By Christian Parenti
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Extra info for The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America from Slavery to the War on Terror
Finally, from this cumbersome system of body measurements emerged the simpler, more reliable practice of "dactyloscopy," or fingerprinting. We begin with photographs. FROM CHAOS, THE EVERYDAY STATE In 1829 the first modern constabulary was born: They were the London Metropolitan Police a full-time, uniformed, and paramilitary force. However, in libertine Jacksonian America, the "London Model," although praised by elites, met with stiff resistance from the general populace who feared that a "standing army" of lawmen would threaten civil liberties.
Reverend Alexander Hemsley, an escapee from forced labor in Maryland, was recaptured in New Jersey and had to fight thugs from Dixie in this manner. From eventual freedom in Canada, Hemsley explained how the crew who captured him 28 ANTEBELLUM ID contained "a boy with whom I had played in my young days.... "53 In such situations forged papers helped, but ultimately no Black identity was safe in a white court. The famous Sojurner Truth likewise had to fight over the identity of her son, who had been illegally sold away from her.
Forged passes were necessary even for slaves who didn't attempt to escape. 26 But clearly the heart of the matter was escape and in that saga forged passes were always essential. "My plan at this time was to write myself a pass down to New Orleans, and when I got there, to take a ship to New York or Boston," recounted William J. 27 Frederick Douglass, like all literate slaves, became a group asset during his escape: The week before our intended start, I wrote a pass for each of our party, giving them permission to visit Baltimore, during the Easter holidays.