In my pervious post titled Deja Vu: Planet of the Apes I discussed the imprint made on my mind by the violent chase scenes in the said film. This impression was revived by the recent border patrol images coming out of Del Rio, Texas. I noted in that post how this is one of two images brought forth in me, the other being that of the “historical injustices suffered by black people in the US..” Upon further reflection, however, I have come to realize that these two images are infact one and the same. Urko and his fellow gorillas are literally black, while the regressed, abject, Yahooesque humans are Caucasian. This seems to be an artistic inversion of the historical image of the American slave patrol and I suggest that it is in this very reversal that the power of these chase scenes lies.
I wonder if the authors of this filmic scenario were conscious (I would like to think they were) of the Slave Patrol predecessor of their image, and further, if they intended a progressive parody or if it was merely a reactionary pastiche. However, regardless of this authorial intent, I am convinced that this recurring image is etched into the American psyche and is sublimated in all that is now referred to as ‘structural’ in that nations institutions.
Writing on Juneteenth 2020, Phillis Coley cites historian Gary Potter’s three functions of the Southern slave patrol –
(1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves;
(2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and,
(3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside the law.
She goes on to note that the use of these patrols to capture runaway slaves was a precursor to the formal police force in America and its ethos has persisted as an element of policing role even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.