The controversy over Atlanta’s Public Safety Training Center has resurrected a common claim made by critics of law enforcement, namely that American policing is a direct descendant of antebellum slave patrols. A recent article at CounterPunch magazine claims that American policing “began as ‘slave patrols’ to capture enslaved Black people escaping plantations.” Elsewhere, an open letter from alumni of Spelman College refers to police as an “institution born of slave patrols.”
This is echoed by a recent New York Times editorial asserting that “the origin of law enforcement in this country … is a history rooted in slave patrols and militias designed to protect white people’s lives and livelihoods from rebellion among enslaved Black people.” Even pro-law enforcement organizations such as the National Law Enforcement Officers
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