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Regardless of where you come from, police brutality is currently the hot topic in media. With countless accusations of police using excessive force making the headlines, it has generated unfavorable views against those in law enforcement. Race is viewed as a driving factor for inciting police to lash out, but it is much more than that.
You may recall the death of Tamir Rice, which didn’t only affect the Cleveland community, but generated a national outcry. Though undoubtedly a tragedy, it was clearly preventable. Racism was cited as the instigator for the incident. While supporters of the officer responsible for the death will deny this, there is one thing for certain; excessive force was used. Officer Timothy Loehmann opened fire within seconds of arriving on the scene. I would attribute this to Loehmann’s lack of training and screening. Not only did he make an incredibly sporadic decision that resulted in the loss of the life of a child, he caused an uproar across the nation, sparking mass criticism of public law enforcement.
As a Clevelander, this topic has struck close to home to the point where I was even a witness to a particular incident. This past Tuesday, I came to the corner of Crocker and Detroit Road to find traffic at a stop. I noticed what seemed to be police attending to a car crash at the corner, but only seconds later, I heard several gunshots. An unarmed man laid motionless on the ground while an officer attempted to usher the traffic away from the scene. I zoned out, I don’t remember the drive home. But what will stick with me is witnessing the death of a man so close to home. Was excessive force used? Possibly. But this shouldn’t be a debate that occurs when there is a law enforcement induced homicide.
Americans should have the peace of mind that their law enforcement is properly trained in handling high pressure situations. Although body camera may help to identify circumstances of police brutality, it can’t reverse the damage that’s already been done. Therefore, it is imperative to prevent instances of excessive force. With something as valuable as human lives on the line, a change needs to be made. When speaking with my friend’s father, a local police chief, I learned that when training new officers, the emphasis on officer safety, is emphasized so heavily that they refer to it as the “first rule of law enforcement”. The notion that every seemingly minor encounter has the potential to turn deadly is drilled into the rookies’ heads. The first thing that needs to be done is to create a clear cut definition for what constitutes an appropriate use of force. Currently, there is no national standard, allowing this to be up to the interpretation of individual police departments. This forces officers to act in a reflexive way, often firing their gun out of fear, even when it is unnecessary. Upon reaching a general definition, police academies can begin implementing training that involves detecting and eliminating officer bias, deescalating deadly situations and taking care when dealing with vulnerable populations such as the mentally ill and individuals who do not understand English.
Besides learning how to deal with violent situations, it is imperative to decrease the number of violent situations in the first place. This can be done through greater police involvement in the community. This concept of community policing involves the police department working collaboratively with citizens. By being loyal to one region, officers can create relationships with their communities, working together to prevent crime rather than to simply fight it. They can also take an active role in the community by becoming involved with issues besides crime fighting, such as educational and political causes. Through a greater emphasis on situational training and prevention, police brutality no longer has to be something that keeps us up at night.
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