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Police brutality in the United States is defined as extreme and often unlawful use of force against civilians ranging from assault and battery (e.g., beatings) to torture and murder (Police Brutality 2016). While the expression is most often applied to causing physical injury, it is not limited to just that. It is also the psychological harm through the application of intimidation tactics, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and paranoia. In the past, officers who had been involved in police brutality have generally acted with the approval of the legal system. Qualifications being; differences in race, religion, politics, or socioeconomic status sometimes exist between police and citizens.
Today, individuals who engage in police brutality may do so with the approval of their superiors or they may be rogue officers. In either circumstances, they may carry out such actions under appearance of justice and, more often than not, succeed in developing a cover-up for their unlawful activity. Some officers may view the population as a commonly deserving group for such punishment (Police brutality in the United States 2017). In his report, Arnold (2015) stated, “All lives do matter in a utopian society, but in today’s society that doesn’t hold weight when it comes to the epidemic of violence against people of color, especially African-Americans. We have laws to restrain criminals from committing horrific crimes against citizens and we must have specific laws and national policy reform that holds law-enforcement responsible in the same way”. Hundreds of citizens are killed by police annually throughout the United States, yet the exact amount is unknown because the lives lost are not always all accounted for. Due to the restricted information available, African American men are unfortunately the most impacted by officers who use lethal force as a method of detainment. African American women are also at risk of losing their lives to police violence or sexual assault. Police officers are expected to be accountable for upholding the law, as well as respecting and protecting the lives of any and all members of the society. While most agree, their jobs are laborious and often dangerous, there are safer and reasonable measures that could be taken to protect the community. The shooting of not only Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, but countless others across the United States has shed light on racially discriminatory treatment by law enforcement (Deadly Force 2015).
According to Whibey and Kille (2016), “Numerous efforts have been made by members of the law enforcement community to improve these situations, including promising strategies such as “community policing.” Even from a police perspective, working as a law enforcer is a very hazardous job. “America has a relatively higher homicide rate compared to other developed nations, and has many more guns per-capita. Citizens rarely learn of the innumerable incidents where officers elect to hold fire and show restraint under extreme stress”. Even the best trained and most qualified officers will not always be able to draw and fire their weapon faster than that of a ready suspect; this generally constitutes such split-second decisions. As the FBI typically points out, police departments and officers do not always take the best approach in order to diffuse the negative outcomes of such incidents in a respectable and reasonable manner, fueling public confusion and resentment. African Americans and urban police department quarrels originated during the Great Migration (1916–70).
They had moved from the rural South into urban White communities in the North and West. Police departments were not used to seeing Blacks in their community, resulting in hostile attitudes ingrained in racist stereotypes. Many believed that African American men, possessed an inherent tendency toward criminal behavior. Americans of all races, ethnicity, ages, classes, and genders have been subjected to police brutality. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for instance, poor and working-class whites expressed annoyance towards discrimination. Many studies have shown that more often than not, police brutality continues to go unreported. Harassment of homosexuals and transgender persons by police in New York City resulted in the 1969 Stonewall riots, which originally began by a police raid on a gay bar. The protests distinguished the beginning of a new era in the emerging gay rights movement. (Police Brutality 2016).
In the United States, race and accusations of police brutality persist to be closely associated, and the phenomenon has sparked a string of race riots over the years. In April 1999, Attorney General Janet Reno acknowledged in her first major speech on police brutality that “there is a problem.” She stated that “effective policing does not mean abusive policing”. Although the speech acknowledged the problem, she still failed to insist on improvements from officials. With the 2001 September 11 attacks, Muslim Americans began stating concerns with police brutality, due to harassment and racial profiling. The application of stop and frisk tactics by police have increased towards Blacks and Hispanics. In looking at data from New York in the early 2000s up to 2014, people who had committed no offense made up 82% to 90% of those who were stopped and frisked. Of those people stopped, only 9% to 12% were White. In the United States, cases of police brutality has often been left in the hands of internal police commissions and/or district attorneys (DAs). Internal police commissions are often accused of lack of accountability and bias in the officers favor. They usually bring up points stating that the officer(s) had acted in the correct manner regarding the department’s rules and/or training.
An April 2007 study of the Chicago Police Department stated that out of more than 10,000 police abuse complaints filed between the years 2002 and 2003, only 19 (0.19%) resulted in rightful and meaningful disciplinary action. The study shows that the police department allows officers with “criminal tendencies to operate with impunity,” and argues that the Chicago Police Department should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to police itself. Only 19% of large municipal police forces have a civilian complaint review board (CCRB). Law enforcement jurisdictions that have a CCRB have an excessive force complaint rate against their officers of 11.9% verses 6.6% complaint rate for those without a CCRB. Of those forces without a CCRB only 8% of the complaints were sustained.
