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From its origin in 1845, the police department in New York City had to explicitly consider the racial landscape in the city, as Irish and German immigrants came to the United States and as New York's Black community of free and self-emancipated people were forced to defend their freedom because of the Fugitive Slave Law. Despite prejudice against Irish immigrants, who were seen as predisposed to crime and violence and incompatible with the Anglo-American way of life, Irish police earned racial and social mobility by opposing Irish rioters in the 1857 police civil war, the 1863 Draft Riots, and the 1871 Orange Riots. During this period the African American community in New York fought back against the willingness of police officers to collaborate with Southern enslavers.

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