Eliza Craig: You have just explained the historic role and contemporary role of racial violence in American democracy and questioned whether or not racial violence is a foundational aspect of democracy or whether or not there is a democracy that exists. Can we talk a little bit about the role of police historically in democracy?
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: It's hard to remove your policing in the United States from other places, specifically Britain, because the United States, prior to being the United States, was a colony and adopted some of the structures from the colonial experience. So the early policing, not police official, but policing type of duties, you can think about in three ways, constables protecting property. The second is slave patrols, so enslaved people who might be walking between plantations, I mean, because we have no conception of what slave life looks like, right? Like everybody wasn't staying on the plantations. Sometimes people were sent on errands. Some people were loaned out to other plantations. Somebody who was enslaved may be “crazy enough” to think about running away in between going from one job to another. There were so many slave insurrections, so many people running away. So they had to create an occupation to watch this. And then the third thing is settler colonial militias. So, countries were taking over territories and then setting up a base and operation, they needed militias of volunteers, oftentimes drafted people from other places, imported in, to quell the native or indigenous groups.
Eliza Craig: These three examples of policing, two of them are clearly about the protection of property. And then the third is about almost the acclimation of property.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Yes. Right. So when we get into an actual standing professionalized police force. This is phenomenally covered by three scholars of note; Khalil Muhammad, once a professor at Indiana university, now at Harvard, Condemnation of Blackness. End of Policing, Alex Vitale, and then the university's own Micol Seigel covers this extensively in Violence Work. It's Micol Seigel's work that I'll allude to when we get into more aspects of policing. Now, when we're thinking about actual standing police force, the origins of that is based upon the sheer amount of labor strikes, which is one, enslaved people's insurrections, and then colonial occupational forces. The other three of the origins of policing, these three are the origins of police; professionalized standing groups. Beforehand, if there was an insurrection or there was a labor strike, they would have to ask militias and especially with labor strikes, some of the people who are striking are a part of the militias , so they're not going to stop the strike. And when I say strike, I'm not saying people were just walking around the street with a sign. I'm saying that they were blowing up factories, blowing up railroads, stripping railroad of the metals so the trains would go off the track. These were elaborate multi-tactic things to shut down industry.
Eliza Craig: They needed a paid police, a paid enforcement who could separate the human interests of what was formerly citizens malicious.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Right. So that professionalizes them, that begins to separate them from their other coworkers. Which is why I think Micol Seigel's work is important because she brings it back to being a form of labor, made distinct by the authority that they're given. And then enslaved insurrections, we have no familiarity and knowledge of the sheer number of insurrections that were happening. We have an imagination as if somehow people were either docile, complacent, or just didn't know what to do. No, there were so many insurrections that were happening on plantations throughout the place that it was difficult to manage them. This is why the United States officials were suppressing the news and information of the Haitian revolution in the United States because that alone would be inspiring because it went beyond an insurrection. It went on to create an entire country and they did not want that out there. And, imagine, this is a time where news is traveling fast, almost comparable to now. So they knew about this in Philly and DC very quickly and then moved to suppress that news from getting to Florida and Alabama and Louisiana and Texas.
Noura Ahmed: So what you're saying is there's this massive undercount of slave insurrections because if that knowledge was to get out to slaves that would just inspire them. So we have developed this modern understanding that slaves were really docile and just waited for white abolitionists to set them free.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Yeah. Or the mythical black abolitionist. I mean, I just saw Harriet the movie, and I won’t get into a critique of the movie. But, in the movie you just get a sense people had no idea what to do, they just were waiting for somebody to give them the idea. And this is not the case at all. The case very much was these are so called common and they were contagion, right. They were being picked up on, and if it wasn't a full blown insurrection there would be a few people doing something. So that's the second reason for the professional standing force. And then the colonial occupational force. So as countries were taking over more and more territory, having volunteer militia that would leave would not be sufficient. You had them always ready. And so the classic case is when Edward Peale from the UK, is in Ireland, suppressing the Irish, and he's called from this duty to then create the British police force in cities based upon his knowledge of how he was suppressing the Irish in Ireland. So those three are the origins of the actual standing police force. But when we think about policing in democracy, just go back to what we were talking about in terms of racial violence, how did these actions happen? I mean, certain cases, it took the military coming in to stop something, but in certain cases, the military were a part. With Tulsa, the bombings were executed with precision because these were World War I vets, both black vets on the ground and white vets that were in the planes, dropping the bombs. When we think about the hangings and lynchings of indegous and latinx folks, we're talking about police committing those acts. There was never a refuge by way of a state. And when I say the state, I mean government elected officials, private interests, and bureaucratic systems that are set up like departments of public safety, for example, all combine to create the state. And, sometimes people add media sources that are supportive of the government as opposed to being a voice of the people are part of the state.
