The Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People, Not ‘Serve and Protect’

In most of the liberal discussions of the recent police killings of unarmed black men, there is an underlying assumption that the police are supposed to protect and serve the population. That is, after all, what they were created to do.

If only the normal, decent relations between the police and the community could be re-established, this problem could be resolved. Poor people in general are more likely to be the victims of crime than anyone else, this reasoning goes, and in that way, they are in more need than anyone else of police protection. Maybe there are a few bad apples, but if only the police weren’t so racist, or didn’t carry out policies like stop-and-frisk, or weren’t so afraid of black people, or shot fewer unarmed men, they could function as a useful service that we all need.

This liberal way of viewing the problem rests on a misunderstanding of the origins of the police and what they were created to do.

The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it. And they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid- to late-19th century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.

This is a blunt way of stating a nuanced truth, but sometimes nuance just serves to obfuscate.

Before the 19th century, there were no police forces that we would recognize as such anywhere in the world. In the Northern United States, there was a system of elected constables and sheriffs, much more responsible to the population in a very direct way than the police are today. In the South, the closest thing to a police force was the slave patrols.

Then, as Northern cities grew and filled with mostly immigrant wage workers who were physically and socially separated from the ruling class, the wealthy elite who ran the various municipal governments hired hundreds and then thousands of armed men to impose order on the new working class neighborhoods.

Class conflict roiled late-19th century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization (by which they meant bourgeois civilization) from the disorder of the working class. This ideology of order that developed in the late 19th century echoes down to today—except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers.

Of course, the ruling class did not get everything it wanted, and had to yield on many points to the immigrant workers it sought to control. This is why, for instance, municipal governments backed away from trying to stop Sunday drinking, and why they hired so many immigrant police officers, especially the Irish. But despite these concessions, businessmen organized themselves to make sure the police were increasingly isolated from democratic control, and established their own hierarchies, systems of governance, and rules of behavior.

The police increasingly set themselves off from the population by donning uniforms; establishing their own rules for hiring, promotion and firing; working to build a unique esprit des corps and identifying themselves with order. And despite complaints about corruption and inefficiency, they gained more and more support from the ruling class, to the extent that in Chicago, for instance, businessmen donated money to buy the police rifles, artillery, Gatling guns, buildings, and money to establish a police pension out of their own pockets.

There was a never a time when the big city police neutrally enforced “the law,” or came anywhere close to that ideal. (For that matter, the law itself has never been neutral.) In the North, they mostly arrested people for the vaguely defined “crimes” of disorderly conduct and vagrancy throughout the nineteenth century. This meant that the police could arrest anyone they saw as a threat to “order.” In the post-bellum South, they enforced white supremacy and largely arrested black people on trumped-up charges in order to feed them into convict labor systems.

The violence the police carried out and their moral separation from those they patrolled were not the consequences of the brutality of individual officers, but were the consequences of careful policies designed to mold the police into a force that could use violence to deal with the social problems that accompanied the development of a wage-labor economy.

For instance, in the short, sharp depression of the mid-1880s, Chicago was filled with prostitutes who worked the streets. Many policemen recognized that these prostitutes were generally impoverished women seeking a way to survive, and initially tolerated their behavior. But the police hierarchy insisted that the patrolmen do their duty whatever their feelings, and arrest these women, impose fines, and drive them off the streets and into brothels, where they could be ignored by some members of the elite and controlled by others.

Similarly, in 1885, when Chicago began to experience a wave of strikes, some policemen sympathized with strikers. But once the police hierarchy and the mayor decided to break the strikes, policemen who refused to comply were fired. In these and a thousand similar ways, the police were molded into a force that would impose order on working class and poor people, whatever the individual feelings of the officers involved.

Though some patrolmen tried to be kind and others were openly brutal, police violence in the 1880s was not a case of a few bad apples—and neither is it today.

Much has changed since the creation of the police—most importantly the influx of black people into the Northern cities, the mid-twentieth century black movement, and the creation of the current system of mass incarceration in part as a response to that movement. But these changes did not lead to a fundamental shift in policing. They led to new policies designed to preserve fundamental continuities. The police were created to use violence to reconcile electoral democracy with industrial capitalism. Today, they are just one part of the “criminal justice” system which continues to play the same role. Their basic job is to enforce order among those with the most reason to resent the system—who in our society today are disproportionately poor black people[…]

Source: The Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People, Not ‘Serve and Protect’

39 thoughts on “The Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People, Not ‘Serve and Protect’

  1. Yes indeed. My European working class parents who as socialist young people fought the Nazis in the streets and fields of France knew all about the police, how in France it automatically sided with the Nazis and gladly took up the role of rounding up French Jews and other ‘undesirables’ such as communists and Gypsies. My motto: never trust someone in a univorm, definitely never trust the police. Quite a contrast to the way American kids were brainwashed to trust the police in all circumstances – hence why Americans can’t understand police violence against poor people. They were naturally never made aware of that class stratification and how the status quo maintains itself in power.