Thus, for the year 2002, the rate at which police brutality complaints were sustained was 0.53% for the larger police municipalities nationwide. Without a doubt, training for police has grow more standardized and professionalized in modern decades. A 2008 paper in the Northwestern University Law Review contribute beneficial background on the evolving legal and policy history relating to the use of force by police and the “reasonableness” standard by which officers are judged.
Related jurisprudence is still being defined, most recently in the 2007 Scott v. Harris settlement by the U.S. But insufficient data and reporting — and the question of uniformly defining extreme versus justified force — make objective understanding of trends difficult. The Justice Department releases statistics on this and related issues, although these data sets are only periodically updated: It found that in 2008, among people who had contact with police, “an estimated 1.4% had force used or threatened against them during their most recent contact, which was not statistically different from the percentages in 2002 (1.5%) and 2005 (1.6%).” In terms of the volume of citizen complaints, the Justice Department also found that there were 26,556 complaints lodged in 2002; this translates to “33 complaints per agency and 6.6 complaints per 100 full-time sworn officers.” However, “overall rates were higher among large municipal police departments, with 45 complaints per agency, and 9.5 complaints per 100 full-time sworn officers.” In 2011, about 62.9 million people had contact with the police. A key concern in recent cases involving firearms has been the multitude of shots fired by officers. Michael Brown, for example, was shot six times, and Kajieme Powell was shot nine times. The firing of so many shots in an urban surrounding would often be reckless and place bystanders at jeopardy, and indicates an intentional deadly usage of a firearm which under international law and standards may only ever be employed when strictly necessary to protect life.
There are a vast range of “less fatal” weapons and other tools convenient for use in law enforcement which imply less risk of death and injury than that inherent in police use of firearms. However, it should also be recognized that these so-called “less lethal” weapons can also result in serious injury and sometimes death. For instance, at least 540 people in the United States died after being shocked with Tasers from 2001 through 2012. Also, even without the use of weapons, as recent cases have demonstrated, choke holds or other constitution of physical force can also be deadly. As such, any other type of force that implies probability or high risk of death must also be subject to the same strict restrictions and only be allowed for the purpose of preventing death or serious injury. A extensively published report in October 2014 by ProPublica, a leading investigative and data journalism outlet, concluded that juvenile black males are 21 times more probable to be shot by police than their white counterparts: “The 1,217 fatal police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.”. The police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, triggered protests nationally in the days after his death and again months later after a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who killed him. In response to Brown’s death, activists launched a powerful social movement, Black Lives Matter. Two years later the movement led protests in more than 15 major U.S. cities following the killings by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in suburban St. In acts of retaliation against police violence toward African Americans, five white members of the Dallas police department were shot and killed during a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas in July 2016, and three police officers in Baton Rouge were killed by a gunman about 10 days later. One article states that, Many policies have been offered for how to intercept police brutality. One proposed resolution is body worn cameras. The hypothesis, speculation of using body cameras is that police officers will be less probable to commit misconduct if they assume that their actions are being recorded. The United States Department of Justice under Obama’s administration yield $20 million for body cameras to be implemented in police departments. During a case study attempting to test the performance that body cameras had on police actions, researchers found evidence that suggested that police used less force with civilians when they had body cameras. Police are supposed to have the cameras on from the time they receive a call of an incident to when the entire encounter is over. However, there is disputation regarding police using the equipment suitably.
According to a survey done by Vocativ in 2014, “41 cities use body cams on some of their officers, 25 have plans to implement body cams and 30 cities do not use or plan to use cams at this time.” There are other issues that can happen from the use of body cameras as well. This includes downloading and maintenance of the data which can be costly. There is also some worry that if video evidence becomes more relied upon in court cases, not having video evidence from body cameras would diminish the likeliness that the court system believes credible testimony from police officers and witnesses (Police Brutality In The United States).
Most victims of police brutality, including not only African Americans but also whites and other ethnic groups, have come from the ranks of the poor and low-income working classes. They have consequently lacked important political influence or the financial resources that are sometimes necessary to effectively publicize complaints of police brutality. Nevertheless, anti-brutality campaigns have been mounted in nearly every major U.S. city with a sizable black population. In sometimes large demonstrations, members of victimized communities have demanded, in addition to an end to police brutality and accountability for guilty officers, major reforms including the hiring of more African American police officers and the placement of more African American officers in supervisory positions, racially integrated patrols or black-only patrols in African American neighborhoods could help racial controversy in the future (Police Brutality In The United States).
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