Eliza Craig: It's interesting that there has never been a refuge because there has never been a separation between racial violence and the state entirely.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: So if we think about those relationships with racial violence and police, in these historic examples, they were quellers of violence. So they were sent out to snuff it down. There are cases in which of course police really were important. Like for example there are at least two noted sheriffs within Indiana that actually physically stopped a lynching. The second sort of relationship could be agitators or investigators, so themselves sort of agitating or instigating it in some way. And It's not always how you think. In certain cases, police doing their duty of arresting the accused, even if they were falsely accused and putting them in jail, agitated the crowd, because they felt that that was too kind or benevolent. And while there are certain cases of police officers handing a person willingly over, there's other cases of police actually being threatened with violence, because they're standing in the way of a crowd. So this is evidence that police weren't necessarily in on the action. The case of Will James lynching in Cairo, Illinois, the crowd breaks into the police station, chisels through the cinderblock makes a hole big enough for them to carry Will Janemes out. The same thing was done in Duluth, Minnesota, So it's not like they were handed the keys. So agitators and instigators. The third is compatriots. So they were part of the killing. Many people believe in the case of the Elaine massacre that when the troops were brought in, they actually worked hand in hand with locals to kill a lot of the people. And then the fourth, they were often members. Police have rioted themselves. So the great police riot of 1857 in New York, the municipal police that was being defunded and abolished ended up battling the metropolitan police who were their replacement. So these two police forces are fighting with all these civilians caught the in-between. They themselves are the members of the riot. The idea of professionalization, kicks in post 1857. Like the example of the great police riot, they were trying to move this ragtag unit of a standing force to a more trained unit This is where you start seeing the class photo police shots of the 1800s emerge, because they're becoming more professionalized. And in particular W.E.B Du Bois makes this argument about the wages of whiteness, where these immigrants, particularly Irish, were taken out of the factories and put into the police departments, and then grandfathered into being white. That took away their classification as the rowdy “racial other.” And so that is one thing that challenges the idyllic role, but also creates the idyllic role. So we have this sense of them being professional. Number two is friendly. We don't realize that this idea of niceties was an official program. The Chicago police department created the officer friendly program. It's an officially named program in 1966 that involved police officers going into schools and doing presentations. Probably in the present day the outgrowth of that is shop with a cop. But literally it's a manufactured thing. And other departments pick up on it. Even though they started this in 1966 in response to riots that were happening and the image of police and what they were doing to civilians, they still killed Fred Hampton three years later, after this, in his bed, in his underwear. Right. Then service, most people may not realize that to serve and protect was a model that was created by the LAPD, Los Angeles police department, in 1963 and then it was adopted by everybody else. These are manufactured narratives. Number four, community policing, comes out of Lyndon Baines Johnson's commission of law enforcement in 1965 in response to riots. And so the need to have more police walking the street and creating ties with communities that comes strictly out of that. That's not a thing that has been there all this time. So those three things alone are all very recent. So this is why those historians and scholars that I mentioned earlier, Alex Vitale and Micol Siegel and Khalil Muhammad's points are important because you can't shake that history because that history is longer. The history of police being this beating, suppressing, force is a lot longer than friendly, and service, and professionalism, and community policing, especially when those things were kind of manufactured as a way to separate police from other forms of labor but also to respond to things that should be responded to with other types of programs.