    Liked by 1 person

    • American white kids were brainwashed to trust the police. In other words, the offspring of those who benefited most from police protection. I know you already know that, but just sayin’! Black kids never trusted the police. And like I said in your original post (which somehow disappeared; my response, that is) the police were created for far more sinister reasons than protecting burgeoning capitalism. Basically when the slaves were freed, they created the *police* to protect white people from the now free, wandering black folk who would, obviously, roam the country murdering and pillaging everything in sight. There was some payback from black folk on the white population, but it was very little and quickly quashed. Most people just wanted to get on with their lives–such as they were.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The case is building for the police being just another arm of the Police State. I’m thinking of the Pinkertons brought in to Andrew Carnegie’s Edgar Thomson steelworks to break up a strike in 1888. Then there are the cases where militiamen from the National Guard intervened to “settle” labor disputes, as in the Ludlow massacre at Colorado Fuel and Iron, a Rockefeller enterprise, in April, 1914.

    The first example of government against the people occurred with the Whiskey Rebellion, in 1794, in which federal troops, led by an ailing George Washington and his sidekick Alexander Hamilton, put down the protest against the whiskey tax. That set the precedent for the Police State to interfere directly in individual lives, enter homes and confiscate private property under suspicion of breaking the law.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What people fail to recognize and mentally absorb is that every state by nature has to be a police state. Those who gain power under any kind of political label can only hold on to that power by hiring thugs to protect them. We it not for institutional thuggery the White House and Wall Street would have been burned down and their residents hanged publicly long ago. Every ‘national’ political system is kept functioning through fear. Only when conditions become such that fear is less felt than the repression can things temporarily change or pretend to change through mob violence known as rebellion.

    Liked by 1 person

        • Intrinsically they are not on your side. They are either ignorant of the occulted deceits of their profession, see it it as playing the game or just indifferent to it.
          The tricks, traps, procedures are many, it is easier to rely on these private legalese practioners than the hard study of self-defense in their place of practise called courts.
          The LEGAL psy-op is the biggest to hurdle to overcome as they have force/violence and social isolation/prisons as tools for coercion. It is a minefield to navigate hence most people consent to BAR member representation.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. This has all been obvious for a long time. The thing is, what do we do about it? They have the weapons, and the willingness to use them. We have our minds, and our hearts, and no desire to hurt others. Stating a problem is a good but useless thing, if one does not look for a solution at same time. I see nothing about a solution…


    • I, too, really struggle with this question, rawgod. I suppose the first step is to explore what kind of organizing is possible at the community level. Thus far, this has really worked for me. Thanks for your comment.


    • The first step is always becoming aware of the problems. Knowing you are dealing with criminals and fraudsters.
      What is their intent, what are the schemes to achieve it, how can I avoid, frustrate, circumvent their malevolent plans? Can I make their occulted deceits, frauds visible to others?
      How can I do this creatively without violence but using their own “rules”, codes and procedures?

      3 examples that we can all practise of non-compliance and self education:

      – Refuse the cartel chemo/radiotherapy regarding cancer, use alternatives. Your death/sickeness is their profit.

      – Vaccines as the solution immune health from viral/bacterial infections, another rejected solution HENCE their criminal immoral desire to mandate.

      – Inform yourself in relation to one of the biggest deceits and control mechanisms used in western society to “create statist/corporate policies” enforced by policy enforcers. THE LEGAL SYSTEM. Another private pretentious cartel pretending to be fair minded arbitrators of justice. This is hard work but oh so worthwhile!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Numbers 1 and 3 I can agree with, number 2 is a myth. Vaccinations do help, as we are being vividly shown all over the world. Maybe vaccines are being charged for in the States, I do not know. In Canada, vaccines for children are free, and so they should be everywhere. Epidemics happen because people do not give their children vaccines, and leave them unprotected. Look back 100 years ago, before vaccines became widely used. Epidemics happened often, and over large areas. People died in large numbers. Epidemics these days are small in comparison, and usually not as deadly. Please wake up and smell the roses. Vaccines do work…


