A History of Violence

Let me tell you about the first time I met a police officer. It was late Sixties and I was a child. I was outside hanging laundry on the line. For those of you young enough to have no clue, back in the day we had this primitive clothes drying device called the laundry line. It was several wires or strings hung across the yard where you hung your undies outside to dry for the whole neighborhood to see.

Horrifying right?

So there I was hanging up my mom's undies when I hear a gun shot. Being young and stupid, I perked right up and looked for the source of the gun shot. It had definitely come from the direction of the courthouse across the street from the public park. My mother, being older and wiser, immediately rushed outside, snatched me up and hustled me inside, undies be damned.

Turns out a large group had gathered in the park across from the courthouse to protest the Vietnam War. An illegal war which every citizen had the legal right to protest. The gun shot had been a police officer firing live ammo into the protestors, one of whom was hit. Thus escalated a nearly week long war in which the protestors laid siege to the courthouse.

It was July in eastern Washington, which is to say it was very hot and my mom and I were staying at my grandmother's nursing home at the time so the air conditioning was running around the clock. Right up until the tear gas came pouring in through the swamp cooler.

The police tear gassed the protestors with no regard for the nearby nursing home and it's elderly occupants. We had to shut down the air conditioning and care for elderly folk suffering from extreme heat and distress.

It was either the second or third day of this that two boys, no older than 17, came to the house and asked if they could drink from our hose. Now, they didn't have to ask, there wasn't much we could have done to stop them. Call the police? So looking back on it, those two young kids were being very polite and considerate given the circumstances. My mother said it was okay and they drank, shut off the hose and left.

Moments later I met my first police officers. They came out of the hazy cloud of smoke and gas to ask my mother if she'd seen any "hippie" looking men go by. They described the two kids, who had not struck me as particularly "hippie" looking at the time. My mother said, well yes she had, they'd drank from her hose without asking and then headed off "that a way".

That a way being the exact opposite direction the boys had gone.

After the police had gone I asked my mom why she'd lied to the cops. She said because they're the criminals here, not those two boys. The war was illegal. The protests were legal. Firing bullets at protestors was illegal. Everything the police were doing was illegal.

And so my education began.

Let me give you a little education, this time from a noted crime historian at Eastern Kentucky University, Gary Potter. The first municipal police department in America was formed in Boston in 1838. They weren't formed to "Serve and Protect". No, it was in response to the Broad Street Riot of the year before. Irish immigrants were having a funeral procession when Protestant firemen returning home from fighting a fire got irate that the street was blocked by Irishmen, who were considered criminals back in those days. Fully one-fifth the population of Boston came out to burn and destroy Irish homes and property.

Only Irish-Americans were convicted in the wake of the riots.

The first U.S. municipal police force was formed to deal with the "Irish Problem".

Let me repeat: The first police department in America was formed by racists, for racists to oppress a class of immigrants come to America. In complete contradiction to the tenets of Freedom our nation supposedly upheld.

In 1844 New York City followed suit, forming it's own municipal police force. This time, it wasn't just racism that prompted it. The police were formed in response to protests and strikes by the Worker's Trade Union who were fighting for a 10-hour day as well as the perceived inherent criminality of the Irish immigrant.

You see, we don't talk about it much, but in America we used to have two kinds of slavery. The first was the kind everyone knows about. Black slaves owned by whites prior to the Civil War. These types of slaves had free medical, free housing, free food, free clothing, all their physical needs met, but they couldn't leave, their children and wives could be sold or raped, they could be beaten, tortured and killed.

And then there was the truly abhorrent form of slavery practiced elsewhere that nobody wants to acknowledge. Wage Slavery. Wage slaves had no medical, no housing, had to sometimes resort to stealing food and their clothes were threadbare. While they could leave their employer, they had no alternative employers to go to who wouldn't treat them just as harshly, their daughters and wives many times had to sell themselves just to survive and they and their children were routinely beaten, tortured and killed.

We didn't call them slaves, of course, we called them workers.

As worker protests spread across America, so too did municipal police forces designed to subjugate and oppress the workers.

By 1915 it was said that the police were "an extremely efficient force for crushing strikes, but it is not successful in...protecting the public."

It was around this time that my grandmother was stripped and beaten in public by the police for being a suffragette and demonstrating for women's right to vote.

Then something changed. It was television. By the 1950's most families had a black and white tv set in their homes. So it came to the attention of an entire nation that blacks in the south were routinely being beaten and killed by racist police officers. Thus began the Civil Rights Movement.

In response to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, southern Dixiecrats and Republicans began their "tough on crime" initiatives that resulted in the creation of the SWAT teams, the War on Drugs by Nixon - a ruse that was later admitted to be an excuse to harass and inflict violence on hippies and people of color - and the militarization of the police.

Then, in the '80's, in order to ensure that the media would never elicit public outrage the way they had for the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam War sentiment, Ronald Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine which assured honest, equitable and balanced news reporting and specifically protected news that would be deemed controversial.

A handful of corporations instantly gobbled up the news outlets and the era of Mainstream Media controlled by the 1% was born. It was the culmination of Operation Mockingbird, the CIA attempt to turn America's fourth estate into the propaganda arm of the 1%.

Then began the build up and militarization of the police force. A movement spearheaded by none other than Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. The term "super predator" was used to describe black youths who the racists viewed as inherently criminal. Hillary's language tells us much about the racist right wing agenda.

They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel."

Spoken like a true slave owner of yore. Compare that to Trumps call upon state governors to "dominate" the protestors. This is slave master speak.

