The York Minster Police are a small but proud lot. There are only eight of them (the North Yorkshire Police are the major crime fighting force in the area), but they do important work. They’re cathedral constables, charged with protecting the York cathedral, or Minister, and the surrounding area.
Some people compare them to the Vatican’s Swiss Guard. But that analogy is flawed in three ways. First, the Swiss Guard is fundamentally a military institution. Second, the York Minster Police are exactly that—police. In fact, in 2017, their power to make arrests was restored after an 80-year break.
And third, they’re much older than the Swiss Guard. Founded in 1275, the York Minster cops boast that they are the world’s oldest police force. That makes them a couple centuries older than the Swissies.
But that doesn’t mean policing began in 1275. Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty apparently had something called “The Judges Commandment of the Police.” Ancient China didn’t call them police but “prefects.” The Babylonian’s cops were called paqūdu.
Now, you might not be able to tell from my pleasant tone and demeanor, but I’m actually pretty angry that I have to tell you this (again).
The other day, I got into a little spat with Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 Project, because she peddled to CBS the idea that modern policing has a “direct lineage” to slave patrols because, “in certain parts of the country,” slave patrols were deputized to catch slaves. She’s right about that—to a point. And we’ll return to that point in a second.
But in the course of our spat, she said that “no one has ever argued that global policing or policing as an idea was invented in the American South.” This was a strange thing for her to say, because she actually claimed to have read my column on this subject, which begins:
“Policing itself started out as slave patrols. We know that,” Rep. James Clyburn declared in an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier.
As I noted, Clyburn was hardly alone. But here’s a more recent example, from last Sunday’s This Week. Angela Rye, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, said (emphasis mine):
The Columbus Police Department isn't about one bad apple. It's about an entire department. So we have to talk about qualified immunity without fighting with buzzwords, but really talking about how we solve for a system that by design from its inception was designed to capture and return and enslave people back to their masters. If we can't uproot what was intended, we will forever have this problem, and we have to be willing to have honest discourse.
I particularly love the “honest discourse” shoutout.
Let me type this slowly so everyone can understand: The Columbus Division of Police, established in 1816, was not founded as a slave patrol. Ohio was not a slave state. In 1841, it passed a law that runaway slaves were automatically free once they made it to Ohio. Similarly, the Minneapolis Police Department, founded two years after the end of the Civil War, wasn’t built upon slave patrolling and has no “lineage”—direct or tangential—to slave patrolling.
The police officer who shot a black teen about to plunge a knife into another black teen was not in any way connected to slave patrolling. Derek Chauvin was not living down to the legacy of slave patrolling. Even Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison conceded to 60 Minutes this week that prosecutors couldn’t find any evidence that Chauvin was racist or that his crime was racially motivated. If you know anything about Ellison, you’ll know he wanted to find such evidence.
Even the connection to slave patrolling in southern cities is, at best, literary. Does anyone actually believe that Rodney Bryant, the chief of police in Atlanta, sees himself as part of some great unbroken chain in the long tradition of slave patrolling? Of course not. And not just because Bryant is black, or because cops are not trained and educated in slave patrol tactics, but also because slavery has been illegal in the United States for 158 years, three months, and 27 days.
(This goes for Houston, Charlotte, El Paso, Nashville, Memphis, Raleigh, Lexington, Kentucky; most of the big cities in Virginia, Baton Rouge, and Tulsa—just some of the cities with black police chiefs.)
Modern policing—or even policing qua policing—owes far less to slave patrolling than NASA owes to Hitler’s rocket program. And yet no one talks about the troubling Nazi roots of modern space exploration, or asks Elon Musk if he’s exorcised the ghost of Werner Von Braun from SpaceX.
I have seen this slave patrol thing brought up countless times in interviews, and not once have I seen an interviewer say, “Really?” never mind, “What the hell are you talking about?” It’s as batty as any conspiracy theory, and it’s a deliberate attempt to heap innuendo on policing in lieu of making an intelligent argument.
And that’s what frustrates me to no end. It’s the job of journalists to call out B.S. when it’s being thrown in their faces.
The problem is that we are in the middle of a great arms race of bullshittery. Kamala Harris’ book isn’t being given to migrant children. The Columbus police officer didn’t arrive on the scene to execute a “black child.” Joe Biden hasn’t declared war on beef. Bill Gates didn’t test vaccines on African and Indian tribal children. Antifa didn’t lead the assault on the Capitol. Anthony Fauci doesn’t own half the patent in one of the COVID vaccines. Bill Barr isn’t working for Dominion Voting Systems. Georgia’s election law isn’t Jim Crow on steroids. Oh, and the election wasn’t stolen, FFS.
You must be angry.
I want to get back to policing. But first, a point of personal privilege. Last week, Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s chief fact-checker, authored a terrible piece on Sen. Tim Scott’s frequent claims that his illiterate grandfather dropped out of elementary school to pick cotton. I say it was terrible for all the reasons Eric Erickson lays out here, but also because Kessler, by his own admission, couldn’t render a verdict. The whole thing—whether intended or not—amounted to a white guy whitesplaining Scott’s family history.
