Voices

Know your history: A former FBI agent talks about the origin of policing in America

Understanding history, he says, is crucial to confronting the tensions that exist between law enforcement and the African American community.

I was on the phone with a good friend of mine recently – a former superstar federal agent who served our nation with fidelity, bravery and integrity for several decades. He and I were talking about some of the issues we are facing as a nation; in particular, the deep divide that exists between police agencies and their communities.

I told him why I have such a passion for bridging this gap. That is, with great hope and prayer I envision a time in the near future when our children will experience reconciliation between law enforcement and our communities. Call me an eternal optimist in light of our current tension-filled dynamic, but I truly believe it’s possible.

As my friend and I spoke, I mentioned to him that I had a life-changing conversation with a high-ranking police official a couple of years earlier. This police official is a forward-thinking individual who has a genuine concern for society and a wealth of understanding about why we are experiencing such dysfunction between law enforcement and community members across the American landscape.

During that conversation, the police official told me that reconciliation can only be achieved if we, as a people, ACKNOWLEDGE our history.

I asked him what he meant by that and he proceeded to talk about the history of policing in America.

A history rooted in slavery

He said that the launch of American police forces dates back to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, when slave patrols were created to protect the property of land (slave) owners. Yes, the protection of both real estate and chattel (i.e., slaves) were at stake, and these patrols existed to ensure that there would be minimal loss to the owners’ financial interests at the hands, and feet, of escaping slaves.

At the end of our discussion, I hurriedly hopped on-line to research the issue – and the results of my research were profoundly enlightening. This knowledgeable police official’s comments were spot on.

I, along with many other academics and professionals who are working in the social justice space, have concluded that the road to reconciliation for our nation’s police/community relationship must have a high level of TRUST incorporated into its concrete foundation.

A history of distrust

And due to our lack of intention for acknowledging our past, the distrust between police forces and communities has festered over time from generation to generation. That distrust creates major cracks in the foundation of our relationship between communities and the police.

Back to my recent phone call with my friend…

I told him about the history of policing and how slave patrols were the precursor to our modern-day police forces.

His response was, “Hey, Q. I didn’t even know that.”

My reply to him: “Until I was told, neither did I”.

I was a Special Agent with the FBI and a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Connecticut.

And I had no idea.

But now I know because I took the time to educate myself with an understanding that the key to progress is to walk in the truth and believe that an open mind will lead to the revelation of information that may enhance one’s perspective.

So my suggestion to all is to KNOW YOUR HISTORY, because unless we understand our past, our future shall be fraught with a cycle of uncorrected – and oft-repeated – mistakes.

M. Quentin Williams is an attorney and founder of Dedication To Community, a not-for-profit organization. For more information, please visit www.DedicationToCommunity.org.

More Stories from Qcitymetro

Comments

Most Popular

Real ID is coming: What you should know before the deadline hits

Real ID is coming: What you should know before the deadline hits

Study shines spotlight on mental health issues in Charlotte-Mecklenburg

Study shines spotlight on mental health issues in Charlotte-Mecklenburg

Summer festivals offer an explosion of cross-cultural fun

Summer festivals offer an explosion of cross-cultural fun

Presence matters more than perfection: Saluting fathers everywhere

Presence matters more than perfection: Saluting fathers everywhere

Our Partners