        • Ah well. You are wellcome to inject yourself for big pharma. I choose to reject their poisonous concoctions, They are driven by profit NOT your health.
          Take the haemorrhagic ebola “outbreaks”. Haemorrhagic viral infections cause a massive vitamic c deficiency hance the bleeding. Cure, high doses of intravenous vitamin C. Did the CDC/WHO use that in west and central Africa?
          No they pushed they long term gonocidal solution – vaccines.
          Vaccines are now headed to even more dangerous territoty, permanent DNA changes.
          rawgod, why do you think big pharma add adjuvants to the vaccine? To force the body to react to the “injected” biological matter. Vaccines are a faux, profit and global agenda driven solution.


          • Think what you like, I’ll go with the evidence I see. I suffered from all kinds of childhood diseases when young, and suffered my whole life because of them. Children of the 60s, 70s, and 80s did not contract those diseases to the point many thought they were gone. Then anti-vaxxers showed up on the scene, and childhood diseases started affecting people as they grew to adulthood, and now they are back to affecting kids. Let me tell you sometime about living with a bad heart, a weakened immune system, no colon. You think that is fun? That is what you are condemning your children and grandchildren to, if not early death. Thanks, but no thanks. Your theories stink to high heaven.


            • rawgod, it would e helpful if you were specific as to which of m “theories” stank to high heaven.

              It would seem we are on the same page concerning cancer but I don’t share you mindset, belief, faith or trust in vaccines.

              It is very simple for me. Are the global managers of the world criminals, fraudsters and psycopaths? Yes!

              Will these mentally sick “rulers/elites” destroy human lives for profit? Yes. Examples? World wars I & II, Iraq 1&2, Libya, Syria, vietnam., 911.

              Will they commit, allow and or protect banking frauds? Federal reserve system, BIS, bank of England, ECB, 2008.

              Will they kill to maintain conrol of their populations mind or to maintain their control? Yes. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Kennedy, recent deaths of alternative health practitioners.

              So if you know the nature of “powers that be”, why would you trust them with a medical vector to undermine your healt and consequetly your ability to resist their dominance and control.

              I personally find it the height of naivety to expose myself willingly to a global criminal enterprise that has captured most aspects of human life on earth. Global medical orthodoxy and vaccines are global psy-ops that must be maintained. Good docters bearing “health” in a needle!

              I have given examples to make my point, please do the same to specific “theories stink to high heaven”.


              • I gave you no opinions, theories, or conspiracies, I gave you my experience. I am not asking you to believe me, or share my mindset.. My mind is not set, it looks at what I know to be true. You cannot take experience away from me. Nice try, but I have nothing to prove.


                • @rawgod. I am at a loss. You agree that there are alternatives to chemo/radiotherapy. That should lead you to ask the question, why is this NOT standard practise? Why does the orthodox doctor INSIST on chemo/radiotherapy for cancer?
                  Does that not lead to a conspiracy, common practise/behaviour resistant to safer/better solutions?

                  You agreed with me concerning another rock of western deceit and control, the LEGAL system. Yet you claim these are my opinions and theories.

                  If you ever find yourself in court ask the judge or clerk when they ask for your name, if by giving your name you are consenting to represent a fictional person or consenting to their jurisdiction? Very quickly “my opoinion” will become you personal experience!

                  Tangible and specific NOT theories. Regards to you rawgod


                  • Been there. Done that. No need to ever do it again. Experience teaches those willing to learn. I am always willing to learn. But I want to see evidence, not opinion. Evidence does not have to be scientific. It just has to be real.


      • Now, to look at the other “malevolent plans” you mentioned. I will ignore the evil words right now, I do not like those word choices at all. But America is a capitalist nation, and many are proud of it. Medicine is one of the most capitalist businesses in the USA. By comparison, in Canada it is not. Our services are not as good in many ways, but most services are free. Paid for by taxes, surely, but no one is denied services. When it comes to cancer, my reason for not wanting chemicals or radiation is quality of life. I have been lucky–while there is cancer history in my family, so far it has not touched me. I might feel differently if I was 30 and was told I had cancer, but at 69 I have lived a full life. Cancer does not scare me. How much difference is there between the pain of cancer and the pain of chemo? But that is me. I would get help whether I could afford it or not. For Americans, and some others, money is a huge factor. And yes, you get charged as much as
        they think they can get out of you, capitalism at its most glorious. That is easy to change, refuse to pay. And get everyone else to refuse. But you’ll never get the rich to refuse, so that decreases your choices, and power. Vote socialist, or die. The choice is yours.

