This Law Allowed Police To Murder Black People Without Punishment

police line do not cross tape
L. Graciella Maiolatesi
April 18, 2022

In February and April 2022, Tracy Gaeta and Patrick Lyoya were brutally killed by police. 30 shots were fired into Gaeta’s car, and Lyoya was shot in the back of the head. 

We can’t forget just how deep the roots of this racist violence is. A historic law could be why police still get away with killing us today.

In 1669, Virginia’s Casual Killing Act was passed, legalizing the killing of the enslaved by their enslavers for the crime of “resisting punishment.” Enslavers could murder for whatever reason they wanted and later lie, saying the enslaved person had “resisted punishment,” and there would be no consequences. 

This bled into law enforcement in more ways than one.

One of America’s first forms of “police” were slave catchers, who kidnapped runaways and returned them to their enslaver. In 1672 the Casual Killing Act was extended, legalizing murder if an enslaved African “resisted arrest” from slave catchers. Then enslavers received compensation for their “lost property!” 

We witness this legacy whenever a Black person is killed by police – often for “resisting arrest” – and the guilty officer is “punished” with temporary suspension and paid leave.

The foundation of America’s police state is built on Black death. But there’s nothing “casual” about killing Black people! We lift up Lyoya and Gaeta’s families. May our outrage fuel us as we continue to fight for liberation!

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