Police Brutality in America

Introduction

Legally, police officers have the mandate to use force to maintain law and order. However, the proportion of power used in the execution of their duties is subjective. When law enforcement officers use excessive force, the law does not protect them. Furthermore, it is difficult to justify the actions of police officers who use such power on unarmed people. Police brutality in the United States (US) is one of the oldest forms of police misconduct directed at specific populations. This paper discusses police brutality as a societal problem in America and draws attention to the need to address it through increased accountability from law enforcement officers.

Why Was This Topic Selected?

Police brutality is investigated in this paper because it is one of America’s most complex issues. It has also perennially existed in the country’s criminal justice system without any long-term solution (Kirk, 2014). Today, law enforcement officers continue to sustain the vice, even as public resentment and opposition towards it mount. The justification for selecting this topic stems from the need to uphold the principles of freedom and justice in America. Indeed, it is unsustainable for the US to perpetuate injustices to its citizens, while it boasts of being the world’s greatest nation. As the awareness of black lives continues to increase and garner global attention through movements such as “black lives matter,” it is becoming increasingly incumbent on leaders and the public to confront it. Indeed, it is wrong for generations of young black men to be growing up fearing the police, while at the same time, they should be looking up to them for protection. Based on these assertions, the selection of this topic is a product of the idea that law enforcement officers should uphold civility and humanity as guiding principles of a moral and just society.

How Is This Topic Relevant to Society?

The importance of understanding police brutality as a nagging social issue rests on the possibility that the failure to confront it would lead to divisions in America. Concisely, if it continues unabated and unaddressed, incidences of violence that are motivated by anger and public confrontations could increase and cause social instability (The Grio, 2016). Cases of people “acting out” could also double.

What Have Previous Researchers said About the Topic?

Many researchers who have investigated police brutality as an issue of research in America have highlighted the civil rights movement of the 1960s as a watershed moment where the topic gained public attention (Kirk, 2014). They said police brutality stemmed from the blatant abuse of force by law enforcement officers and the oppression of minority communities in America (Kirk, 2014). Although researchers mentioned the use of police dogs and fire hoses against protestors and people who advocated for equal rights as examples of police brutality in the civil rights era, violent policing of African-American communities in local neighborhoods appears to have done the real damage to police-civilian relations. The problem has been simmering over the years until now when the media has refocused on the issue at national and international levels (Osunsami & Knox, 2017).

What Have Current Researchers said About This Topic?

Current researchers have drawn our attention to the complicated nature of police brutality as a social and political problem in America. Broader assessments of their findings have shown an association of the topic with various social issues such as anti-war demonstrations and the global war on drugs (Kirk, 2014). Although many of them have adopted a general approach to assessing the topic, they say the American context of police brutality has mainly been racially motivated. The section below outlines some essential statistics that explain this fact.

Statistical Information

It is difficult to establish the extent of police brutality in America because many cases of the same are unreported. A 2006 article from the US Department of Justice showed that Americans reported more than 26,000 cases of the abuse annually, and up to 2,000 of them had merit (Vox, 2017). The police attributed most of these cases (59%) to the excessive use of force by the police, while about 5% of them stemmed from aggressive policies adopted by law enforcement agencies (Vox, 2017). The statistics on police brutality are firmly entrenched in America’s history because a 1982 study sanctioned by the Federal government found that 13% of the respondents had a complaint to make about the police (Vox, 2017). Additionally, only 30% of the victims chose to report it (Vox, 2017).

Many recent statistics on police brutality cases seem to target racial minorities in the US. According to Vox (2017), African-Americans are three times more likely to be killed by a police bullet compared to their white counterparts. Other reports show that African-Americans account for 30% of victims of police brutality, although they only represent 10% of the population (Kirk, 2014). Some of these cases of police brutality stem from simple situations, such as routine traffic stops and jaywalking, as was the case of the late American hip-hop rapper, Tupac Shakur, who was beaten by police officers in 1991 for this crime (2Pac Legacy, 1991). In another incident, police officers shot at three unarmed African-American men and killed them after they were departing from a wedding party in an event where the officers claimed the men were “talking about guns” (Borger, 2006). The case of Philando Castile, which happened in 2017 after police officers shot and killed him because they thought he was reaching for a gun during a routine traffic stop, is also a grim reminder of the racial narrative that underlies police brutality in America (Croft, 2017).

How Is This Topic Problematic for Society?

Although African-Americans form the most substantial number of victims of police brutality in the US, the problem is bigger than the current racial narrative presented in most studies that highlight the issue. Police brutality is mostly an American issue and not necessarily a “black” one because it highlights the weaknesses of the country’s criminal justice system, which could affect any person. Outdated police training methods and poor accountability standards are a few challenges associated with the country’s criminal justice system that need to be reexamined. The issue is more profound today than in the past because it highlights the heavily policed nature of America in modern society. There are also too many officers on the streets, and most of them are given the legal authority to act (shoot) almost impulsively when they detect a threat to their lives. The danger associated with police work also exacerbates the problem because it creates a sense of fear among officers, which prompts them to “respond” quickly, or else they may die. The issue is also problematic for society because there is inadequate accountability required from the officers, thereby making everybody vulnerable to their overtures.

What Is the History of This Topic?

As highlighted in this paper, police brutality is an old topic in America. In the context of minorities, police brutality was more profound during the civil rights era of the 1960s than it is today (Kirk, 2014). At the time, the state perpetrated the abuse with the implicit approval of some senior officers in the criminal justice system (Kirk, 2014). During this period, police brutality happened under the “color of law” principle, and it involved law enforcement officers using excessive force on protesters who were agitating for equal rights. Indeed, at the time, the officers beat people, hosed them down on the street using water cannons, and allowed dogs to maul them. While the intensity of police brutality may have declined over the years, the problem persists, as is explained in the section below.

