” vehicle.

Today, of course, it seems that almost daily we are subjected to the unfiltered depravity of yet another police outrage perpetrated against a clearly innocent black man, black boy, black girl or black woman.

But, like their slave patrolling and law enforcing predecessors, it does not seem to matter much to this generation of white cops – and they are overwhelmingly white in the overwhelming number of cases – that the whole world now knows of, even witnesses, their brutality in real time.

And, of course, as these videos are showing, these cops need little or no reason at all – no technical nicety like“probable cause” — to “stop and frisk,” question, harass, intimidate, beat, arrest, or murder any and everyone wearing a black or brown skin.

No. What matters to these modern-day slave patrollers is that you, black woman, you, black man, you, black boy and you, black girl, at all times keep both hands where they can see them; have your identification (“freedom”) papers on your person – preferably affixed to your shirt or blouse; and never, ever say anything other than obsequious “Yes, sirs!” or “No, sirs!” to any  uniformed, plain-clothed or “under cover” representative of this republic.

One would think, hope, however, that these cops would temper their behavior since they now know that it is very likely that somebody is probably recording their misdeeds.

That just ain’t happening, though, now is it? These cops know and understand full well that even with video and audio recordings of their brutality, they can more likely than not fall back on either the “fear for my life” or “split-second decision” excuses; and that their uniformed and civilian bosses and the white community at large will absolve them of any wrongdoing.  Hell, in many instances, killer cops are rewarded for keeping “the blacks” under wraps with promotion, medals, bonuses and, always, paid “administrative leave.”   Indeed, this brutality is acceptable to most white jurists and juries (in the unlikely event that a case should ever get before a judge or jury). Why?  Because as an  Austin, Texas cop explained to Breion King after being manhandled by one of his colleagues, it is just plain, ordinary common sense and common knowledge amongst most white people that black people  are just, well, scary.  And that is due to their innate “violent tendencies,” he assured her.  Recall that Darren Wilson, the cop who killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, told a grand jury essentially the same thing when he described Mike as a  crazed, “Hulk-like” figure who just had to be put down –  just as one would dispatch a foaming-at-the-mouth, rabid dog.

These are men (and not a few women) who are direct descendants of a “subgroup” of white people who have historically exercised inordinate power over all so-called “minorities,” but especially over black people. These are the descendants of the original slave patrollers, those dirt poor whites who could not afford their own slaves, but served as enforcers of the Slave Code as promulgated by their richer slave holding “brethren.”

Today, these folks are reading the demographic tea leaves and appreciate in ways that perhaps most of us do not that the rapidly growing “subgroups”  will soon, from their vantage point, rob them of their majoritarian status. Their fear of that not at all distant future, of those inexorable, inevitable numbers, is personified in the very being and constant presence of one person — President Barack Hussein Obama.

Obama has represented a daily, in-your-face reminder of their “loss.” He is an unmistakably clear and existential threat to these guys’ own essence and their vaunted “way of life.” And (until the rise of Donald Trump), they have felt helpless to do anything about it – Obama.

And so they release their pent-up frustrations upon the nearest or  any black person — young, old, female or male — who might, in their myopic worldview, present even the slightest challenge to their God-given and historical “authority.” So when they Tase, shoot, choke-out, beat, stomp, false-arrest, false-convict and kill innocent black people, they are vicariously doing the same things to the President.

So, the question answers itself: Cops have not suddenly gone crazy and out of control.  The new technologies and social media  are simply and without blinking showing and exposing to the world what black people have endured since being forced onto these shores some 397 years ago.

More articles by:

Herbert Dyer, Jr. is a Chicago-based freelance writer. He may be reached at accra0306@yahoo.com.

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