My 10-Step Plan for Emancipation From Police Brutality

Why today's police departments are modern versions of colonial-era slave patrols — and how to change that.
NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 23 2014: Thousands rallied in Staten Island demanding justice & accountability in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown & other victims of alleged police brutality a katz / Shutterstock.com

NEW YORK CITY – AUGUST 23 2014: Thousands rallied in Staten Island demanding justice & accountability in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown & other victims of alleged police brutality a katz / Shutterstock.com

Municipal police departments, as they are now known, began as slave patrols. In fact, the first official one started in 1704 in the Colony of Carolina and then spread throughout the South until 1865. The laws creating those patrols required white men to ride the roads and, as documented by Western Michigan University history professor Dr. Sally Hadden in Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and Carolina, engage in the “monitoring … (of) rigid pass requirements for blacks … breaking up large gatherings … of blacks, … searching slave quarters randomly, [and] inflicting impromptu punishments.”

Sound familiar? Yeah! A lot like 2009 when more than a quarter million persons in Philadelphia were subjected to “Stop and Frisk.” Despite African-Americans constituting 44 percent of the city’s population, they constituted 72 percent of the persons stopped and frisked. And because the vast majority was black men, that means (after extrapolating from available race/gender figures) approximately 20 percent of Philadelphians comprised, inexplicably, nearly three of four persons stopped and frisked. By the way, of that quarter million, less than about eight percent led to formal arrests and even less to convictions.

As a result of Philly law enforcement officials’ unconstitutional 2009-2011 “Stop and Frisk,” city officials effectively conceded their wrongdoing when Mayor Michael Nutter on June 21, 2011, held a press conference — after the ACLU sued their asses in federal court — announcing the signing of not one, but two, executive orders that created the much needed paper-trailing “pedestrian/vehicle stop forms,” that required cops to have with them at all times “definition cards” clearly setting forth the legal standards for stops, that established an “improved procedure for filing complaints” against constitution-desecrating officers, and that designated an “independent analyst” to audit the results of the new policy and report directly to the overseeing federal judge.

“Stop and Frisk” in Philadelphia wasn’t merely stopping and merely frisking. It was, among other malicious acts, scaring the shit outta black folks. “Get back in the fucking car,” yelled one cop to a black State Representative who had identified himself as a duly elected Commonwealth official, after which he was handcuffed and taken to a police station for criminal processing but released when it was determined that there was no basis for the arrest. “I don’t give a fuck who you are,” screamed another policeman after raising his fist to a black attorney who had identified himself as a lawyer who had filed a complaint due to having been detained and searched four times in two years without one conviction.

As recently as the 1940s, African-American officers were barred from driving — and even riding in — police cars. In 1979, Philly became the first city in the country to be sued by the Justice Department for committing and condoning “widespread and severe” acts of police misconduct. Human Rights Watch reported in 1998 that “the Philadelphia police department (in terms of) … brutality … has one of the worst reputations of big city … departments in the United States. Moreover, the persistence … of the (corruption and brutality) cycles indicate that between the front-page news stories, the city and its police force are failing … to hold … police accountable. The result is an undisturbed culture of impunity that surfaces and is renewed with each successive scandal, as each new generation of police officers is taught through example that their leadership accepts corruption and excessive force.” By the way, as pointed out this year by the Justice Department, Philly cops from 2007-2013 shot and killed people — more than 80 percent of whom were Black — at six times the rate of the notorious NYPD, which has 27,400 more cops than Philly has. Of the 88 Philadelphia officers found to have violated department policy in shootings, 73 percent were not terminated or even suspended.

Although the first “police department” began in the South as slave patrols, Philadelphia’s department began as “citizen patrols” in 1663 when Hans Block brought white men together in what’s now Southwest Philly. That morphed into Town Watch until 1751 when the state legislature established the city’s first paid policing agency, consisting of wardens and constables. In 1854, the city’s present-day police force was instituted. And it’s no coincidence that between the formation of that Town Watch and the formation of that modern-day force, Philly had the largest free black population in America. I guess somebody (akin to the slave patrols) had to begin the Philadelphia tradition of officially monitoring, harassing, beating, jailing, shooting and killing Negroes.

Fast forward to today’s policing in the city. The Justice Department published a report just last month noting that, about once each week, despite the decrease in crime, the number of officers shooting at people was increasing, with a total of 454 Philly cops firing in 390 separate incidents during the past eight years. Who were the live targets? Eighty percent were black human beings. And of the 59 persons who were unarmed, a disproportionately high number was black men.

Are police brutality, misconduct and criminality in Philly the exception or the rule? Maybe the answer can be found in the following: the August 28-30, 1964, Columbia Avenue-area assaults and injuries of more than 300 blacks and the arrest of 774 blacks; the August 31, 1970, demeaning and unnecessary public strip search of unarmed Black Panthers at 35th and Wallace; the August 8, 1978, videotaped near-lynching of an unarmed Delbert Africa; the 1980s “Five Squad” widespread corruption; the May 13, 1985, police bombing of MOVE and an entire black neighborhood; the late 1980s through mid-1990s outrageous 39th District scandal; the spying on and harassment in 2000 of hundreds of Republican Convention activists; the 2007 videotaped destruction of video-recording equipment that captured thefts by cops in Latino and Asian “mom and pop” stores; the current federal trial of six drug unit officers charged with committing extortion, perjury, and possession of drugs with intent to deliver as well as allegedly robbing dealers of not just a lot of money but also a lot of drugs.

So what’s the Emancipation Plan? It’s my 10-point platform and program (modeled after a progressive 10-point concept by the Black Panthers in 1966):

  1. Agitate. Agitate. Agitate. This should consist of all types of constructive protests, including, but not limited to, civil disobedience as well as what I call the “Name & Shame” tactic to conspicuously expose brutal police officers and in turn hopefully publicly ostracize them by displaying poster-sized photos of them at their districts on a regular basis.
  2. Demand and elect statewide independent special prosecutors who will be exclusively assigned to police brutality cases.
  3. Pressure the Mayor and City Council (and/or state officials) to abolish/amend the police arbitration system that enables and rewards clearly guilty brutal cops.
  4. Require enhanced psychological evaluations for police recruits and periodic psychological evaluations for those who are and have been hired. After all, they all actually have a literal license to kill.
  5. Make officers personally and jointly liable (along with the city government) to pay civil judgments/settlements in brutality lawsuits.
  6. Log on to “The App Place” at aclu-nj.org, download the app that allows people to legally and permanently videotape and audiotape all encounters with cops. (Check out more apps here; learn your rights here.) Also, demand the mandatory wearing of police body cameras.
  7. Vote out police brutality-condoning judges and legislators and vote in police brutality-condemning judges and legislators.
  8. Create and/or support youth-led anti-police brutality organizations.
  9. Pursue criminal charges in court against law-breaking cops whenever “brutal cop-coddling” police officials and DAs refuse to arrest and prosecute. Start the process at phila.gov/districtattorney/faq-PrivateCriminalComplaint.html
  10. Join “F(ilm) The Police!” (215-552-8785) and Up Against The Law Collective (484-758-0388).

Michael Coard’s radio show, “The Radio Courtroom,” airs at noon on Sundays and Wednesdays. It can be heard locally on WURD 900 AM and on the Internet at 900amwurd.com. Follow @MichaelCoard on Twitter.