Posted: June 24th, 2021
The topic of discussion is police brutality. This has been and continues to be a widespread and ongoing problem that faces our society today. As law enforcement officers, it is in their job description and ideals to “serve and protect” the community but it seems as in recent years that some have chosen to do quite the opposite, therefore the phrase has lost its meaning. Police Brutality or misconduct is the action where an officer of the law asserts his/her power over the community in excessive ways leading to either scrutiny, injury, or more often, death.
This is not to be confused with one’s own personal belief in unlawful searches or vulgar language as the term brutality associates with excessive force that is called into question. Famous cases such as Rodney King, Howard Morgan, and Trayvon Martin have been made involving such actions and has led to a widespread distrust of the officials. The underlying issue of this topic is vast and requires multiple angles to be looked at which I aim to do in this report.
Jones states that “But what the most recent literary contribution makes clear is that, while the issue of police brutality may be hot, it is not new. In fact, the essays trace police brutality against African-Americans back to the days of slavery”( 3) meaning that this has been an ongoing issue for some time now, its just garnered more attention due to social media and more coverage on the news. Due to this issue focusing primarily on blacks, this is grouped at the base of social issues, there is just about a specific approval for cops to act along these lines because police officers seek to justify themselves, considering that this happens frequently. In spite of the fact that not comprehensively talked, it is sure this issue is only an appearance of bigotry in our general public. This can be shown as a precipitating cause or the “trigger mechanism” as the more injustice that minorities face and discrimination that is shown on the media, the more likely that there will be signs of aggression and lack of respect towards officials.
America established its first police department in Boston in the year 1838 roughly around the time of the jim crow laws. As Chaney and Robertson states on the history of mistreatment within the government “In 1865, Whites created The Black Codes, which were a body of laws, statutes, and rules that allowed members of this group to regain control over the freed slaves, maintain white supremacy, and ensure the continued supply of cheap labor. Furthermore, the common practice of convict leasing served to “fill the labor void left by the abolition of the “peculiar institution” (i.e., slavery) . To satisfy the South’s acute labor need, the criminal justice system was “retooled to provide cheap forced labor to mines, farms, timber camps, turpentine makers, railroad builders and entrepreneurs large and small”(Chaney and Robertson, 108-122).
This in turn created problems for African-Americans as this made them easy targets for police misconduct for more racial reasons. As racism has still managed to become an issue in our society and how it was also prevalent in the years of segregation it is easy to make a connection on how racial profiling in police departments is still relevant in recent years. Police brutality has gained more ground on the news because now everyone has access to vast amounts of media.
Society is able to see firsthand what goes on in the news “When a crime is committed by a law enforcement officer, it is hard to report and even harder to press charges. This has obviously changed in recent years with the advent of cellular telephones with video cameras and YouTube as an Internet outlet to expose police abuse and brutality” (Lyle 155). A reciprocating cause from this shows that from what citizens hear about and see on the news can lead to them being fearful of the officials. An example of this would be a patrolman caught on camera verbally and physically assaulting a man. Although they might not have touched the man too much, their tactics which caused him to be afraid and the fact that he was caught on camera can illustrate what would be seen as excessive force.
Matthew Elicker further explains a similar situation involving a woman who is now hesitant to open her door for the police, “Not two months prior to this incident, on August 10th, police officers came to her door concerning a noise complaint. They pulled her out of her house, onto the street and handcuffed her. She was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, which is a felony. Because of this incident and others that she witnessed prior, she stated that she did not want to open her door to the officers because she is afraid of them” (Elicker 33)
Even among other countries who experience this injustice, the use of video recording has helped bring justice and attention towards official who claims that their use of force was necessary. Gordon explained a particular situation in where Palestinians were subject to police misconduct, “June 17, for instance, border policeman Wael Sabit fired a rubber bullet at a Palestinian demonstrator, wounding him in the leg, and then arrested him for allegedly throwing stones at the police. Three other border policemen backed Sabit’s story in court. But the demonstrators’ videotape convinced the judge that the detainee had not thrown stones or otherwise acted violently; Sabit opened fire unprovoked”. “This causes the issue to be harder to ignore especially among officials who would try to hide or justify these actions. It helps point out the injustice so that police department can be held more accountable.
