Historian Dr. Gerald Horne asserted recently that the police tactics that led to the deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and other black men around the country are the legacy of “slave patrols” that were used to impose economic, political and social order.
During an interview with The Real News last week, Horne, who is Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, argued that the United States could not escape the fact that it had been founded as a “slave holder’s republic.”
“The Africans did not take kindly to being enslaved, and so they rebelled against the slave holding republic,” he explained. “And that helped to create a culture that has yet to be interrogated or even questioned, even by historians, that basically set forth that people of color, Africans in the first place, African men not least, were the enemies of the republic.”
“That’s one of the reasons why oftentimes in cafeterias in school rooms you’ll see unease by school administrators if black youth are sitting together in the same place, as if they’re planning to overthrow the school system. So until we begin to investigate and interrogate that particular conundrum that I’ve just laid out, we’re always going to have more Freddie Grays.”
According to Horne, “the origins of urban police department lies precisely in the era of slavery.”
“That is to say, slave patrols, which were designated to interrogate, to investigate the enslaved Africans who were out and about without any kind of investigation,” he noted. “If you fast-forward to 2015, you still see more than remnants of that particular system. It’s still rather questionable to some if they see a black person, particularly a black male walking in a certain neighborhood, and therefore they will be asked to produce identification.”
In Ferguson, where unarmed teen Michael Brown was shot by a police officer, Horne observed that there was a practice of stopping black men for not walking on the sidewalk.
“Now, of course, I’ve been to Ferguson and Ferguson doesn’t have many sidewalks,” he remarked. “So that law was basically a pretext to harass black persons in particular in order to drag them into court, in order to empty them of their resources by forcing them to pay fines, to hire lawyers. And the fines of course go to perpetuate the city administration.”
Horne said that the links in the “chain of inequality and a chain of inequity” had to be broken.
In addition to fleshing out organizations like Black Lives Matter, Horne suggested that activists should look at the 1930s-era International Labor Defense as a model. That organization saved nine black youths who were facing death after being falsely accused of sexually molesting white women.
“But that did not happen magically,” he insisted. “It happened because of organizing, and because of having organization.”
“Those organizations have withered on the vine in recent decades as part of that project that lead to the demise and decline of class-based organizations. But certainly if we were to get out of the present valley in which we find ourselves, we have to organize in addition to more.”
Watch the video below from The Real News, broadcast April 22, 2015.