During the four-year term of President Donald J. Trump, 893 Black Americans were killed by police officers. Most of the involved officers were white. Black Americans were killed by police at a rate twice that of White Americans. Many of the victims in these shooting fatalities were unarmed and either not associated with criminal wrongdoing or only minor misdemeanor offenses.
Many of the fatal encounters between white police and black communities involved serious police misconduct, such as the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Good Old Days, Black Codes and Slave Patrols
The “good old days” Trump was fondly referring to began shortly after the Civil War. Racist President Andrew Johnson, a Trump role model, pushed for enacting the Black Codes in Southern states designed to stifle the free movement and social and political life of former slaves. The Black Codes were designed to force the newly freed people into involuntary labor by arresting them for vagrancy and forcing them into labor “contracts” from which they could not escape. They also placed new restrictions on intermarriage, miscegenation, and inheritance.
In May of 1866, encouraged by Johnson’s racist leadership, white police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, joined white mobs and attacked recently freed Black troops and citizens trying to establish a new, free life. The white violence left 46 Black American men, women, and children dead and 89 homes and 12 churches burned to the ground.
History of White Mob Violence
A little more than two months after the “Memphis Massacre,” the Louisiana Constitutional Convention was in session in New Orleans trying to do away with the Black Codes. A police-controlled mob, much like the Johnson-incited mob in Memphis, stormed the convention and fired into the crowd of delegates. The angry mob left the convention building and indiscriminately beat and killed Black people in the area, many of who had nothing to do with the convention. 238 Black Americans were killed and another 46 seriously injured.
American policing originated in the Southern slave-holding states with the “slave patrols”—white mobs that used “vigilante tactics” set up to “enforce laws related to slavery.” This southern-style, fear-based policing crushed rebellions, tracked down and torture escaping slaves, and brutally enforced plantation rules.
Beyond pre-Civil War slave patrols and the massacres of Black Americans in Memphis and New Orleans, white police officers instigated or participated in many other tragic incidents of violence against Black Americans. During the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, roughly 300 Black Americans were murdered, and 1200 homes, businesses, and churches burned. Police officers also played a role in 75 percent of the nearly 4,000 lynchings of Black Americans between 1877 and 1950.
Police Still Tied to White Supremacy and Violence
In 2017, according to the Brennan Center, the FBI reported that white supremacists posed a “persistent threat of lethal violence” that has “produced more fatalities than any other category of domestic terrorists since 2000.”
The Brennan Center said police in Texas, and at least 13 other states, have links or close ties to these white supremacists.
The Center put it this way: “Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity demonstrates that over [police] bias is far too common. These officers’ racist activities are often known within their departments, but only result in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public scandals.”
The situation is much worse than a propensity toward racial and/or sexist bias.
Police, Military Prominent in January 6th Insurrection
The Business Insider reported on January 25, 2021, that federal investigators and prosecutors are investigating at least 31 police officers from agencies across the nation in connection with the January 6, 2021 insurrection on the Capitol Building. That insurrection was inspired by far-right rhetoric and former President Trump’s “Big Lie” and left five people dead and scores injured.
These officers are accused of knowingly taking part in an orchestrated effort that proclaimed an intention to hang Vice President Mike Pence and execute House Speaker Nancy Police live on social media.
The American historical record documents generations of racist and violent collusion between White supremacists and the police against Black and Brown Americans. However, it is often white-washed and omitted from our official histories.
The latest episode, the assault on the Capitol, was as much about leveling violence against Black Americans as it was toward the violence leveled at the predominantly white Congressional session underway at the time of the attack. As their President told them, the officers who participated in the attack believed that Black Americans stole the November 3, 2020, presidential election. A causal analysis of the President’s allegations about where the fraud occurred bears this out, especially given he has spent his entire four-year term sowing racial division and inciting police violence against Black communities.
Texas is second in the nation in fatal police shootings, with Dallas and Houston being among the top cities—and those shootings involve Black Americans at a much higher rate than the national average. Dallas civil rights attorney Shayan Elahi said these fatal shootings of Black Americans reflect “systemic police misconduct” throughout the state.
This data falls in line with Texas having the third-highest number of lynchings in American history, many of which involved white police. Texas author E.R. Bills, “The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas,” said Texas’s 465 lynchings,339 of which targeted Black Americans,” were meant to terrorize “the black community.”
Texas George Floyd Act Just “First Step”
The 2021 Texas Legislature has an opportunity with a bill titled the George Floyd Act to take a step in acknowledging the reality of racism by police against the black communities in the state. It took the Texas Legislature 101 years before it formally recognized the “Slocum Massacre,” which left as many as 200 Black Americans dead in its wake. Hopefully, it will not take the Legislature another one hundred years to recognize reality and pass the George Floyd Act.