Slave Patrols, The Precursor to The Modern Day Police – By Wayne Johnson, Political-Economist, Attorney

Random violence plagues cities in the United States. Yesterday, In an incident about which details are still few, two women were shot at around 2:10 a.m. on Sixth Street near Jessie, in San Francisco, one of them fatally.

Some say this violence is a new phenomenon.  I say it is not. This country was founded on killing, stealing, raping, torturing, and terrorism.   If not, we would see Native American towns and villages in every city, and it would not be uncommon to find modern thriving versions of Black owned towns and businesses similar to that in the movie, “Rosewood.”

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, also known as Hubert Gerold Brown, and better known as H. Rap Brown, is perhaps most famous for his proclamation  that “violence is as American as cherry pie”.  He is also known for his autobiography “Die Nigger Die!”  He is currently serving a life sentence for allegedly shooting two Fulton County Sheriff’s deputies in 2000. One deputy died in the shooting.

220px-H_Rap_Brown_-_USNWR                                                                         Photograph of H.Rap Brown

Is modern a violence a result of a new condition or is it an inevitable consequence of years and mistreating and disrespecting others?

Have you ever wondered why many poor and underprivileged people don’t contact the police to report violent acts?   Have you ever wondered why police, even Black police officers, and Black People don’t mix?

Many Blacks have learned the hard way that calling the police for assistance may just as easily result in their own “ass whipping” or death at the hands of the police.

But why?

Colonial America experienced an increase in population in major cities during the 1700s.  Some of these cities began to see an influx of immigrant groups moving in from various countries (including Germany, Ireland, Italy, and several Scandinavian countries), which directly contributed to the rapid increase in population.

The growth in population also created an increase in social disorder and unrest. The sources of social tension varied across different regions of Colonial America; however, the introduction of new racial and ethnic groups was identified as a common source of discord.

Racial and ethnic conflict was a problem across Colonial America, including both the northern and southern regions of the country.  Since the watch groups could no longer cope with this change in the social climate, more formalized means of policing began to take shape.


Most of the historical literature describing the early development of policing in Colonial America focuses specifically on the northern regions of the country while neglecting events that took place in the southern region—specifically, the creation of slave patrols in the South.

Samuel Walker identified slave patrols as the first publicly funded police agencies in the American South.  Slave patrols (or “paddyrollers”) were created to manage the race-based conflict occurring in the southern region of Colonial America; these patrols were created with the specific intent of maintaining control over slave populations.  Interestingly, slave patrols would later extend their responsibilities to include control over White indentured servants.

The South Carolina slave patrol is arguably the first modern police force in North America.  It was established in 1704 to find and capture fugitive slaves.  Historical documents also identify the existence of slave patrols in most other parts of the southern region.

Historical police in pro-slavery states arrested free Black people  and transferred them to slave states where they were treated as runaway slaves and sold or given to slave traders for later sale in slavery.


Public domain. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Runaway Slave from Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Slave patrols , sometimes called patrollers, pattyrollers or paddy rollers by the slaves, were organized groups of three to six[ white men who enforced discipline upon black slaves during the antebellum U.S. southern states. They policed the slaves on plantations and hunted down fugitive slaves. Patrols used summary punishment against escapees, maiming or killing them. Slave patrols were first established in South Carolina in 1704, and the idea spread throughout the southern states. The institution of policing in America can be traced back to the slave patrols.  See Williams, Kristen, Our Enemies In Blue: Police and Power in America, Soft Skull Press, 2004, ISBN 1932360433; and Police: History – “Early Policing In Colonial America,” Law Library – American Law and Legal Information:

Slave patrols began with colonial attempts to regulate slavery through laws that limited enslaved people’s abilities and required all settlers to assist in enforcing the slave codes. As the population of black slaves increased, so did the fear and threat of foreign invasion which further increased the institution of slave patrols. Encountered slaves without passes were expected to be returned to their owners, and sometimes punished. As this approach became more ineffective, Slave patrols were formally established. Slave patrols consisted of white men from all social classes. This caused trouble for both enslaved and free black people as it restricted their movement. Black people were subjected to question, searches, and other forms of harassment, often leading to whippings and beatings for people who may not have broken any law.

