Neighborhood Watch Groups like Zimmerman’s

July 19th, 2013

… and in much of the Deep South are hardly different than Slave Patrols of Old – Published on ZNet (first on AlterNet  ), by Thom Hartman, July 17, 2013.

George Zimmerman kept close watch over his neighborhood. When Black men walked or even drove through the area, he alerted the police, over and over and over again Sheriff’s Office releases more 911 calls made by George Zimmerman [3]. Finally, exasperated that “they always” got away, he went out on a rainy night armed with a loaded gun and the Stand Your Ground law, looking for anybody who should not be in his largely White neighborhood. The South has a long history of this sort of thing. They used to be called Slave Patrols.   

Prior to the Civil War and Reconstruction, the main way Southern states maintained the institution of slavery was through local and statewide militias, also known as “Slave Patrols.” These Patrols were, in many states, required monthly duty for southern white men between the ages of 17 and 47, be they slave-owners or not.

Slave patrollers traveled, usually on horseback [the modern equivalent would be in a car], through the countryside looking for African-Americans who were “not where they belonged.” When the patrollers found Black people in places where they “did not belong,” punishment ranged from beatings, to repatriation to their slave owners, to death by being whipped, hung or shot.

Some of the most comprehensive reports on the nature and extent of the Slave Patrols came from interviews done by the WPA (the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program created by FDR) during the Great Depression. At that time, former slaves and the children of former slaves were still alive and had stories to tell, and the WPA put people to work in the American South gathering and documenting those stories.

The WPA’s Georgia Writers Project, Savannah Unit, produced a brilliant summary of stories taken from people who were alive (most as children) during the time of slavery, about their and their families interactions with slave patrollers. The report’s title was Drums and Shadows: survival stories among the Georgia coastal Negroes [4]) … //

… The National Humanities Center has many other similar reports in its archives.

Slave Patrols were a regular feature of the South, from its first settlement by slave-owning Europeans until the decades after Reconstruction.

When slavery was abolished, but Whites in the South still want to keep Blacks “in their place,” the Slave Patrols were largely replaced by (or simply renamed as) the KKK, small-town sheriffs, and, apparently, “Neighborhood Watch.”

Slave Patrollers rarely stopped or molested white people. But when Blacks were found in unexpected places, they could expect a swift and severe punishment.

And the legal systems of the South, largely without exception, backed up the Slave Patrollers and their post-reconstruction heirs.

It appears that the more things change – at least in the deep South – the more they stay the same.
(full text).


Born in Slavery;

Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas (Harvard Historical Studies);

Should anyone venture to disobey this law.

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