A Dark Blue History
A Dark Blue History is an artistic glimpse through the years of the Minneapolis Police Department, and its place within the destructive workings of of U.S. law enforcement as a greater whole. Operating in tandem with MPD150’s 2017 report, Enough is Enough: A 150 Year Performance Review of the Minneapolis Police Department, and in support of MPD150’s 2018 exhibition, Making It Real: Our History With Police And Our Future Without Them, A Dark Blue History offers insight into how structural oppression has been a constant and intentionally defining factor in policing.
"A Dark Blue History is an ongoing project of visual documentation delving into the uneasy history of the Minneapolis Police Department. It has been researched, written and illustrated by Jacob Yeates and Sishir Bommakanti and heavily informed by the thorough investigations conducted by MPD150 and its 2017 report, Enough is Enough: A 150 Year Performance Review of the Minneapolis Police Department."
Here are selected illustrations from this project, to view the illustrations from Jacob Yeates, you can go to His Website
The violent legacy of policing cannot be described, as many reformers and apologists have attempted before, in terms of individual steps, as mere prologue, to the world in which we find ourselves in today. Generations of institutionalized oppression, militarized brutality, and the legal impunity with which law officers have carried out these actions, and continue to carry out time and time again are not isolated factors coalescing into a present- day nightmare. Rather, they are the continued, purposeful operations of a system built to disenfranchise those outside of it: a system intended to harm. In order to understand the situations, stories and structures that are now in place, we must revisit the past to confront the iniquity of today.
Prior to any contact with sentencing or detention, countless experiences personally relayed by youth of color, particularly black youth perceived as male, about discriminatory and violent targeting by police is supported by a history of scholastic research. Most recently, a 2014 study found distinct evidence pointing to the trend of police officers overestimating the ages of black male-perceived children, some as young as 10, consistently judging them to be older, less innocent and more dangerous.
In a real world context, at the hands of police, these perceptions have resulted in aggressive treatment, harsher sentencing, and in many cases outright brutality absent from similar scenarios with white peers.
In the case of those who do become caught inside the justice system, things devolve further. Despite signs of overall youth incarceration decreasing--falling an estimated 54% from 2001 to 2015 according to data collected by The Sentencing Project--the United States still maintains the highest rate of youth imprisonment in the world, and the racial disparities present for who the state determines to sentence continues to grow. Within the same fourteen year period, there has been a 22% rise in black youth incarceration in relation to white youth. In Minnesota, black youth are now almost 9 times more likely to be incarcerated than white peers, with a 33% disparity increase.
As an entity the carceral state is directly reliant upon a punitive system of laws, and the police agencies employed to enforce them. The combination of an ever-expanding private and for-profit prison system, Drug War ideologies and the unchecked power of individual officers, arrests, convictions and incarcerations have become even more disastrously common, especially for low-level offences. According to a report, the ACLU, “...obtained arrest data from the Minneapolis Police Department for low-level offenses that occurred from January 1, 2012, to September 30, 2014. The data includes information about 96,975 arrests. “As a panel of experts from the National Academy of Sciences recently concluded, changes in public policies, not rising crimes rates, were the main engines of the decades-long spike in the incarceration rate. Even for those lucky enough to survive their sentences relatively unscathed, the aftermath of a criminal record or prison time often compromises one’s chances of ever escaping from a cycle of continued oppression. As stated by author, Alex S. Vitale, “There are currently more than 2 million Americans in prison or jail and another 4 million on probation or parole. Many have lost the right to vote; most will never recover from the lost earnings and work experience.”
“Drug offenses alone account for two-thirds of the rise in the federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000. Approximately a half-million people are in prison or jail for a drug offense today, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980--an increase of 1,100 percent. Drug arrests have tripled since 1980. As a result, more than 31 million people have been arrested for drug offenses since the drug war began. To put the matter in perspective, consider this: there are more people in prisons and jails today just for drug offenses than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980.” -Michelle Alexander New Jim Crow
Knowing history, dark origins and our confrontations with them, tracing the events that have led us to today is a critical aspect of protest.
Today, many are painfully aware of the destructive qualities characterized by modern policing, just as they are aware of the lengths many more will often go to claim otherwise. We see cultural traditions aggrandizing oppressive roles as “protective” and “just.” We see media outlets weave sensationalized, misleading and fear-mongering narratives. We see institutions both indifferent to the actions of their own officers and actively opposed to correcting the widespread harm they cause. And we see the constant anxiety, frustration and disappointment from those who are supposedly meant to be protected by these same systems, only to find themselves under suspicion, threatened, and persecuted time and time again. Of course, what we see now is, in part, merely the continued repercussions of oppressive institutions set in place generations ago.
The exposure and disentanglement of these violent legacies is the first critical step of many to their much-needed removal. Yet, awareness of past events is not merely a list of numbers and statements, rather, it is achieving a communal understanding through the shared experiences of others, particularly those who have found themselves so often silenced by the same structures we seek to dismantle. Coming to terms with this Dark Blue History allows us to arm ourselves with the knowledge of how we have found ourselves, and in many cases have been forced into, our current circumstances. With this same knowledge we must hold ourselves and others accountable, make amends, and take direct and collective action long-since overdue.