For centuries, Black people have been victims of systemic racism due to white supremacy and their hold on societal rules. In the United States, Black people have been enslaved, abused, and held down by a system that claims freedom and equality for all but them. The police system largely contributes to the inequalities that people of color face daily through wrongful charges, and on other occasions, death. Police departments abusing their power isn’t new and does not just happen in big cities that make the news, it’s happening here in Lancaster.
In the 1960s, the civil rights movement changed the course of the United States history by giving Black people equal opportunities, at least on the surface. Equal opportunities for Black, Indigenous People Of Color barely reach the bare minimum of the rights, privilege, and opportunities white people receive in their day to day lives. Today, the United States heavily polices communities that are majority BIPOC to keep them under systemic control through surveillance, patrolling, and their constant presence claiming order. Similarly, Lancaster City's police use their power over BIPOC civilians in a negative way and there needs to be change.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is one of the most heavily surveilled cities in America, according to Business Insider. The cameras are a result of a spike in crimes in the early 2000s and are monitored 24/7 by the Lancaster Safety Commission. The commission alerts the police of any suspicious activity seen on cameras which are now heavily relied on by police. However, the actions made by police do not go unseen, and various incidents when police violence have been captured without these cameras by Lancaster residents.
Now in the age of enhanced technology, mass communication, and social media, the discrimination and abuse by police towards Black people are seen in a new light. Videos of officers abusing their power and murdering unarmed BIPOC go viral on social media, resulting in calls for justice and reformation to the police system. In 2018, an unarmed Black man was tased by a Lancaster City police officer, however this is not an isolated incident.
In the same year, a Lancaster City police officer fatally shot a man after receiving a call from the man’s children saying he was going to kill their mother and was holding her at gunpoint.
To understand how systemic racism played an essential role in building what is now known as modern-day law enforcement, readers need to know it dates back to the Antebellum period of the United States. Slave patrols were a law enforcement network used to control slaves' activities (Spirulli, 2016). Slave patrols policed and scoured the countryside day and night to intimidate, terrorize, and abuse slaves into submission.
Additionally, when it came down to runaway slaves, patrols would be the ones to use hounds to find them and return them to their owners. To quote from Spirulli's article, Slave Patrols, “Packs of Negro Dogs” and Policing Black Communities, "The more random and ruthless aspects of slave patrols passed into the hands of vigilante groups...The Ku Klux Klan provided an outlet for the racial aggression that white southerners could no longer inflict through slave patrolling and slave ownership. The work of controlling "marginal" members of Southern society had merely shifted from slave patrollers to Klansmen and policemen."
Slave patrolling and the law enforcement system eventually led to the creation of racial hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK gave the white southerners the ability to keep a day job and seem like regular human beings while hiding their identities at night under their white hoods. Today, the issue of white supremacists infiltrating the law enforcement system is at an all-time high.
In 2015, an FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide stated that "Domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.” Nevertheless, when they are unmasked, these white supremacists never face any consequences.
In the United States, marginalized groups have settled in areas of the cities they live in and created their communities. In many cases, the areas with a higher density population that is BIPOC are deemed financially poor and fenced off from valuable resources that wealthier areas benefit from; this concept is called redlining. Lancaster City's population is primarily Black and Latino, and many are lower-income homes as a result of redlining dating back to the 1960s following the government initiative called “Urban Renewal.”
According to Lancaster Online, a 1966 housing study for the redevelopment authority said discrimination was “widespread” in Lancaster and limited “the effective buying area for the Negro and Puerto Rican family” to the Southeast. When looking at surrounding areas such as Lancaster Township, the majority of the population are middle to upper-class white families that make up 69.7 percent of the population. Neighborhoods in Lancaster city with the highest density of BIPOC in it tend to have a more extensive presence of police around.
Police everywhere are strategically placed in neighborhoods that have a larger population of people of color because these are places society and the police system believe need more control.
According to Kracke’s article, “Counterpoint: Police Brutality Is a Systemic Problem Requiring Structural Reforms. Points of View: Police Use of Force,” Black men are at a higher risk of being killed by police throughout their life than white men are. The risk is 2.5 times higher for Black men than white men and 1.4 times higher for Black women than white women. Furthermore, the risk of a Black man or woman being killed by police peaks in young adulthood (Edwards, Lee, Espositio, 2019).