The logic of the slave patrol: the fantasy of black predatory violence and the use of force by the police

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    The background context for this study is the relationship between the right to bear arms and the role of policing in the United States. The fact that the second amendment guarantees the right to bear arms and the correlative right to form “a well-regulated militia” have long been central to the scholarly understanding of the role of guns in American society. Yet few social scientific studies have taken the friction between militias and the burgeoning police departments of the 1800s as a point of departure for present-day debates about the police’s use of force. For the early part of US history, many citizens feared that the police would attempt to supplant militias. In some southern cities, like New Orleans, residents argued that if the city government was going to let the police patrol the city, they should do so without guns. It was the threat of slave uprisings that ended the conflict between militias and the police. A major implication of this study is that rooting the contemporary understanding of police violence in early debates about the police’s use of force can help social scientists better understand how policing is understood and experienced today. Indeed, the African Americans interviewed for this study view the gun in the hands of a police officer as a technology that is rooted in the slave patrol. This is because it is the descendants of enslaved people who are disproportionately subject to police shootings. The article demonstrates this point by exploring a 2014 police shooting. The shooting of Laquan McDonald garnered national attention when, on October 20, 2014, Chicago police Officer, Jason Van Dyke, shot the 17-year-old Black teenager 16 times. The methods employed in this study include: archival data on the early use of force debate, discourse analysis of court testimony from Van Dyke’s 2018 first degree murder trial, and semi-structured interviews with Chicago residents who discuss this case. Ultimately, this study finds that in the McDonald shooting, the gun helps to reproduce the fantasy of Black predatory violence that is rooted in slavery.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number130
    JournalPalgrave Communications
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • General Arts and Humanities
    • General Economics, Econometrics and Finance
    • General Social Sciences
    • General Psychology


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