The Origins, Legislative and Racial History of Law Enforcement in the United States
Hundreds of years ago, the Kingdom of England was broken down into a number of what were called "shires", later renamed to "counties". Each shire would elect their own special person to carry out duties on behalf of the crown, such as serve orders, enforce rules and regulations, or collect taxes. These people were called "reeves". Over time the words "shire" and "reeve" would come together to become "sheriff". The sheriff was important to the Crown, but so powerful that when King John of England was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, twenty-seven of its sixty-three clauses had to do with limiting their powers. Once elected, a sheriff can deputize others, who then become sheriff deputies and they in turn would form posses to fight crime.
The sheriff would use local militias at times to help keep the piece, though they were often routy and hard to control. A sheriff's jurisdiction is within the county in which they were elected.
The first "indentured servants" (slaves) came to Jamestown in 1607. "Indentured servitude" was allowed under the English's "Headright system", an agreement to provide seven years of free labor in return for a trip to the Americas and after the seven years was up, the "servant" was freed and given a plot of land to start their own farm. Yet, about half of the "servants" that arrived wouldn't survive in Virginia's climate and many that did would have their "servitude" extended for various reasons. England had been sending its orphans and unwanted poor to the Americas for only a short time, but soon some of them stopped being poor. They learned how to exploit others and made a lot of money bringing people over and working them to death, then passed that tradition to others.
As an Independent Union
The United States would officially gain its independence from England in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, about seven years after the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. Twenty three years later in 1799, the state of New York decided to free slave children who were born after July 4th of that year.
Ohio abolished slavery in 1802 and New Jersey gradually did so starting in 1804. When Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory that same year though, tensions began to rise over whether or not the new territories would allow slavery. Thomas Jefferson called for criminalizing the slave trade in 1806 and factions soon emerged. By 1820, these factions in Congress compromised on the issue of slavery: In the new Louisiana territory, minus the future lands of Missouri on parallel 36°30′ south, slavery would be prohibited. In return, Maine would enter the Union as a free state. When Mexico gained their independence from Spain the following year, they decided to abolish slavery, but many slave owners living there got around this by declaring their slaves as “indentured servants”.
As populations swelled in the United States and the industrial revolution took hold in the northern states, it became more difficult for the sheriff and his deputies to keep order in a single county. As night watches began to spring up across the northern states, workers kept going on strike for higher pay and safer working conditions. Instead of negotiating with them, the factories would simply hire more workers, who would cross the picket lines to work. To protect the strike breakers, factories hired private police from a firm called the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to escort them to the factories.
Created in Chicago in 1850, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (or the "Pinkertons") were one of the first private police agencies created and its creator, Allen Pinkerton would go on to lead Abraham Lincoln's private security on several occasions (excluding the night of his assassination, as the Secret Service had just been established earlier that day by Lincoln's pen, but not for Presidential or personal protection, but to combat money fraud). As they escorted strike breakers to their factories, the Pinkertons would often beat pro-union workers. The Pinkertons were also the first to use mugshots and would hold the largest collection of them.
From 1846 to 1848, the United States was at war with Mexico as a result of Texas' annexation with the US. By the end of that war, the United States gained what was known as the Alta California and Nueva Mexico territory. This is especially important because San Diego lies at the border between Alta and Baja California, splitting the native Kumeyaay tribe in half.
Meanwhile in the 1850s, the southern states remained agricultural and full of African slaves. These slaves would occasionally escape into the northern states, where slavery had been banned. To help prevent this, some white southern residents would take it upon themselves to become fugitive slave catchers and started slave patrols. They didn't just limit their duties to catching runaway slaves however, they would also be the judge, jury and executioner of slaves who simply wandered too far from the tree line. In cases where a slaves life is spared, they are still usually beaten to a pulp.
Philadelphia was the first city in the United States to organize a police force in 1833, followed by Houston in 1841. New York followed in 1845, New Orleans in 1853 and Baltimore in 1857. The main difference between a sheriff and a police officer was that instead of being elected or deputized, they are hired, not by a factory or by a wealthy citizen, but by a city. As more and more cities started their own police forces, many deputies, Pinkertons, night watches, and slave patrols would be hired into them.
Roots of the U.S. Civil War
While this was all going on, civil war between the states loomed very real in the background. Acquiring the southwest would become more expensive than anticipated. With California entering the Union as a State in 1850, in conjunction with the population boom in industrial northern cities, congressional power in both the House and the Senate switched towards the northern states. This would cause Democrats in the southern states to freak out and take drastic measures to take back control.
