The role of police in the contemporary U.S.

US Policeoriginally published:
4th August 2009

When Sergeant James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police recently arrested Professor Henry Gates, Jr., mistaking the professor for a burglar, all hell broke out in the media and across the U.S. about the topic of racial profiling during police arrests and the level of racism that racial profiling reflects.

For anyone who came of age during the 1960s and early 1970s, and was even slightly political, the arrest could have easily brought back bad memories of the many police raids on the homes of members of the Black Panther Party, resulting in the deaths of many African-American activists.

The Panthers, who proclaimed their right to self-defense, were perceived to be such a threat to the prevailing “law and order” (notice how the discussion is never framed within the concepts of law and justice) policy of the Nixon administration that a large part of the F.B.I.’s COINTELPRO (counter intelligence program) targeted the Panthers as it did other radical groups and individuals.

The police riots at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago were perhaps the most egregious example of police reaction to the political left of that era.

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