I came to this typical round of internet culture war madness late—I’d been busy, and Washington Post fact checks are not my morning must-reads. The first I heard of it was when various Twitter trolls were responding to my dog tweets by denouncing my refusal to be outraged on their schedule. When I did read it, I tweeted:
Glenn Kessler @GlennKesslerWPNew #FactChecker --> Tim Scott often talks about his grandfather and cotton. There’s more to that tale. https://t.co/Pg4WSUNHFs
This led to several days of people banging their spoons on their social media high chairs about how outrageous it was that I wasn’t more outraged, and that my Tweet rebuking Kessler was too civil. The gist of most of it was: You must be as mad as us, on our timetable, and you must express your outrage according to our standards. If you don’t, you are a hypocrite because you were outraged on other occasions at people we like.
There was also a lot of sanctimonious rhetoric about my complicity in Kessler’s purported racism and white privilege. (It’s amazing how quickly some right-wingers will use left-wing insults when it’s convenient for them.). It’s not good enough that I criticized Kessler, because I worked from the assumption that he might be decent enough to recognize he made a mistake. I make no apologies for that—or for any of it.
I bring this up in part because I think it was all incredibly stupid. But also because I think it’s a small pastiche of the Hieronymus Bosch-hellscape of double standards, tribalism, and what Julien Benda described as the “intellectual organization of political hatreds.”
If you want a chef’s-kiss example of what I mean, I refer you to this glorious piece at American Greatness by Peter D’Abrosca, a failed politician and alt-right peddler in “replacement theory” (because the Mayflower had so many D’Abroscas on it).
It should be in a museum wing dedicated to “Owning the Libs Über Alles” jackassery. The headline says it all: “I Won’t Take the Vaccine Because It Makes Liberals Mad.” But I must say I particularly liked the kicker: “Perhaps you just want to go on a cruise vacation again. If so, call Bill Kristol or Jonah Goldberg and have your vaccine identification card ready. Godspeed.” So clever. So prolier than thou. (No one tell him that American Greatness’ star contributor, Victor Davis Hanson, has probably been on more cruises than Kristol and me combined. And not just for Hillsdale and National Review).
Anyway, a couple of nights ago, Tucker Carlson, who has become a kind of dashboard saint for many of the monkeys flinging their poo at me, attacked Tim Scott for being a lib taking his cues from the woke mob.
He listed a bunch of quotes from various liberals and corporate big wigs in the wake of the Chauvin verdict, all of whom offered some variation of “there’s more work to be done.” Then he said:
And by the way, it wasn't just Democrats. It was, let's say, Tim Scott, the senator from South Carolina, a Republican. The guy who is going to be giving the Republican response on Wednesday night to the president's speech to a joint session, somehow managed to mirror, Tim Scott did, the statement by Yale University's president, almost word for word, quote, "We know there is more work to be done," said Tim Scott. Yale's statement read this way: "We know there's much more work to be done." Not more work, much more work. So just between Tim Scott and the president of Yale, it was just one of degrees. Tim Scott said more. The president of Yale said much more.
That is kind of a difference from the two parties, isn't it? Just a matter of degrees.
Here's the amazing thing to restate, none of these people explained what all this work is. All that is clear is that you've got a lot of work to do.
Here’s an even more amazing thing than Carlson’s amazingly misleading claim: Tim Scott is not just some woke bloviator going with the herd, as Carlson insinuates. He’s the Republican point man on police reform (and his full statement wasn’t just reasonable, it was patriotic and laudable). His bill, which has pretty much the full support of the Senate GOP, was filibustered by Democrats last year and is at the center of negotiations right now.
Carlson didn’t address the bill—or even acknowledge its existence—despite the fact it’s pretty full of specifics about what Scott has in mind when he says “there’s more work to be done.” He just made it sound like Scott is spouting woke boilerplate and—crucially—that this should make viewers very angry. On a personal level, I do wonder where the people who were mad at me for being insufficiently outraged by a Washington Post fact-checker taking an unfair shot at a black man suddenly disappeared to when Carlson singled out the same black man a couple of days later as some kind of wokescold telling Americans—you know, real Americans—“You’ve got a lot of work to do.” Maybe Twitchy’s power went out.
But there’s a much larger and more important point to be made here. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter and their apologists throughout elite left-wing media or the constellation of MAGA propagandists and their apologists throughout elite right-wing media, the order of the day has gone forth: You must be pissed off. You must think the other side hates you and you must hate them for it. If the facts help in that effort, great. But if the facts aren’t readily available, then don’t worry. We'll work around that or just invent them.
It’s like when Frederic Remington cabled William Randolph Hearst from Cuba saying there will be no war. Hearst replied, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” But now it’s for domestic purposes. You furnish, burnish, or fabricate the facts, and we’ll furnish the culture war.