Unfamiliar Faces Special Edition: Lost to History – Slave Patrols

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Slave Patrols – The History of American Policing

Considering the ongoing tragedies surrounding the shooting of unarmed (or armed) black men and the deaths of police officers, it is only fitting to present a special Unfamiliar Faces, Lost to History Edition. Today, we’re discussing a lost and often unfamiliar historical fact in the history of American policing.

During the institution of chattel slavery, controlling the actions and whereabouts of slaves was of vital importance. As nothing more than a commodity, slaves were worth hundreds and thousands of dollars. Big feet for example may indicate to a slave owner that his slave may be strong and stout one day, while his “skin and bones” appearance may bring down a hopeful price.

Through care and discipline, slaves’ bodies were physically incorporated with their owners’ standards of measure”.

– Soul by Soul, Walter Johnson, Life Inside The Antebellum Slave Market

If a slave approached the auction block with two fingers cut off, both of which were done in the slave’s desperate attempt to escape chains–choosing rather to go about with eight fingers than to become a slave–the true manner of his or her disablement would have to be concealed for the time being. Basically, the fact that this slave cut her own fingers off would have to be a secret for now. Her attempted escape would have to transform itself into one in which a doctor cut off one of her fingers due to illness and she, in an attempt to comply with the doctor’s orders, cut off the other one. In such case the slave is seen as so stupid and imitative that she would mutilate herself because it’s what the doctor did. For the auctioneer, this increased his chances of selling this slave, whereas the truth would decrease the auctioneers chances of selling the slave.

Slavery was such an ingrained part of American society that it influenced every fabric of society, from the least to the greatest. Many would not admit it, but the economic disparity between African Americans and Europeans can (on one level) be traced back to the fact that many European families still benefit from the financial gain that slavery produced (Duet. 28:43). While many of this generation may not possess the same racists feelings and thought processes as their ancestors, many of them still benefit economically from their forefather’s owning of slaves.

Nonetheless, these kinds of situations, not to mention the constant running away of slaves, caused for serious security over the slaves whereabouts and required a policing of them known as Slave Patrols. These patrols were formed by county courts and state militias, and were the closest enforcers of codes governing slaves throughout the South. Strangely, modern day police enforce the laws of the land and are the most brutal force in its handling of African Americans and black related crimes in this day. According to Google:

Slave patrols (also called patrollers, patterrollers, pattyrollers or paddy rollers by the slaves), were organized groups of white men who monitored and enforced discipline upon black slaves in the antebellum U.S. southern states. The slave patrols’ function was to police slaves, especially runaways and defiant slaves.

Today, members of the black community still refer to large police vehicles as “patty-wagons”, a play on the former “pattyrollers”.

Slave Patrols and Night Watches were designed for controlling slaves and later evolved into modern day Police Departments. As Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver (2006:186) remark, “the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”

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Do Not Ask What, Ask Why

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We’ve known “What” since stepping foot off slave ships. We’ve known “What” since the crack of the whip. We’ve known “What” since Lynch mobs and sharecropping. We’ve known “What” since overseers, paddy rollers and colored signs. We’ve known “What” since the back of city buses and Jim Crow. We’ve known “What” since crack, ghettos and foster homes. Indeed, if there is anything black people are familiar with, it is what. The question is therefore not what, the question is why? Why the haunting images of public executions of black men? Why does the protests of Black Lives Matter mirror that of the Civil Rights Movement when we should have moved passed this? How is it that what happened 50 years ago and DIDN’T work, will somehow work today? Have we not marched? Have we not protested? Have we not already sang freedom songs and willingly gone to prison? Why are black people at the bottom of every single ethnic group and society there is? Why have we been here for nearly 400 years and have yet to produce the economic standing of nations who have been here not even half that time? The question is not what, the question is why? Why are things always so black and white? Why is it always black against white?