Eliza Craig: Right. Right. Policies to fix the department itself.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Exactly. The fifth, final sort of idyllic view that we have of policing is produced by popular culture, TV, and movies. Whenever you do see a corrupt cop, it's the individual, or it's a particular Sergeant who has a sway over a couple of people, but it's not a system,it's very rare we see a system wide accusation. We have to go all the way back to Serpico the movie with Al Pachino playing the cop Serpico, who was a real officer in real life who basically challenges police corruption. In modern day right now there's a Hulu special on Crime and Punishment around police officers, black and Latino, that challenged quota systems. And they were known as the New York 12. And then of course we have the classic case of officer Schoolcraft versus the NYPD where he was trying to challenge the system, even going to internal affairs of the quotas. He got into policing around “serve and protect” and working with communities and solving crime and I mean, the commissioner comes to his house to threaten his life. Luckily he has these things recorded and so on. So I'm just saying the idyllic views are all completely manufactured things, not actual explicit duties. I hope our audience understands this is not about police officers. Individual police officers, in non official duty, meaning in between a call and whatever else they're performing their duty like a human being, some are assholes some are not. Some believe that servant and protect is long history. Some believe that friendliness is a long history and don’t understand that it may be more recent. So this is not about police officer behavior. This is about programs and systems that have been developed to create a narrative that police have bought into, but also, we as civilians have bought into. And then that gets into 1984 with Broken Windows policing. Right. So if there was any positivity in those efforts, broken windows policing says forget it. We're going to go back beating people's heads and the most basic and minimal quote unquote action that's illegal.
Noura Ahmed: As a viewer of a lot of cop dramas, you'll never see the protagonist go along with like, Oh, that other cop was really violent for absolutely no reason. The protagonist is always incredulous and they're like, no, this is just one individual case. They're spreading that narrative of this isn't a system, it's just one cop because the rest of us protagonists, we're the good cops.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: But I want to go even further. There's never a thing where we're looking at a city council, making a decision in a movie; “we're going to gentrify this neighborhood area, We need cops to clean it up.” That's what I mean by a system. Right? Because even with the concept of the idea of multiple protagonists, it's still these individual actors that somehow need to be removed. And no, there's cases of police commissioners who have run up against their city, who are like this is not what I signed up for. And they've been gotten rid of. In Pendleton, Indiana, in 2017 or 16, the entire police department resigned because the city council was making them do investigations on other civilians that they didn't like. So the city council had a business interest and they don't like this counter business that ran like maybe a competing Tavern or pizza shop. And they were trying to get the police to investigate them, follow them, tag them over, penalize them and Pendleton, Indiana police said enough, this is not what we're here for. And I know the newspaper article said that they submitted their resignation. So what I’m trying to offer is it's complicated and it's more than just this officer thing. And when we think about a system, that's the basis for why these officers are doing things, because they're directed to. And so when people want to challenge an officer, you're missing the point. There is a mayor that's chilling in their bathrobe at the crib while the officer's thrown out there. I always tell organizers in particular, whenever you come to a city council meeting that's gonna negotiate policing and the police are there, you already know that it's a busted meeting. Because the police have no say in this, the police aren't the ones that are like we want to tear up this community here. No, they're directed by a city manager, a city council, or a mayor. If anyone of those three are not present, the city just ran for cover. And so you criticize police and policing, police officers are going to be like, what? But no, we're not talking about you dude. We're talking about how and why a particular area has been targeted, we're looking at all these stop and frisks. You did not do all these stop and frisk, a mayor created stop and frisk and demanded you all to do this.
Eliza Craig: Do the police and KKK have shared history?
