Is it the Cops or the Cameras?

Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context

Herbert Dyer, Jr.
6 min readSep 3, 2019


Image credit: Shutterstock from Pixabay

Author’s note: In light of today’s continuing “uprising” of black, brown and white people against police brutality and even the whole idea of “policing,” I offer this re-print of an earlier essay (September, 2019). The goal here is to contextualize what we are witnessing now on a daily basis.

Many argue that we have reached a “tipping point” or “watershed” moment and/or that an actual, new and effective “movement” has finally arrived, and that real change or real reform is upon us.

But given this history, I am not so sure or so sanguine. Oppressive cops have always been problematic for black people. Anti-blackness is built into the DNA of this nation-state. That is, the “problem,” therefore is not just bad cops but the whole idea of whiteness itself.

In the dim-to-dazzling light of now almost daily videos and images of black people being brutalized by America’s “finest,” the question arises: Are we really in the midst of a surge in police brutality against black folk? Or, has the widespread use of more and more sophisticated yet user-friendly video and audio technologies simply made capturing and documenting these “events” easier and more likely?

Black people have been complaining against, fighting against, marching against, writing against, singing and praying against police brutality since the slave patrols of old.

But nobody other than other black people would believe us. “Well meaning” whites both North and South did not want to believe (or admit) that it was the local sheriff who led the nightly lynching raids of the Klan, or who supplied the explosives and fuel oil used to blow up and burn down black churches, black schools, black businesses and black homes.

Nobody other than other black people would believe (or admit) that it was the city, county or state policemen who supervised and often administered the beatings to those uppity blacks who insisted on registering to vote.

And when black people seemed to regularly, mysteriously disappear into the misty swamps and bayous along the Gulf Coast, nobody other than other black people would believe (or admit) that the “disappeared” was last seen stopped on the side…



Herbert Dyer, Jr.

Freelancer since the earth first began cooling. My beat, justice: racial, social, political, economic and cultural. I’m on FB, Twitter, Link,