What Is Currently Going On with This Issue?

Police brutality today has taken a racial twist where law enforcement officers use excessive force unjustifiably. This metamorphosis is different from the civil rights era, where people were agitating for equal rights. Today, there is no real driver for increased cases of police brutality meted against innocent civilians. People are still being shot and killed in incidences that could have easily been solved using alternative means of dispute resolution, such as arrests and charging offenders in the courts. There is also an attempt by law enforcement officials to cover up crimes committed by the police and to change the narratives surrounding cases that meet the threshold of brutality. For example, there was an attempt to cover-up the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in St. Louis and mischaracterize the victim (Osunsami & Knox, 2017). Indeed, as highlighted by Osunsami and Knox (2017), the state tried to change the narrative of the incident by portraying the victim as a violent criminal, although there were videos that disproved this theory. The example above supports the view that today’s cases of police brutality fit the narrative of racial profiling. This assertion contrasts with past instances of police brutality, where the suppression of people’s quest for equal rights defined them.

How Has Society Responded In the Past to This Issue?

In the past, people responded to police brutality differently. Nonviolence was one strategy supported by Martin Luther King and his followers during the civil rights era (Kirk, 2014). He often encouraged his followers not to respond to violence with the same intensity. Instead, he wanted his people to refrain from confrontations as a way of voicing their concerns. Other leaders within the African-American community were not receptive to this message and instead advocated for the use of force. Some civil rights leaders, such as Malcolm X, supported such a strategy (Kirk, 2014). In the 1990s, African-American rappers also addressed the issue in their songs to draw attention to it. Tupac was one of the most celebrated rappers to have had an impact this way (2Pac Legacy, 1991).

How Is Society Currently Responding to This Issue?

Society has responded to cases of police brutality by organizing demonstrations and peaceful marches across different cities in America. The protests have primarily been designed to end police brutality. The “black lives matter” movement highlighted in this paper is one such response, and it is a people-led reaction to the issue. The message is still the same – agitation for an end to police brutality. Some people have also chosen to be violent towards the police because they believe that people should treat the police the same way they do their victims. Others have vowed to pursue justice individually, as is the case of the mother of a veteran who was a victim of police brutality when they shot him more than 30 times (The Grio, 2016). Overall, there are minimal differences between how people responded to police brutality in the past and now. For example, peaceful marches and protests were frequent in the old days, as they are in the new. Such is the depth of police brutality as a social problem because although a lot of time may have passed, little seems to have changed.

How Has This Issue Affected Our Society Economically, Socially, and Politically?

In the past, incidences of police brutality had a significant impact on the American society. Politically, lawmakers made an effort to increase the accountability standards of officers in the course of executing their duties. For example, in some jurisdictions, politicians made laws to mandate police officers to have body cameras that document their actions. The footage collected from such equipment could amount to evidence against them in cases that involved the use of excess force. During the civil rights era, cases of police brutality also led to the advancement of minority rights (Kirk, 2014).

Economically, violent clashes between the police and protestors affected businesses. Some of them suffered property damage because of looting as demonstrators burnt shops in instances where the confrontations were violent (Kirk, 2014). Socially, police brutality had a significant impact on race relations in America because it bred hatred and resentment in some communities. Mistrust between police and civilians also intensified.

How Is This Issue Affecting Our Society Economically, Socially and Politically?

As highlighted in this report, police brutality has had multiple effects on the society. Today, it has morphed into a campaign issue in most jurisdictions, depending on which position one chooses to debate the problem. The matter has escalated to the presidency of the US where the current President, Donald Trump, and the former President, Barrack Obama, have had to comment on the issue in different forums. Stakeholders have also started discussing the need to change American laws that touch on the subject and reexamine the importance of changing the culture of the police that makes them unaccountable for their actions (Kirk, 2014). Economically, police brutality has also had a significant impact on America with many businesses suffering damages and losses due to violent demonstrations around the country. Socially, police brutality has caused divisions among people who oppose it and those who either support or seem to be indifferent about it.

Conclusion

This paper has shown that police brutality is a severe problem in America. It has had several social, political and economic implications for the society. People should not ignore the issue because it is a symptom of a broader problem in the country – its broken criminal justice system. An analysis of the history of police brutality in America reveals that not much has changed in how the police interact with racial minorities in America. Therefore, the problems that characterized how police associated with African-Americans during the civil rights era are the same ones we witness today.

Recommendations

There needs to be a concerted effort by all stakeholders who could make a difference in stopping police brutality to convene and push for crucial legislative changes that could hold officers accountable for their actions. It is also essential to dismantle the “culture of protection” that is still prevalent in the police service. Instead, officers should nurture a new culture of accountability. Such actions outline the best way to manage the crisis.

References

Borger, J. (2006). New York on edge as police kill unarmed man in hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day. The Guardian. Web.

Croft, J. (2017). Philando Castile shooting: Dashcam video shows rapid event. Web.

The Grio. (2016). Mother of Navy vet shot at 30 times by police begs for justice. Web.

Kirk, J. (2014). Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. New York, NY: Routledge.

Osunsami, S., & Knox, M. (2017). Surveillance video may shed light on Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown. Web.

2Pac Legacy. (1991). Tupac was brutally assaulted by police officers.

Vox. (2017). There are huge racial disparities in how US police use force. Web.