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Yes and no. During reconstruction, the middle president, Ulysses S grant is noted for enforcing reconstruction, he was abolitionist himself. And he created what's known as the “Force Acts.” There were at least three of them, and the Force Acts were exceptionally severe that they completely ende the first Klan. The Klan has three histories. They're not one Klan that has a long history. So the first Klan began in Pulaski Tennessee, 1865. The Force Acts completely suppressed them. Because it's now legal for Klan members to be killed. And they were. One example out of the Force Acts is in 1870, the Kirk-Holden War against the Klan. It was a partnership between Republican governor, William W. Holden, and Colonel George Washington Kirk. They suspended Habeas Corpus, so there is no sort of rights and they just go about beginning to kill clan members. So this is the example of police, policing on a local level, having a very different reaction or responsibility towards racial violence. Because of that, Holden is the first governor to be removed from office in US history. The state legislature who did not appreciate his actions voted to remove him. When we jump to 1936, Atlanta, Georgia, Thomas Finch, 28 years old, falsely accused of rape and sexual assault, is sleeping with his family. White men knock at his door, two of them are officers and 3 other men take him and they do who knows what, he's pummeled severely and shot several times. They dumped his body off at the hospital. And the lead officer Samuel Roper is a member of the Klan, moves in rank during this time and he eventually assumes the role of the Georgia Bureau of investigations. So there are relationships with the clan, but they're not always automatic. I think the biggest thing for people to sort of take away from this is that there is a relationship between white nationalists and the military. So, Micol Seigel through Violence Work, she doesn't separate police from the military. They're a part of the military. And discussions of police Militarization are redundant, and also police brutality is a redundant point because that's the function according to her analysis. When you look at the history, especially when we go to the labor and slave insurrections and that's what they were doing. So the Klan of the civil rights movements, that's the third Klan. The third Klan starts in Birmingham, Alabama, out of a response to the civil rights movement overall. That's the one where you have some sheriffs and so on that are a part of the Klan. But they're doing that for influence sake. They're doing it to be involved in cases and suppress them in some way. That's the reason for the relationship with the Klan and the police then. That doesn't quite match up to now.
Noura Ahmed: Are we on the fourth iteration of the KKK?
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Some believe that it's the fourth but it's so weak. So, each klan rises and falls based upon leadership. The Force Acts kills the first Klan. The second clan comes up with the Birth of a Nation, the movie, but dissolves when the leadership of that klan, in particular, in the state of Indiana, DC Stevenson is arrested for taking a hostage of a young secretary, raping her and killing her. Third klan comes up with civil rights and ends with the Michael Donald case. Southern poverty law center represents the Donald family, they are successful. And they bankrupt the klan of America with that case. And there actually is then a slew of hate crime cases that go against Klan and other particular organizations right after Michael Donald. And so there's this period in which white nationalism is not only not popular, but it's going to pretty much land you in jail. And that is the third clan. The clan is so weak now, there’s not really a fourth klan. One, the Klan is the least of white nationalist organizations to involve themselves in. If you're preparing for ethnic cleansing and race war, so remember my 11 points, you have to have training. In 2011, the Department of Justice filed concerns for the increasing number of white nationalists in the military. And the reason why they're going into the military, not necessarily policing, is because of the training that they’ll receive. There’s insufficient training with the police. And there's just so much training you can get from YouTube videos for survival or masking your survival training as zombie apocalypse training. It's just so much you can do you need formalized training. Not just going through basic training, but actually being deployed gives you that insight. And so more serious groups than the clan are groups like the base and the base is the most troubling white nationlaist organization, at least in the United States. They're not online. So they don't do Facebook pages. They're not idiots like that. They communicate through the dark web. And they just go about killing people. And so some of the shootings at protests from random individuals is believed to be the base. There were two police officers that were killed out West by members of the base. They could never have gotten that type of training from the police, but the police are targets because a lot of these groups are also anti-government. This is where there's a tricky history where the top law enforcement FBI, while J. Edgar Hoover had a vendetta against the riots and black power and socialists and communists groups, he also was going after the Klan, anything that was lawless, he was going after. And so he wanted to stop the clan out as much as he wanted to stop the Panther party out. And he did. So he was actively going through investigations. So that's how the case that's shown in the movie around the three civil rights workers, Swarner, Goodman and Chaney, received all this attention because the FBI on behalf of J. Edgar Hoover was stomping out any sort of lawlessness in the United States.
