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The racist roots of American policing: From slave patrols to traffic stops

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Slave patrols

There are two historical narratives about the origins of American law enforcement.

Policing in southern slave-holding states had roots in slave patrols, squadrons made up of white volunteers empowered to use vigilante tactics to enforce laws related to slavery. They located and returned enslaved people who had escaped, crushed uprisings led by enslaved people and punished enslaved workers found or believed to have violated plantation rules.

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