The world now knows about police brutality, what we American Negroes* have experienced as a matter of course since the slave patrols. The “peace officers” that purportedly swore to uphold and defend the Constitution by serving and protecting citizens like George Floyd, murdered him. Maybe “peace officer” seems absurd. The term evokes the Orwellian phrase “war is peace.”
But it makes sense if we deconstruct “peace.” The Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”) denoted Roman Empire; the king’s peace spans British dominion. Both suggest that peace reflects sovereignty. Antebellum slave patrols and state police powers have made the U.S.’s Aryan peace since the 1600s.
American historian Ira Berlin described colonial Virginia and other colonies as “societies with slaves” during the first few decades, when Negroes were as likely indentured servants as slaves. By “society with slaves,” he meant that slavery was marginal to GDP and was one form of labor among many. But King Charles II founded the Royal African Company to monopolize the slave trade in 1660 and thus sanctioned the “slave society” that emerged during the 1660s. In this type of society slavery was central to GDP and the master-slave relationship modeled all relationships.
Slavery ended in 1865, but white containment and control of Black people persists in our apartheid society. Aryanism thus defines the law of the land as expressed by the Supreme Court decision Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857): “the negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.” Hence the four-man judge, jury and executioner of citizen Floyd.
The issue of police reform now dominates the news. But the time is nigh for a transformation of policing. The real issue is: Who makes peace? Who defines disorderly conduct? Who projects law and order? Who makes war? Who is sovereign?
The answer, of course, is We the People.
As new democratic vistas open up in these interesting times, I say to those descended from former slaves and freedmen and freedwomen — be free men and free women. Be sovereign citizens. Defer to the Aryan no more. Unmake the Aryan peace; make the civic peace.
The idea of “law and order” is thought to be synonymous with peace. But to find the meaning of peace on the ground, ask: Cui bono? (Who benefits?) For example, when the colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776, they breached the king’s peace once and for all. They replaced the king’s dominion with a white republic.
The American Revolution made the Aryan peace by unmaking the king’s peace. Henceforth, the slave lords dictated national agenda. Two events in particular catalyzed their peace-making counterrevolution: first, the Somerset case of 1772, in which Lord Mansfield held that slavery was unsupported by common law; and second, Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation of 1775, whereby the governor of Virginia declared that every Negro would be free who joined the British Army in its fight against American rebellion. One might say that the slave lord’s peace displaced the king’s peace, at least through 1865.
Now in 2020 the following syllogism applies:
We the People are sovereign. The sovereign sets the paradigm of peace. We citizens must therefore make the civic peace.
To that end, We the People should appropriate the peace sign which originated from the British nuclear disarmament movement in 1958. We should thus command redistribution of our federal tax dollars, 54 percent of which went to the military in 2019. Better to spend most of our tax dollars on public goods such as health care and especially, on public education.
By 18, people should understand what the constitutional guarantee of a republican form of government means, at least well enough to consent to it. Citizens should understand that standing armies — whether the Pentagon or our nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies — diametrically oppose republican values. Citizens should read “law and order” in terms of republic, not empire. With the peace sign our symbol, we must defund all standing armies within our mandate, not just police. We must unmake perpetual war if we would make peace.
President Nixon and President Trump both invoked “law and order.” Their reference was property rights, especially of the 1 percent. Nixon declared “war on drugs,” which implicitly meant the Black ghetto. Trump calls for more “stop and frisk,” a euphemism for anti-Black fascism. “Law and order” thus denotes the Aryan peace.
We the People must reframe “law and order” in terms of natural rights and human rights. We must command our public servants to work for us and for the public good rather than praetorian prerogative and the military-industrial complex. Our peace officers must protect and serve us and stop framing us as “vagrants” or “criminals.” They must respect our constitutional rights and stop worshiping the divine right of wealthy white men.
The Constitution as Employee Handbook
We the People must remind our public servants that the Constitution is an employee handbook. The Preamble is a statement of purpose from the collective boss. Articles 1-3 spell out the duties and limitations of our federal employees. Article 4 focuses on our state-level employees. The Bill of Rights protects employers from employees prone to step out of their place of public servitude. The 15th Amendment makes Black men the boss too. Women get this right thanks to the 19th Amendment. The 26th Amendment gives American-born citizens the right to be the boss on their 18th birthday.
Employees of the state murdered citizen Floyd even though his tax dollars paid their salaries. Their commission as police officers was to apprehend the suspect with minimal violence. They were supposed to take him before the magistrate. Properly understood, the police officer’s role is errand-person for the judge.
In our current system, only the judge or jury are qualified to judge questions of guilt or innocence — in this case, whether or not Floyd knowingly faked a $20 bill. When the cops murdered him, they breached the civic peace whereby all persons are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. They respected neither his right to presumed innocence nor his right to life. They betrayed the public trust. But in so doing they enforced the Aryan peace wherein the Negro’s rights do not warrant respect.
No Justice, No Peace
Among the many reasons that We the People do “ordain and establish” the Constitution, perhaps the most important one is “to establish Justice.” Note the present tense. Every generation must “ordain and establish” the Constitution anew. As legal scholar Edward Corwin explained, “As a document the Constitution came from the generation of 1787; as a law it derives its force and effect from the present generation of American citizens, and hence should be interpreted in the light of present conditions and with a view to meeting present problems.” The latest I Can’t Breathe martyr symbolizes our present condition. We mean to establish justice. But what is justice?
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, it means “the constant and perpetual disposition to render every man his due.” The dictionary further distinguishes commutative justice and distributive justice. Commutative justice governs contracts: “It consists in rendering to every man the exact measure of his dues, without regard to his personal worth or merits, i.e., placing all men on an equality.”
Distributive justice governs the distribution of rewards and punishments. It discriminates between the more deserving and the more blameworthy: “It assigns to each the rewards which his personal merit or services deserve, or the proper punishment for his crimes.” Commutative justice treats everyone according to the same standard, whereas distributive justice treats people by different standards according to their perceived merits.
The distinction originates with Greek philosopher Aristotle. Unfortunately, he defined distributive justice in racist terms. He thought that his fellow Greeks were free men more meritorious than “barbarians” (non-Greeks), whom he deemed “natural slaves.” Distributive justice largely explains his Greek/barbarian double standard. Like so, distributive justice largely explains our constitutional white/Black double standard.
Now’s the time to remake our social contract according to a single human standard. To shift its paradigm to commutative justice. Now’s the time to make true the engraving at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.: “equal justice under law.”
Dred Scott summarizes the 350 years of distributive justice and Aryan peace that we Negroes have suffered. What do we want? Commutative justice! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? The civic peace! When do we want it? Now!
* Author’s note: I use “Negro” as a semantic protest against euphemism, which, to me, exacerbates the problem of white supremacy.