The Problem With Claiming That Policing Evolved From Slave Patrols

“Policing itself started out as slave patrols. We know that,” Rep. James Clyburn declared in an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier. Clyburn, the House majority whip, is the third highest ranking Democrat in Congress. He’s widely respected. And he’s wrong. Or, to be more generous, he’s being irresponsibly sloppy in making a point he’s right about.

But he’s not alone.

 A story in Yahoo News makes a similar claim. Discussing police abuses, reporter Marquise Francis writes, “The injustice harkens back to the very origins of policing in the U.S., in volunteer patrols charged with keeping African-Americans in their place and hunting runaway slaves.”

A USA Today article headlined, “Law enforcement’s history of racism; First police departments date back to slave patrols”: “Across the U.S., black Americans lived in fear of law enforcement officials armed with weapons who monitored their every behavior, attacked them on the street and in their homes, and killed them for the slightest alleged provocation.”

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