In his book The Wretched of the Earth, Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer Frantz Fanon breaks down the structural logic of colonial society. He says that “in the colonies, the official, legitimate agent, the spokesperson for the colonizer and the regime of oppression, is the police officer or the soldier.” What he’s insinuating here is that police officers or soldiers, in his experience having been present during the Algerian War of Independence and growing up in the then-French colony of Martinique, do what they can to keep the “colonized” under close watch and control.
Fanon influenced revolutionaries across the world, including Malcolm X. Why? Well, his words still resonate with what many Americans consider to be a post-racial, egalitarian, and fairly capitalist society. Many, especially on this campus, are more comfortable touting the language of diversity and unity than confronting the ugly truths that those who sling these words are often ignorant to due to positional privilege.
It’s pretty axiomatic that the United States has a history of racist policing that carries on to this day. After its exposure in the media, with positive or negative angles, racist policing has reared its head again and been acknowledged by some as what it is–one of many very American methods for anti-Black suppression, victim-blaming, and genocide. Now, as this conversation gets deeper, those who were previously unaware are learning that the origins of modern police departments were slave patrols and night watches intended to control the behavior of Black and Native people (“A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing”).
Victor E. Kappeler writes that, in New England, settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native people (“A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing”). In St. Louis, police forces were built to protect (white) residents from Native people. Ironic how oppressors and their descendants are often depicted as non-violent victims rather than the agents participating in direct and institutional violence, huh? This is all to say that increased security and local police presence, even on this private liberal arts campus, can’t be guaranteed to be safe for all students even if many individuals in this community consciously disagree with histories and present realities of racist policing. The normalized methods of policing in this country, namely retributive justice, continue on and off this campus. Interwoven and apart from these methods are also the cultural ideas about crime that circulate in the mainstream and work to sustain victim-blaming mentalities in the face of violence.
At Bates, there are some methods for disrupting this system that don’t exist in many other majority-white spaces in this country. Some professors teach students about the structural racism and policing. Individuals have taken part in teaching and learning about restorative justice during Short Term. Administrators are also participating (albeit internally to the institution) in reform. Student government is starting up an Advisory Council on Security and Campus Safety, to which students are encouraged to apply.
The Advisory Council invites five students total (one-first year, sophomore, and junior, and two seniors-one living on campus and one off campus) to join for the purposes of working directly with Bates security on addressing issues of security “on campus.” The deadline for applications is Monday November 6 at 8pm. I encourage students who apply to consider the racialization of policing on and off of this campus, and who is most affected by an increase in police and security presences. Keeping these histories in mind, we can ensure that those who are the most affected are able to have a say in how policing occurs in the future at Bates.