That's what police and the history of police violence have always been about. Submission. Subservience. Slavery.

Then things changed one more time. Enter social media. It has picked up where the old tv set of the 50's left off. No more free press? Hello citizen press.

Well, I don't have to give you a history lesson of the past few weeks.

Enter Alex Vitale, Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College. He wrote the book The End of Policing in which he points out some rather interesting facts. Did you know, for instance, that in the entire 20th century in England the police only killed 50 citizens? Compare that, he says, to the 1146 U.S. citizens killed in 2015, a year that was marked by historically low rates of crime.

Vitale, Alex S.. The End of Policing . Verso Books

He points out that reform has failed. Attempts to force police to use body cams have been useless as offending officers invariably turn off their cams. This proves that their killings were premeditated murder, not self-defense as they always claim.

Scaling down police operations have failed. In 2012 the NYPD illegally stopped and frisked nearly 700,000 New York citizens, 87% of whom were people of color. After public outrage and protests, the mayor promised to scale it back. In 2015 "only" 23,000 people were illegally stopped and frisked, 93% of whom were people of color.

The racism can't be reformed or scaled back. Like a cancer that's spread too far, it's systemic and terminal.

Retraining has been shown time and again to be useless. De-escalation training has been referred to by police officers as "feel good nonsense". Retraining has brought about no reduction in police brutality, racial profiling or murders.

The police need de-funding. By de-funding, that tax money can be better spent on improving our school systems, public housing, mental health services and services to address drug abuse. Our current means of funding our public school system is racist by nature. Property taxes fund our schools resulting in wealthy neighborhoods having better schools and better teachers. Poor neighborhoods, those who suffered under redlining in the 30’s up until the 70’s have historically had underfunded school systems.

By de-funding the police and redirecting that money to our school systems, we can improve the quality of life of all Americans and give each of us an equal opportunity.

In Minnesota, they tried every kind of police reform. Now they’ve come to agree. Now they’re going to de-fund the police.

It's time for the history of police violence, subjugation and oppression to end.

It's time for the wage slaves to be free to even begin to fight for their freedom.

30 users have voted.


lotlizard's picture

For decades “Irish cop” was a stereotype in pop culture … How did a targeted group end up running the show? There’s some missing chapters to the history that would also appear to be very interesting.


9 users have voted.

@lotlizard here is the gap...

Although stereotyped as ignorant bogtrotters loyal only to the pope and ill-suited for democracy, and only recently given political rights by the British in their former home after centuries of denial, the Irish were deeply engaged in the political process in their new home. They voted in higher proportions than other ethnic groups. Their sheer numbers helped to propel William R. Grace to become the first Irish-Catholic mayor of New York City in 1880 and Hugh O’Brien the first Irish-Catholic mayor of Boston four years later.


6 users have voted.
travelerxxx's picture

Great essay. And I like your Mom.

I'd have to research to refresh my memory, but when Camden, NJ, dissolved their police department and reorganized (run by the county, I think), didn't crime plummet and now complaints for excessive force have almost stopped? If I recall correctly, they did this around 2010 or so.

16 users have voted.

My memories of bad cops starts from the time I life I have memories.
Man, it must have been tough to house blacks and whites in the jail together at the same time blacks had their own water fountain in the courthouse. And to serve those blacks meals. Oh, the horrors.

8 users have voted.
RantingRooster's picture

have been relatively civil / peaceful, until the cops show up and start the "violence" for protesters excising their 1st amendment rights.

There was peaceful protest in Dallas, until the cops showed up.

When the marchers reached the Woodall Rodgers Freeway interchange, they made a left turn, walking onto the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, a span that runs across the Trinity River. Protesters chanted "Hands up, don't shoot!" as they made their way across the bridge. At the west end of the bridge, a line of Dallas police officers, Texas National Guard troops and Texas Highway Patrol troopers was waiting.

Suddenly, popping sounds rang out, sparks flew and smoke billowed across the bridge. What had been a peaceful protest quickly fell into chaos as protesters began scrambling back toward the east end of the bridge, only to find a line of officers closing in on them from that side, as well.


Alexander, who ran for the District 10 Dallas City Council seat last year, said it was no accident that police diverted the protesters onto the bridge only to arrest them minutes later for being there.

"This was completely orchestrated. This was kettling," she said. "It seemed like they trapped us on purpose. They set us up to look like this so they could look like the heroes."

Gee, the police "diverted" the protesters onto the bridge, and then closed them in and arrested 674 people. Chief Hall said "protesters broke the law by marching in a lane of traffic on the bridge". Dash 1

Gee, the next time I see someone change lanes on the freeway, without using a turn signal, which IS the LAW, I'm gonna pull them over, beat the fuck out of them and then hand them over to DPD to be formally charged for "improper lane change". (snark)

Morons that don't use their turn signals on the freeway are a hella of a lot more danger to the general public, than peaceful protesters, I can tell you that!


7 users have voted.

C99, my refuge from an insane world. #ForceTheVote


American policing is a thick blue tumor strangling the life from our communities and if you don’t believe it when the poor and the marginalized say it, if you don’t believe it when you see cops across the country shooting journalists with less-lethal bullets and caustic chemicals, maybe you’ll believe it when you hear it straight from the pig’s mouth.

9 users have voted.

One thing about television. I knew someone who didn't get electricity until the mid 1950's, rural NE. His comment was that he didn't know he was poor until his family could afford a TV. Fetching water, wood heat, oil lamps, ice box, out house, his whole world changed with electricity and tv, and his view of himself.

6 users have voted.