Author: Abinaya Sri, Evergreen High School ‘24
Edited by Eshal Ahmed
Since childhood, we have been told that if anything happened, we could always count on the police. We’ve known that they are trained sufficiently to help and protect us. Yet, during these unfortunate times, when the United States of America needs them most, it seems as if the police force is our own worst enemy. Megan McCullom, a woman who crafted a video about the Black Lives Matter Movement, stated a plethora of valid and shocking points about our police force. As I watched her video, I questioned myself: are the police actually trustworthy?
To fully understand the American police force, we must learn where they originated from. Police were first created as slave patrols in the early 1700s-1800s, when slavery still existed. The south depended on slave labor since farming was such a massive part of their economy. White Southerners were afraid of a slave rebellion that would wreak havoc within their economy, thus bringing about these slave patrols. Slave patrols controlled the actions of the enslaved people and would bring slaves that had tried to escape back to their owners and used extreme brutality and violence against them. This eventually evolved into the police that we know today.
A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing, written by Victor E. Krappeler, elaborates on the laws of civil rights, the Civil War, and the public’s mindset towards racism. “The legacy of slavery and racism did not end after the Civil War. . . extreme violence against people of color became even worse with the rise of vigilante groups who resisted Reconstruction…Because of its tradition of slavery, which rested on the racist rationalization that Blacks were sub-human, America had a long and shameful history of mistreating people of color, long after the end of the Civil War...police harassment simply meant people of African descent were more likely to be stopped and questioned by the police, while at the other extreme, they have suffered beatings, and even murder, at the hands of White police.” Krappeler discusses how even after the Civil War and the establishment of civil rights’ laws and more movements to combat racism, many citizens’ mindsets towards racism have stayed the same, including the American government’s.
Another piece of astonishing information found is that the police do not have a constitutional duty to protect the public. As recorded in an article known as Justices Rule Police Do Not Have a Constitutional Duty to Protect Someone written by Linda Greenhouse, this all started in a case called Castle Rock v. Gonzales. This was a Supreme Court case in which Jessica Gonzales, a divorced mother, pleaded for help from a police officer after her husband, who violated a protective order by kidnapping their three daughters, killed them. Jessica attempted to sue Castle Rock, Colorado in court for the failure of the police to help with the incident with her children that occurred. The Court ruled at a majority, and concluded that the town and its police department could not be implored under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a movement that allows citizens to sue the government for violations of their civil rights. The court then declared that they failed to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murder of Jessica’s three children by her estranged husband, which then permitted for a ruling in Washington, on Monday, June 27, that the police do not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm; that Americans ultimately have the responsibility to protect themselves and cannot rely on the police force to protect them.
Kelly McLaughlin, author of The Average US Police Department Requires Fewer Hours of Training Than What it Takes to Become a Barber or a Plumber, McLaughlin writes that, “Becoming a police officer in most states takes less time than it does to train for less-stressful trade school jobs, like becoming a barber or a plumber...On average though, police departments require new officers to complete 672 hours of basic training, according to data collected by the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform (ICJTR), a California-based organization run by Randy Shrewsberry, a former police officer, and forensics investigator. The organization found that 36 states allow officers to start working for the force before attending basic training.” Though some states like Minnesota or Alaska require one to train for 1,000 hours, most states have significantly less mandatory hours, some not even requiring training at all to be on a police force. It is maddening to learn that the police receive such minimal training. When you give incompetent people access to deadly weapons, who knows what accidents could occur.
After educating myself with these shocking facts about the American police, many questions came to mind, the first being why we even need the police if the Supreme Court ruled that “we ultimately have the responsibility to protect ourselves.” Isn't their job to protect citizens and the public? Is that not one of the reasons as to why the police even exist? Another question of mine is why trust cops with guns and weapons when most of them are not even trained properly? Some may say it is as if children are receiving these weapons. Finally, why have a police force if you only choose certain people to protect?
The American police force is no better than a group of personal bodyguards. I hope this article opens people’s minds and makes them aware of the reality behind our so-called protectors.
Greenhouse, Linda. “Justices Rule Police Do Not Have a Constitutional Duty to Protect Someone.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 June 2005, www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/justices-rule-police-do-not-have-a-constitutional-duty-to-protect.html.
“A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing.” A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing | Police Studies Online, plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/brief-history-slavery-and-origins-american-policing.
McMaken, Ryan. “Police Have No Duty to Protect You, Federal Court Affirms Yet Again: Ryan McMaken.” Mises Institute, 20 Dec. 2018, mises.org/power-market/police-have-no-duty-protect-you-federal-court-affirms-yet-again.
Hansen, Chelsea. “Slave Patrols: An Early Form of American Policing.” National Law Enforcement Museum, 3 June 2020, lawenforcementmuseum.org/2019/07/10/slave-patrols-an-early-form-of-american-policing/.
Graphic courtesy of Sarah Luan