Eliza Craig: So, members who are drawn to groups like the KKK seek out more military training because there's something much more insidious bubbling underneath the surface.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Right. And the clan is not serious. The clan is for one level of white nationalists and the base is for totally another level of nationals. The base are not even a part of the Boogaloo movement, which is what people have been saying. These people of course are not serious. They're on their own TV. They have their guns. They're at the state Capitol saying, nobody's going to put a mask on me or all these types of things, right? That's not the base. Not to say that those people aren't dangerous, but they're nowhere near the levels of seriousness, capability, and focus that groups like the base have. A nd the base is not even globally the most serious. One of the most serious is the Adam Waffen division that's primarily in Europe, but they also influenced the base. So this is a global thing of utilizing military training by joining the military, to not only spread their influence and get new members in other places, but also to receive the type of training to really create either a condition for ethnic cleansing or to initiate a race war.
Eliza Craig: There's two things about what you just said that have changed my thinking. One was that my understanding of the military was that it bred white nationalists, and now it's that individuals are attracted to the military in some cases because of their white nationalism. And the second is that I had a very hard time contextualizing groups like the Aryan nation in my understanding of the history of white supremacy, because of the way I understand white supremacy and republicanism and conservatism.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Think of white nationalism as being all along the entire political continuum. The farther right you go, the individual is sacred and upheld and the farther left you go, government is sacred and is more upheld. Right. And so white supremacy is all along it. Depending on which way you wish to go, right. So, Brazil engaging in ethnic cleansing is actually left leaning white power, but in their way in which they contextualize it. Right. Whereas, the base in the United States is more on the right, because they're not endorsed by the federal government. In fact, they're against the government. They want the government to overthrow, which then goes back to the Turner Diaries and the fictional narrative. They have to retake the United States. They retake D.C. away from all these liberals, all of these weak conservatives, all these Jews. And that means going against the government. So it's all along the continuum. It's just, who's doing what, right. Is it the state doing the ethnic cleansing or is it a group of individuals doing ethnic cleansing?
Eliza Craig: I think one question I would like to finish out on is are police necessary to democracy?
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: As an academic in a certain place moves, you know, this is for education and so I've always been given the sense that our job is to provide education first, and then to advocate. Right. And both of these are based upon request, right. So do we even fully have the understanding of police and policing. One of the things that I appreciate that a lot of people who are in the abolition space, why they're trying to call for re-imagining society is that we are all the police. There may be an official police force, a police officer that does something, but who calls nine 11, who tells the police department to remove this population from our park. Who builds a building that they don't want a certain population to congregate or be around. So we are all policing each other. And that results in a disproportionate impact on those populations that are most likely labeled as dirty, you know, criminal, dangerous in some particular way. Yes, policing needs to be gotten rid of, but it's not just a simple thing of the police officer removal. Micol Seigel makes this point in Violence Work. The point is not to just get rid of a professional police force and have a civilian police force because you still got a police force. You're still going to have disproportionate arrests. You still may have somebody to kill somebody. Again, George Floyd was not killed by a gun, a stun gun, a baton, just a knee. Anybody can kill anybody with a knee. So having a civilian police force doesn't somehow change the issue. Because we have a desire to police to keep control. And there's a state that wishes to have us be police, but we aspire to also be a part of and accepted by the state. So we also then are assisting the state to police each other.
Eliza Craig: It’s because of the framework that we all operate from that these horrible killings happen. It's not because of a specific singular employed body.
Noura Ahmed: It's called the deputization of everyone.
Dr. Rasul Mowatt: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that's where some scholars have tried to label it. I mean, but that's even trying to be too kind, right. Because some of us aren't even at the point of being a deputized. Remember George Zimmerman was not deputized. He was a part of neighborhood watch. And as far as I always thought a neighborhood watch, it's that just that blue little thing you put in your window, saying we're watching. No one is officially patrolling their neighborhoods for safety sake. If I remember correctly, he wanted to be police. I think he failed the test or something to that effect. So he had police aspirations, so he was never even deputized. And if you remember on the 911, the dispatcher says, don't do that. When he says, I'm following the guy, she says, don't do that. We'll send somebody out. And he ignores that. So Trayvon Martin dies from policing, even though it's not a police officer. So he was never even deputized in any particular way, the neighborhood didn't bestow him this rank, the police department didn't bestow him this rank, he bestowed it on himself. Right. Yeah.