Notice the similarity between the behavior of the slave patrols and the behavior  Blacks complain about today when they encounter the police.  Blacks people allege police act as though they are entitled as a matter of course to a response by Black people whenever an encounter exists between them.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”


Historically this meant that if you were questioned by the police you did not have to answer because anything you said could and would be used against you.

In a blow to the fundamental right of citizens to remain silent, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that persons who are not under arrest must specifically invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in order to avoid having their refusal to answer police questions used against them in a subsequent criminal trial. In a 5-4 decision in Salinas v. Texas, 570 U. S. ____ (2013), the Court upheld the conviction of Genovevo Salinas, who was found guilty of homicide after prosecutors argued that Salinas’ silence during a police interview prior to his arrest was a “very important piece of evidence” and that only a guilty person would have remained silent when questioned about his connection to a crime. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that Salinas “was required to assert the privilege in order to benefit from it,” even though a person questioned while under arrest could not have his silence used against him.

Another way the police get around the Fifth Amendment is to inquire whether you are on probation or parole.  A person on probation or parole must respond or be in violation of the terms or conditions of his or her probation.  Obviously, if you are not on either, you are now required to tell them you are invoking your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Slave patrols “apprehended runaways, monitored the rigid pass requirements for blacks traversing the countryside, broke up large gatherings and assemblies of blacks, visited and searched slave quarters randomly, inflicted impromptu punishments, and as occasion arose, suppressed insurrections.” Hadden, Sally E. (2001). Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas. Harvard University Press.

During these times, slaves were often neglected and mistreated despite having permission to travel.

Slave owners feared slave gatherings would allow them to trade or steal goods and the potential for a rebellion.

Professor, Sally Hadden, identified three principal duties placed on slave patrols in the South during this time, including searches of slave lodges, keeping slaves off of roadways, and disassembling meetings organized by groups of slaves.

Today, they enter Black people’s homes without warrants, detain them for driving while Black, and break up gatherings attended by Blacks.  Heaven forbid you are on probation or parole.  You may be treated just like a slave.

By 1837, the Charleston Police Department had 100 officers and the primary function
of this organization was slave patrol . . . these officers regulated the movements of slaves and free blacks, checking documents, enforcing slave codes, guarding against slave revolts and catching runaway slaves.”  See Barlow, Barlow, Racial Profiling: a Survey, University of Wisconsin.

This is reminiscent of the treatment Blacks receive at “Juneteenth” and other celebrations the Black people organize.  For example, they may obtain a permit to gather a park or other public venue were there is late or no curfew.  If the permit expires before the curfew, the police will arrive, sometimes in riot gear, and demand that all of the Black people disperse even if the people are peaceful or not even attending the event.

South Carolina and Virgina selected patrols from state militias.

Today we select police from the military.  Slave patrols were often equipped with guns and whips and would exert brutal and racially motivated control. At times Blacks developed many methods of challenging slave patrolling, occasionally fighting back violently. The American Civil War developed more opportunities for resistance against slave patrols and made it easier for enslaved people to escape.

Similar things occurred following the two world wars, and the War in Vietnam.

The use and physical formation of slave patrols came to its end in 1865 when the Civil War ended. Slave patrols remained in place during the Civil War and were not completely disbanded after slavery ended.

During early Reconstruction, several groups merged with what was formerly known as slave patrols to maintain control over African American citizens. Groups such as the federal military, the state militia, and the Ku Klux Klan took over the responsibilities of earlier slave patrols and were known to be even more violent than their predecessors.  These post civil war groups terrorized Black people for decades.

Over time, these groups began to resemble and operate using methods similar to those of modern day police departments in the United States.  Instead of being called pattyrollers, they were called pigs.  Modern day police departments continue to threaten and terrorize many in the black community.


© Copyright 2013 admin, All rights Reserved. Written For: Earth Colony

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