Given the nature of these acts, it’s important to understand that this is a community issue that revolves around minorities. America is built upon the idea of equal justice which also equates to using the necessary amount of force on all offenders. Bradley Smith, a researcher of Liberal Arts and Malcolm Holmes who holds a degree in Criminology, this reciprocating cause can explain that due to past issues between the police and people of color, it would seem that police need to express their authority to prevent a premeditated altercation. They convey that this is considered a norm, explaining that “Informal norms of police work define extralegal sanctions, particularly excessive force, as normal and essential instruments of control for handling individuals perceived as challenging officers’ authority, who pose a threat to their well-being, or who are otherwise discredited”(Smith and Holmes 1035) They also goes on to say that “Insofar as police see minority citizens as posing a special threat to their authority and well-being, and given that their wide discretionary power allows them to respond differentially to citizens in poor minority areas” (Smith and Holmes 1035).
The reason that this subject continues to exist is that it subsequently continues to happen. More so the frequency to what is happening is absolutely staggering as given that most of the incidence occurs when the victim is young and unharmed. Trayvon Martin is the latest and biggest controversy of this generation, who was also unharmed and profiled as suspicious was killed at the age of 17. Chaney and Robertson state that “From January 1 – June 30,2012, one Black person was killed by law enforcement or someone acting in such a capacity every 36 hours, representing a total of 120 persons. Furthermore, 69% of those who lost their lives were between the ages of 13 and 31, which in essence, are killing off a generation of potential revolutionaries. Moreover, while five percent of the Blacks killed were women, the bulk of those killed have been Black men like Rodney King. Perhaps more alarming is that 46% of those killed were unarmed (just like King) and 36% were alleged to have weapons by police, including a cane, a toy gun, and a bb gun”(Chaney and Robertson 108). Some would label this the cause of racial profiling as I stated previously that Trayvon Martin was also unharmed yet still gunned down. This signifies an underlying problem as well, because of as much coverage and as many acts that we see of this violence it still continues to happen unabated.
This topic wouldn’t have much of a long-lasting argument if there was not another claim as to why sometimes the force that would be deemed necessary is actually justified. Amongst fellow officers, they believe that society has already deemed them as vigilantes and quick to use a gun when not necessary. Earlier in this essay I explained that this social problem is considered a minor problem and therefore at the frequency at which this happens, a norm. It is possible that as much of what we do see involving police handling situations, it can show that society also places automatic hate and distrust on officers. This is also in part by the fact that most of the individuals slandering them are the actual minorities.
In turn this can lead to sufficient causes because if enough of the populace harbors hate towards police officials, another incident may occur involving a victim who might have actually needed extreme measures of force and cause more slandering and revolt. This can create a biased outlook or also makes more situations difficult as they can see a person of color being detained and immediately suggest that the person did nothing wrong to deserve it. This is also where the use of media can become faulty as an unprofessional opinion would not be able to understand the necessity of the force being used.
Elicker explains that “ People who aren’t in law enforcement do not understand the necessity for use of force, so they will have a less positive view than those who enforce the law on a daily basis. Because this is the case, most people don’t get to witness others’ jobs on a regular basis and therefore wouldn’t have as good of a perspective on the jobs that others do, such as police work” (Elicker 33). Due to the fact that most people have a different part to play in society, we use the idea of structural functionalism to add weight in this because relying on others to perform different jobs, we can perceive a biased opinion on the act that we did not witness firsthand. This can also be explained by the Conflict Theory. This theory shows that since African Americans usually tend to have less satisfaction towards police work and the fact that they hear negative news on officers, they then will have less than a positive outlook on police as a whole.
Rachel Harmon suggests that use of force is justified in the means of de-escalating a situation. She states that when a situation unfolds it requires a quick succession thought process and they must use the tools at their disposal in order to maintain safety. This can range from verbal communication, a guiding gesture, forceful restraint, or if necessary a gunshot. She further explains this by stating “Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. Thus, if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning has been given” (Harmon 1119).
Although I agree that in order to maintain compliance involving a less than comparable citizen requires some degree of force met, I do however believe that surveying the situation before rash decisions are made is crucial. If a threat has not formed itself towards the officer in question, then no force should be used. If force is used after the threat has been subdued, then it is labeled as an excessive amount of force regardless of what led up to it.
In conclusion, the necessary steps to be taken in order to solve this issue is to teach rational thinking skills and decision making within police departments. Also the process of hiring police applicants should be more precise. The Philadelphia Police Department requires extensive background checks, medical, and psychological evaluations in order to select their employees.
As this problem becomes more and more prevalent, it is important to understand that this problem is no longer underneath the social spectrum. In order to maintain trust within the community, there must first be trust given from officers that they will do their job accordingly so that they might “protect and serve”.
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