Letter to the editor: Police racism is undeniable
When Chief Hanley stated, “I reject completely the notion that Middlebury PD engages in systemic racism and I’m not going to engage in a debate over it,” in a previous article (“‘Defund the police’ arrives in Middlebury,” 6/25/20), it further confirms that evidence of systemic harm done by the police is erased and not given the proper attention it deserves. The Middlebury Police is part of the whole policing system. It needs to be understood by Middlebury residents, the Middlebury Police Department (MPD), and Chief Hanley that MPD is part of the system and that the system is inherently racist. It is not a matter of “engaging” in systemic racism — the existence of police forces themselves are the engagement.
The police force has not always existed. There are two roads where the history of formal policing starts: in the North, specifically in Boston, and in the South. In Colonial America, the first known policing system created was known as the “night watch.” The night watch consisted of volunteers looking out for gambling or prostitution but was ultimately unsuccessful because many patrollers often ended up inebriated or asleep during their shifts. As the country urbanized, night watches were rendered useless.
Different regions of the country began creating their own models of policing. In Boston, in 1838, a formally organized police force was created in order to monitor merchants’ goods. The police force was used to protect property and surveil transport of these goods. In the North, the police’s job was not protecting the community or inhibiting violence or crime; instead, its function was to maintain the power of rich white men, including fighting against labor unions.
Concurrently, the South formed its own type of police force. In the early 1700s one of the first formal policing systems was put in place in the Carolinas by a different name: slave patrols. Groups of white men were granted permission to use vigilante tactics in order to uphold slavery laws. The volunteers were allowed to enter the homes of anyone suspected of harboring fugitive slaves. In some places, white men were required by law to serve with the slave patrols. These patrols found and returned runaway slaves to the plantations, punished slaves who went against plantation rules, used violence to instill fear, and stopped uprisings.
After slavery ended, laws were put into place to criminalize Black people. Black codes during the Reconstruction era and Jim Crow laws of the mid-1900s, respectively, were created in order to over-surveil, over-critique, and criminalize everyday actions of Black people. This allowed Black people and Black neighborhoods to be policed more stringently than white communities. There are numerous contemporary policies and incidents of racism in the current policing system in the United States; there are also many examples of over-surveilling, criminalizing, and harassment of community members, especially in recent accounts against Black folks by the Middlebury PD, which we hope to explore further in later letters.
When a system is rooted in historical racial oppression, it is impossible to separate a single police department from the whole. Middlebury Police Department, in fact, engages in systemic racism, and we hope that since Chief Hanley refuses to recognize this, community members will.
On behalf of I.D.E.A.L. Middlebury.
Invest. Divest. Educate. Abolish. Liberate. Middlebury is a unified collective of people working to reduce community and systemic harm by creating new policies, support structures, and accountability measures for the town of Middlebury through an anti-racist, abolitionist framework to better serve all members of our community.
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