Police brutality refers to the acts of misconduct of police officers on civilians (Weitzer, 2002). The acts of misconduct may include racial profiling, false arrest, political repression, sexual abuse, surveillance abuse or a combination of these acts (Lawrence, 2000). These are illegal acts but usually performed under pretence of law enforcement. It has been existing since time immemorial though varied in levels for different countries and places. But what can cause police brutality? What can make the police who are meant to protect civilians against harm to turn out to harm the very people they are supposed to protect? Who are the major players in police brutality cases? How best can the problem be addressed? This exploratory essay seeks to explore police brutality.
The main actors in police brutality are the police themselves. They have clear guidelines on how to deal with situations that they come across. Both the civilians and the police know very well that the police should follow the use of force continuum. This is a scale that indicates the level of force to be used depending on the situation in order to help the police officers keep the country safe and protect the rights of the citizens. There are situations where mere presence of the police can restore calmness. There are situations that would demand verbalization from the use of normal talking tones to commanding police orders. It continues to increase to empty hand control, less lethal force and to lethal force.
There are situations when police come into the scene and start to club people indiscriminately even without exploring the other options which are less harmful to the civilian. For example, a report from Ohio indicated that handcuffed teenagers are beaten, unarmed people are shot in their cars, police officers firing guns carelessly in busy streets, mentally ill patients are treated with cruelty yet the supervisors are refusing to acknowledge that there is police brutality, leave alone trying to improve the situation. What then should the supervisors consider as police brutality?
Certain situations are beyond comparison. For example, on November 22nd 2013 a twelve year old African American boy was wielding a toy gun and playing in the field with others was shot dead by the police. The Director of Justice of the USA department of Justice has conducted investigations and revealed that police brutality is not only a reality but a major problem that needs to be dealt with. But who will change the attitude of the police? Who will reverse their cruel tactics? Who will let the police know that restraint and accountability always protect the police as well as civilians? The supervisors are hands off, and have failed to realize how important this aspect is.
The so much talked about racial discrimination has been seen in the way white police deal with the African Americans or the black race in general has raised more questions than answers. In 2015, 102 un armed black people were killed by the police. Even though the population of the blacks is only 13%, the number of black people killed by the police was 37% of the total unarmed people killed by the police. Of the 102 unarmed people killed by the police, only 10 cases had the responsible officers charged in courts and only 2 cases resulted to convictions of the involved officers (Williams, 2015).
The above statistics indicate that the actors in the police brutality cases extend from the police, to supervisors and to the department of justice. But why should they be more careless on the black people? Are all the officers involved in these acts white or are some of them black? Why should there be such as open discrimination when equality should be exercised among the citizens? There are many cases of police bruitality that go unreported and the officers involved in the crime remain in the service to cause more trouble to the citizens. Is there anything that can be done to restore order in the police force to help them realize that every citizen has the right to protection and freedom and a right to life?
Police brutality has been fought since time immemorial. Martin Luther is reported to have said this “that the law cannot make you love me but it can prevent someone from lynching me”. He reiterated that he was looking forward to a day when the police will work for the good of the white and the black in the same way and protect them equally. Sadly enough, two years later after saying these words, he was killed by a bullet. Human rights groups have been in the fore front of fighting police brutality but the problem still persists. Who then will rescue the people from the problem of police brutality?
Are there countries where there is no police brutality? Are there places where the police stick to their use of force continuum? Is it possible for the police to conduct their duties and enforce the law without causing unnecessary harm to the civilians. There are various laws and policies that protect the civilians from excessive use of force by the police virtually in all countries. But why are the regulations so ineffective in America?
In Britain and Canada, there is very low police brutality. In Canada for example, from 1999 t0 2009 a period of 10 years, only 12 cases of use of fire am by the police was reported. In Britain they were 51 cases for a period of 10 years between 2003 and 2013. In Japan, it was reported that police hardly use their firearms and the last time this happened was in 2012 (Sera, 2015). This is due to the rigorous training that the police officers under go. They are trained on how to explore alternatives to pulling the trigger. As a result, there is hardly any brutality reported since the use of guns or lethal force comes in when all the other options have failed. Now that there are countries which have successfully reduced or managed police bruitality, are these examples worth emulating? Can the USA department of justice and the department of homeland security ensure that police bruitality is reduced t zero?
The main question that will go unanswered here is whether the US government lacks the resources to conduct training for the police officers or there is some other aspects to brutality other than training. The police officers undergo very rigorous training and have the alternative means of dealing with crime other than just shooting suspected criminals who turn out to be very innocent civilians. Why do the police officers deliberately ignore the alternatives if they are at their disposal? Why are they trigger happy? What could be the driving force towards police brutality? Why has the department of justice failed to deal with the issue successfully?
There are various factors contributing to police brutality in the USA. The complex racial structure and the gun ownership policies. There are racial tensions that constantly emerge among the Americans. The African Americans, the Hispanics, the Whites all look at each other with suspicion and tension. This has escalated the police brutality. Guns in America are highly ubiquitous. It is like everyone has a gun. So for the police officers to execute their duties effectively with restraint becomes difficult. Mere suspicion that someone has a gun can make them shoot first because if given opportunity whoever pulls the trigger first is the winner where guns are involved. It is therefore necessary to look at all the aspects of police brutality including the gun ownership policies.
Police brutality is a major subject in the current campaign in the US presidential race. The citizens are keen to know what the candidates are planning to do to end police brutality. Each of the candidates have different opinion on the subject. How much this will influence the voting pattern only remains to be seen after the election date. With all the previous administrators, there had been challenges in dealing with police brutality especially racial profiling and indiscriminate shooting of the blacks.
In conclusion, police brutality remains a controversial issue in many countries. Various administrators have denied the prevalence of police brutality. Studies and reports have indicated that there is too much police brutality. The legal justice system also seems to be undermined by the fact that the civilians who have been brutally handled by the police have not got justice. The police involved in the brutal activities are not being charged as should be the case. Combating police brutality requires proper legislation, functional follow up, community involvement and political good will to end the inhumane practice that is undermining human dignity.
Sera Miller (2015). In Many Countries, Police Rarely Use Their Guns. Here’s Why http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/many-countries-police-rarely-use-their-guns-heres-why
Weitzer, R. (2002). Incidents of police misconduct and public opinion. Journal of criminal justice, 30(5), 397-408.
Lawrence, R. G. (2000). The politics of force: Media and the construction of police brutality. Univ of California Press.
Williams, K. (2015). Our enemies in blue: Police and power in America. AK Press.