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Book Displays: Equal Justice Initiative 2021: Aug

Virtual displays based on the 2021 A History of Racial Injustice calendar.

August's Topic - The Long History of Police Violence

Calendar photo caption: In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a young boy runs past a memorial in remembrance of George Floyd, who was killed by police in May 2020. (Leila Navidi/Start Tribune via Getty Images)

Calendar Text

Before slavery ended, newly established police departments were deployed to maintain a racial hierarchy system, beginning a long history of racially biased control of Black people that continued during Reconstruction, through the era of lynching and segregation, and to the present,

The rise of policing centered on the preservation of slavery. "Slave patrols" in the North and South focused their efforts on apprehending and returning "runaway slaves" to slave owners, deterring revolts by enslaved people, and maintaining discipline and control. Although slave patrols were abolished at the end of the Civil War, their racially violent functions were assumed by white vigilante organizations and soon took root in police departments across the U.S.

The rise of police forces in the U.S. during the early 19th century was spurred by the growth of cities and the abolition of slavery in the North. The first American police department was established in Boston in 1838 and was more focused on responding to disorder than crime. As African Americans fled the Jim Crow South in the late 19th century and early 20th century, they were victimized by punitive policing in the Northern cities where they sought refuge.

Rather than protect Black people from white mob violence, police officers frequently aided and abetted white mobs and arrested Black people. A 1929 study on police activity in Chicago found that Black people made up only 5% of the city's population but constituted 30% of the victims of police killings. A 2016 study of police violence found that about four of every five people shot by police in Chicago were African American.