For police, legitimacy is crucial: it means that citizens are more likely to comply with orders, report crimes, act as witnesses, assist in investigations and support police power. But, like a teacher on the first day of school, police only acquire a limited amount of respect from their title alone. The rest can be earned through their actions.
This Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department’s practices provides data for what the black community in Baltimore has said for years; they were ignored, criticized, and vilified.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, federal and state governments increased sentences, limited parole, expanded the War on Drugs, and militarized the police. The predominant attitude, held by both conservatives and liberals, was that criminals and addicts were an enemy who needed punishment instead of rehabilitation.
Rhetoric from many opponents of Black Lives Matter has only deepened our divisions by dismissing oppression, linking civil rights with violence and professing Black criminality.
In the coming weeks, I plan on using this space to dig deeper into the concerns of minority communities and the history of crime policy in America. This week, I want to look back at the ideological and political origins of modern crime policy. In order to understand the origins of the modern civil rights struggle, we have to look back at the end of the one that took place in the 1960s.