Sectional tensions started to became violent in May 22, 1856 when two days after Senator Charles Sumner gave an impassioned antislavery speech, a Representative named Preston Brooks beat him with a cane in the Senate Chamber. Really, he came up to him, shared few words and went to town, beating Sumner up. He beat him so bad; Brooks broke his cane and nearly killed Sumner. That same year, a new political party, the Republicans, put out their first presidential candidate: John C. Freemont from California. The Republican Party became known as an abolitionist party when it came to slavery.
“It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its [a slave State's] own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon public affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.”
-Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of the United States Supreme Court, Dred Scott V. Sandford, 1857
John Brown's Raid
In October of 1859, the same year the African slave trade ended, a white man named John Brown, along with twenty-five others, entered Jefferson County, Virginia, with the intent of raiding an armory in Harper’s Ferry. Brown was an abolitionist who was hoping to break into an armory and give stolen guns to run-away slaves in order start a full scale slave revolt. When the raid started though, he received little help. President James Buchanan called in a unit of Marines to quell the rebellion. A "hero" of the Mexican American War named Colonel Robert E. Lee, led the unit.
Brown didn’t last long, his small band of fighters were killed and when he tried to make a final stand, the Marines broke in and he was subdued. He was taken to Charlestown, VA, tried and sentenced to death by hanging. About two thousand people had arrived in Charlestown to participate in or witness the execution, including some notable figures, as Nora Titone writes in “My Thoughts be Bloody”:
“Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson watched the scene intently, noting that the coffin was a handsome affair of dark walnut, protected by a poplar crate. Brown was conveyed a short distance out of town to an open pasture where his gallows loomed… John Wilkes (Booth) had been awake since dawn, along with the other Richmond Greys. They lined up by height close to the scaffold, no more than 30 feet away, and stood at attention in the rough grass.”
Start of Civil War
The American Civil War began and was fought mostly over the issue of slavery. Lincoln had been elected November 6, 1860. By December 20th, before he was even inaugurated, South Carolina declared their independence from the Union. Mississippi soon left on January 9 1861, followed by Florida on the 10th, Alabama on the 11th, Georgia on the 19th, Louisiana on the 26th, and Texas on February 1st. These states then joined to create the Confederate States of America, which was born on February 8th.
Back at the Capitol during Lincoln’s inaugural address, on March 4, 1861, his message to the South ended:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”
“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact… The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature… Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.”
After the end of the Civil War in 1865, the Union army had occupied the southern states and split the confederacy into five military districts. Those districts forced each state to recreate their own governments, but they now had to include African Americans. This meant that now, African Americans could participate in their local government.
After Lincoln's assassination, Andrew Johnson took over as President. Johnson was harsh with the confederates, but also opposed giving citizenship to former slaves. The 14th Amendment, which did give all free men citizenship was ratified in 1868, despite Johnson's veto, and one of the conditions for re-entering the Union was that each southern state would have to ratify it. The last amendment to be passed during this time was the 15th Amendment in 1870, which outlawed discrimination at the polls. A Civil Rights Act passed in 1871 said that excessive force by police officer violated victims constitutional rights.
The advancement of African Americans into citizenship and government positions angered many southern whites who, in 1866, joined together to create a terrorist organization called the Klu-Klux Klan. These groups used terror techniques such as beatings, murders and cross burnings to keep African Americans and those who supported them from making it to the polls. The techniques worked and with less Republicans voting, the Democrats took local governments in the southern states.
In return for the south, Rutherford B Hayes was declared President elect, and Union troops finally left the south. Reconstruction was now over and it had failed.
Moving Towards Civil Rights
By the end of Reconstruction, police in southern states enforced a series of vagrancy laws and black codes that were passed by state legislatures after the Civil War to keep the disenfranchised, including the newly freed slaves, from advancing economically or having true freedom. For instance, after the Civil War, the South suffered a shortage of labor. Eight southern states established "convict leasing", the hiring of prisoners for laborious jobs. People suspected of being jobless were arrested and leased to plantations or businesses for work. African Americas weren't allowed to own property or businesses of their own and they were kept from voting or taking office.
Until the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, State and local officials established laws separating blacks and whites from schools, cafes, universities, churches, restrooms and even drinking fountains. Discrimination against African Americans prevented adequate funding for schools and stopped them from being hired at high paying jobs or buying homes in prominent neighborhoods. The murder and lynching of African Americans continued without those responsible being arrested or charged. In many cases, law enforcement was complicit in the murders.
By 1953, racial prejudices ran rampant throughout the whole country, especially in the south. Once again the laws were challenged. The parents of a little girl named Linda Brown sued the board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in order to place her in a school that was close to home but for whites. The Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954 overturned the decision left by Plessy vs. Ferguson. The Supreme Court had decided that keeping children separate simply due to skin color made them feel inferior, affected their development and deprived them of equal protection laws.
