Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. His relationship with Sally Hemings would not begin for another 8 years. The title quote, first uttered long after T.J.’s death, appears in several US and English papers as well as books from the 19th century. It suggests that T.J. was having sex with slaves long before Sally Hemings. I personally do not doubt that and have written about the possibility of it. The “shock” of T.J.’s relationship with Sally Hemings does not allow most to consider the possibility of his having had sex with other slaves even though it was a common practice during slavery.
Among the first slaves laws, the partus law passed in Virginia in 1662; it changed the status of children from following the condition of the father to that of following the mother. If the mother was a slave, so too was the child regardless of paternity. The language of that law is quite telling. Its opening line reads “Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free…”
“children got by” and “upon a Negro woman.” I would venture that the first part meant “begotten.” That was a Biblical term. Offspring, for the men, are begotten. Biblical genealogical passages reveal this and explains why the partus law of Virginia came into existence. That second part is a bit more problematic. The child was begotten “upon” a Negro woman. Not “with.” The law is literally acknowledging the rape of Black women. It was written in 1662. More than 100 years before T.J. started having sex with 14 year old Sally Hemings.
This is the history behind the situations we see today, a 1662 law and T.J.’s primary example (primary because it’s accepted, but not the only example). The situation I speak of is sexual misconduct by police officers across this nation. The 1662 law legalized it, T.J. exemplified and promoted it by being the prolific writer of the Declaration of Independence which created these United States. T.J. is the father of Liberty and License…sexual license that is.
Keeping all of that in mind, let us now turn to today’s police and their authority.
Police authority is wide ranging. They carry guns and tasers and have the State’s permission to deprive you of your freedom under the Color of Law.
(The irony of that phrase is striking. The Color of Law.)
The extreme bias in policing is and has always been disproportionately against Blacks and People of Color. In terms of this disproportionality in law enforcement, the main argument against it is almost always about the use of force: brutality and/or deadly force. But use of force is so much more than mere brutality. Police are authorized by law to use force as a part of their job. The uniform signifies it. The level and type of force used is determined by circumstances. Sometimes, use of force is simply an officer’s presence. He/she represents an authority with the power to take away your freedom. Just his/her presence creates a use of force situation. It’s intimidating. The next level in the use of force is a combination of the words, tone of voice and his/her body language. Presence, words, tone of voice and body language are all part of the use of force tactics taught and used by police. This level of force is generally not considered in the arguments against use of force because it’s “low-level” and/or “non-violent.”
But T.J. was non-violent also. It is documented that he disliked the whipping of his slaves, though he did when necessary. T.J. also disliked selling his slaves. But he did that too, sometimes for disciplinary reasons, other times it was financial.
Use of force by police officers isn’t always violent. But it is here, in the “low-level” use of force that police officers get away with some of the most egregious crimes. It is a level of power that is not discussed and rarely even acknowledged. This is similar to the way scholars describe Sally Hemings as T.J.’s “mistress” missing the fact that T.J. was the master whose mere presence demanded obedience. And just because T.J. disliked whipping his slaves, he had the means to have them whipped at his fingertips at all times. Police officers are not different.
So it is here, in this “low-level” use of force that officers take their license…sexual license. Just like T.J. did, and his father & father-in-law before him did. White men had been taking sexual license even before the 1662 partus law was written. A “child got…upon a Negro woman…” Sexual license spelled out in the law.
Laws today are not so blatant but they are telling in their omission. In the most recent news of officers taking license, two NYPD officers had charges of rape dropped, but have been indicted under a federal law that prohibits misconduct “under the Color of Law.” Acting in their capacity as Law Enforcement Officers, the two arrested a teenager, handcuffed her, put her in a van and drove to a secluded location where they took turns raping her. When the accusation became known, the officers claimed that the sex was “consensual.” This is not an unusual defense among police officers. The article published recently opens thus: “Her case led New York lawmakers to ban police from having sex with anyone in their custody.” Remember that partus law? A “child got…upon a Negro woman.” Just like white men had already been raping women in the 15th century, so too have police officers having been doing the same in our modern era! W.T.F.
What the hell kind of legal loophole is that? It is one that has been taken advantage of by police officers since the beginning of their existence. Because the law doesn’t specifically prohibit a behavior, by virtue of omission, it allows it. In an article by Alberta Samaha of BuzzFeed, Samaha’s investigation of more than 700 officers revealed that 26 of the 158 officers charged with sexual assault had charges dropped or were acquitted of sexual assault using the “consent” defense. The NYPD officers in the current case have contended that the girl they arrested, who has been deprived of freedom and handcuffed, consented to having sex with two officers twice her size, multiple times while handcuffed in the back of their van. T.J. comes directly to mind. Slaves, under threat of whipping or sale or death, consented to sexual relations with a man deliberately keeping them in chains.
Sounds crazy right? But.
Not only has T.J. been forgiven for his “indiscretion,” these officers won’t be charged with rape. Scholars have had the audacity to call Sally Hemings T.J.’s “mistress” and juries have acquitted officers clearly guilty of abuse of power and authority. Under the Color of Law!
This, my friends, is absolutely and unequivocally, the Jefferson Effect.
End of Part 1.
Part two comes with examples.