        As for the legal system, it supports itself. As long as you have criminals, and crime, the legal system will exist. Get rid of criminals, get rid of crime, and the justice system dies. Yeah, sure.


        • rawgod, there are safer treatments/cures for cancer. GcMaF is one of them.
          See my recent post :

          Terry avoided chemo and is still living with what mainstream medicine deemed terminal.

          It is possible to deal with criminals and crime without the inherent deceits of the western roman legal system. Look it up rawgod. Search youtube for Frank O’collins. His material was clear, comprehensible, logical and rang true.

          Example: For a society to claim it follows the rule of law, it’s law must apply to everyone without exceptions. Does America have legal immunities? Are there people in canada above or immune from the “laws”? Are they fictional entities called corporations that cannot or will not be prosecuted?
          YOu DO NOT have the “rule of law”. It is a pretentious claim in most western countries.

          Another example of legal deceit rawgod: The private legal practitioner trick you in court to act for the fictional entity, the PERSON that has the same name as you. You are tricked into consenting to their jurisdiction and consequently their INDULGENT judgements!
          Yet they claim they deal with the facts, truth, fairness and justice! Lying, deceitful jokers.


          • I guess I better let you in on a secret, EI, my politics is so far left you can’t even see me from the centre, if from true communisn, which does not exist in this world. I call myself a responsible anarchist. This means I set my own responsibilities, no one else, and I set my own rules for life. I can be anyone I want to be, I can do anything I want to do, as long as I don’t hurt anyone but me. That is my only almost-written-in-stone rule. To me you are right wing, with your ideas. I’m also a relativist, looking at each situation on its own merits. I believe all living beings matter, not just humans. No species is superior to any other, or inferior to any other.


            • You have classed me as right-wing. Please help me and the readers of these comments comprehend which of my ideas are right wing.

              I reject corporatism’s psycopathic exploitation of humanity, is that right wing?
              I reject the medical, legal, military, financial, media cabals/oligarchs, does that make me right wing?
              I assert that western political systems are a farce, a pretense, a mind control mechanism hence labour, liberal democrats, greens etc are irrelevant.
              Have I favoured the police and fascism, stereotypical “right-wing” tendencies? No!
              If you or another reader can point out which statement, opinion, “conspiracy theory” is right wing, I can consider its re-evaluation. Regards


                  • You need others to back you up. I experience what “I” experience. When I said try reading, I meant try reading what I am writing. I never once said you were right-wing though that is what you read.


    • I will let the reader of these comments decide which of us has made an informative contribution to this discussion. i have given examples, links and authors/writers were needed. Let them contrast that with your last statement, “Been there. Done that. No need to ever do it again”? What exactly have you done?


  5. Most people in black neighborhoods or poor-white neighborhoods, have sense enough, not to call the police.
    A white passerby, in a black neighborhood, called 911, and reported a fight occuring on a street of black people, in a small city.
    The police responded with 50 cop cars, broke into the wrong house, shot someone, and arrested 4 innocent bystanders.
    In poor white neighborhoods, if you call the cops on a maniac, or drug dealer, or thief, you arealmost as likely to be harrassed or arrested or even shot, as you would if you lived in a black neighborhood for calling the police and that is very likely.. That is America.


  6. Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone post anything like this about the police. For a lot of people, the “police” issue isn’t an issue, because if you’re not ever targeted and/or on their radar in any way, then that’s great.
    I think their evolution, though, at least in America, can be boiled down even more simply from what you said above: slave patrols.
    Once the slaves were freed after the Civil War, whatever passed for *the law* began the amplification and morphing into what would become our modern-day police force. But basically, *police* were created in order to quell white panic and fear and to *protect* the white population from the *roving bands of newly freed slaves*…..and eventually that impetus began spreading, of course, to other oppressed folk, whether or not they were ethnic, until it was just *the poor and oppressed* in general.
    Because, you know, certain people needed to be protected and cared for while others did not. Which is why, when one talking head on the news once said, “And some people even think the founding of the United States was “problematic” [here he makes a sour face]….” my mouth dropped open and I said to my husband, “Problematic?! ‘Some people think’?” because the idea that the founding of the U.S. involved anything but racial and class elitism, Puritanical fanaticism, manifest destiny, genocide, and slavery is to be deluded and blind and in denial with your head so far up your own a** that no other opposing and possibly illuminating thought can even find a place to fit inside with it.


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