Civil Rights Movement
One of the larger events of the 1960s was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In June of 1963, the bill that would outlaw segregation and Jim Crow type laws, and required all voter registration application to be processed equally, was introduced to the House. Two months later, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place, where Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. President Kennedy supported King and the Civil Rights bill. Unfortunately, Kennedy would be assassination by November of 1963.
After a man named Ernesto Miranda was interrogated by police for hours without a lawyer, he made a confession and was sentenced to prison. He appealed the conviction, arguing that he did not know that he had a right to remain silent. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. He won the appeal and since then, officers have been required to read Miranda warnings to those they arrest, informing them of their rights.
Counter Legislation and Militarization
In 1965 in the Watts community in Los Angeles, CHP pulled over and subsequently beat a black drunk driver, as well as his mother and brother in front of local residents. This angered the residents, who began throwing rocks and bottles at officers. Soon residents began shooting at officers and other emergency personnel. This led to six days of riots in Watts that left 34 dead and was so bad, Martin Luther King arrived in an attempt to calm the situation.
In 1967, another Supreme Court decision, Garrity vs. New Jersey established the Garrity warning. The Garrity warning is similar to a Miranda warning, except it was designed to let officers who are under investigation know their rights. With suspicion that officers were being bribed in New York City, another officer named Gardner was subpoenaed to testify to a grand jury. His superiors tried to force him to sign a 5th Amendment waver, but he refused and was fired for not testifying. Gardner sued and in Gardner vs. Broderick of 1968, the Supreme Court decided that the previous Garrity decision also protected the officer's right to free speech and so his firing was found unconstitutional.
By 1971, Richard Nixon was the new President. The two groups that Nixon considered enemies were African Americans and hippies, who were largely opposed to the ongoing Vietnam War. Their solution was to first associate them with drug use, specifically Marijuana to hippies and heroin to African Americans. Next, they would call for legislation that served heavy penalties for drug use and possession, essentially turning these groups into criminals. With jails being filled with the disadvantaged who were being vilified in t he media, their movements would essentially be discredited. This was the beginning of Nixon's war on drugs.
With the need to keep prisons full, came the urge to better protect the police officers that fed the system. In 1974, the legislature in Virginia passed the country's first Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights. Thirteen more states, including California, would pass their own version of the bill. The LEO Bill of Rights is a set of extra protections given to law enforcement officers who are under investigation, which the civilian public does not have. For instance, in Maryland, police officers accused of a crime have ten days to make a statement, while civilians do not. Because officers can only be questioned by other officers, according to this code, it makes something like a civilian review board newly impossible to accomplish in these states. In Rhode Island, officers can be convicted of crimes without being fired. In most states, departments don't even have to acknowledge that their officers are under investigation. This kept potentially dangerous officers on the force, which in time would tarnish a department's reputation with their community.
In 1989, a man named Graham waled into a store to buy orange juice, but changed his mind when he saw a large line. He walked out of the store, but was pulled over by an officer named Connor, who saw Graham walk in and out and became suspicious. He detained the man, putting him in handcuffs, until it was determined that no wrongdoing had occurred. Graham sued and in the Graham vs. Connor decision, the Supreme Court decided that when an officer uses force, the perspective of the officer, and not hindsight, is what determined the "reasonableness" of that force.
In March of 1991, Rodney King and two others were driving down San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, when they began to be pursued by California Highway Patrol. King refused to pull over because he was already on parole, so a chase went on for about eight miles, before King was cornered by LAPD. The other two were pulled out of the car, kicked, and taunted. King came out of the car last, he was tasered, kicked and beaten with batons for well over a minute before being dog-piled on and arrested.
In 1997, a large shootout at a bank in North Hollywood occurred. Two men with custom armor as well as AK 47s and other rifles with armor piercing bullets went inside the bank and robbed it. Police tried to ambush the men, but instead of trying to escape or surrender, the gunmen chose to fight it out with police who were armed only with pistols and shotguns. Many officers were shot, but survived. Outgunned, police confiscated weapons and ammunition from a nearby gun store. The robbers were eventually shot and killed, leaving 18 injured.
In 2013, a Florida neighborhood watch named George Zimmerman was acquitted of shooting to death an unarmed African American teenager named Trayvon Martin, while he was on his way home from buying candy. The following year in Ferguson, Missouri, a police officer killed another unarmed African American named Michael Brown and his body was left lying in the streets for hours. This caused an outcry and unrest in the Ferguson community, as police began to militarize themselves against local protesters. In response, activists began to organize nationwide and movements like Black Lives Matter emerged.