In the book of Exodus there is a story. This story is about the Israelites. Pharaoh said to kill off the Hebrew boys for fear that the Hebrew population would grow and that they would overrun the Egyptian population (Ex 1:9-16). More so, they will do unto the Egyptians what the Egyptians have done unto them. Fears of uprisings among African Americans can be traced back to the days of Nat Turner. To think this fear has been lost or has gone away is not to have been alive.  You see “Why?” has been around for centuries and on the tongues of every prophet. “Why?” is in the blood of every black man and woman walking this earth today. It is in every breath we take, and every move we make. “Why” is in our very DNA, our living souls breathing proof of the covenant we made so long ago. Do not tell black people that they should not be angry when our sons blood cries out to us from the ground. Instead, ask “Why?” Do not ask What, Ask Why because why is the key to everything. Why is understanding that what is happening out there is bigger than any man. “Why?” is understanding there is a reason black lives do not matter in this land. “Why” is understanding the story of Israel, the covenant they broke, and its connection to the black man and woman in America today. You see, “Why” is the key when you are the people of the book, when the police is Pharaoh, and America is Egypt.

A photographer on the Baltimore Protests

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Just thought I’d share this article as a current events type deal before heading out for today. Though I don’t really get photography as an art far as all the technicalities are concerned (I mean, there are good pictures and then there are…good pictures), I do love the camera myself and I do think photography plays an important role in the unfolding of historical events. Had it not been for photographers, we would not have the opportunity to relive some of the most profound moments in history with such intimacy. As for my thoughts on the specific events rocking the country, I will have to come back with another post when I have more time, however I am led, we will see. Till then stay in tune:

Devin Allen is a self-taught photographer and Baltimore native. His images from the protests following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody have received thousands of likes and shares on social media. As the situation continued to unfold in his hometown, Fusion caught up with Allen to learn more about his work and the gaps in the narratives being reported on the news versus those being experienced on the ground.

Fusion: So how old are you and how long have you been doing photography?

Devin Allen: Well, I’m 26, and I started photography [about] 3 years ago, in 2013.

Fusion: What got you started?

Devin Allen: Basically, hanging in the city, we don’t have a lot to do…one of my friends actually got me into doing poetry, so I had my own poetry night. But I suck. I can write poetry but I cannot perform. So I had to find a way to give people that poetry feel, but visually, so I started making T-shirts. From there I got into photography. I would take pictures and put them on T-shirts and eventually, I fell in love with it and that became my major outlet since then.

Fusion: How long have you been in Baltimore?

Devin Allen: All my life.

Fusion: Your whole life, so you’re local?

Devin Allen: Yes.

Fusion: What stands out to you about Baltimore when you are taking pictures? What makes Baltimore so interesting to you?

Devin Allen: It’s just real. Baltimore is a real city. It don’t cut no corners. You know, when you get around certain people or certain places it don’t feel real? You know, like everything seems perfect? Baltimore is not that. It’s a beautiful place, it’s like a rose in concrete to me. It’s a beautiful place, but most people don’t see it like I see it. I was born and raised here, so I see the negative, I see the positive. I see the good and the bad. I’ve been on both sides of the fence – both the good side and the bad side. So that’s what it is for me – it’s a beautiful place, and it’s real.

Fusion: When you say you’ve been on the bad side, what do you mean? What is the bad Baltimore that you know and what is the good Baltimore that you know?

Devin Allen: Well, growing up here is very stressful. You can get caught up in a lot of things if you don’t have a strong environment [around you]. Growing up, I got caught up in a lot of foolishness because of friends, where I hung at, and umm…I was raised by my mother and her family, I was raised good, but I just had affection for the streets. I had a lot of friends in the hood who’d run the streets all day, I hung with a lot of people. I lost a lot of friends. I buried both my best friends back in 2013. Both of them were murdered. I lost both my best friends, so they’re like my inspiration. I was just doing whatever, you know, to get the day passed. I tried the school thing, didn’t work. Got a job, but you know it’s hard to stay the narrow with so much stress and negativity. Drugs everywhere, crack-infested, heroin-infested. It’s very difficult, but [an] easy city to get caught up in. As far as being on the bad side, I hung with drug dealers and I ran the streets with some bad people, you know?

Photography actually got me away from that because both my best friends were both murdered; one was murdered on a Friday, and my other best friend was murdered on a Saturday. The only reason I was not with them was because I had photo shoots both days. And that kind of bridged the gap between the streets and my art, and I chose my art over the streets.

Fusion: What would you say about your interactions with the police growing up in Baltimore?

Devin Allen: (Exhales.) Well, I have been subjected to racial profiling. You know, I have had friends beaten by police. I have had police plant drugs on me because they’ve been mad that they didn’t find any.

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