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A History of Police Violence in America

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What is police brutality? Police brutality is an act of misconduct done by a member law enforcement through the use of an extreme amount of force to physically, mentally, or emotionally attack a member of society. Many law enforcement officers, those sworn to protect and serve, have abused their rights and authority to ferociously assault and manipulate citizens, even if they were innocent. Citizens who have been attacked have been left with physical and emotional scars that can never go away; in some cases, it has even caused death. When is it okay for police to use deadly force? In the 1980s, a pair of Supreme Court decisions Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor set up a framework for determining when deadly force by cops is reasonable. The key to both the legal standards defense of life and fleeing a violent felony is that it doesn’t matter whether there is an actual threat when force is used. Instead, what matters is the officer’s ‘objectively reasonable’ belief that there is a threat. Do social factors influence police brutality to increase in different social groups? It is found that most cases when police officers are using unnecessary force is when the suspect or victim is unarmed. 

Police officers are more likely to kill or harm unarmed blacks or hispanics than whites. The fact remains that racial profiling began long ago before the excessive interaction seen on highways and city streets alike where minorities are principally stopped. This country has a history of profiling minorities from the inhuman enslavement of millions of Africans during the institutionalization of slavery to the unlawful imprisonment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II minorities around the country have consistently been the targets of racial profiling. The problem is far deeper than just black and white its roots lie at the economic, social, and political disparities that Anglo-Americans enjoy over minorities in this country. These disparities are a result of a system based on class status and monetary gain two attributes enjoyed far more widely by the mainstream population than minorities (statistics about economic disparities b/ blacks and whites).Unfortunately the same law enforcement officers that are paid with the money taken out of the checks of hardworking blue-collar workers are racially profiling the same people they are paid to protect. Virtually at any point in time people can be stopped, harassed, or inconvenienced simply because they fit the profile of a certain class of racially stigmatized people.

Police brutality has been an issue for a long time it has been an issue beginning from 1877 when the Great Railroad Strike took place. Continuing on the Pullman Strike of 1894. Police men would use their power and violently beat striking laborers. The factor which was causing this police violence was social class. Strikers were protesting for their wages and in return getting physically harmed for it by police officers. Slavery can even be accounted for as a form of police brutality. Police brutality has been around for a very long time but just in different ways. It is all a matter of people with power exploiting and taking advantage of people with lower power. After the Civil War, in cities like and example is in Philadelphia, white policemen were so afraid of Blacks getting any sort of political power so they viciously beat and intimidated blacks from going to polls. The same thing took place in New York and Boston. 

Police officers would blend together with the klu Klux Klan with a goal of creating racial terror. They did not want Blacks to prosper in any way. An example of this would be In Solcum, Texas(1910) people were so afraid of Black takeover that even the government and local court were approving the killing of Black people in town. This was all done after slavery. Even things like internment camps were early signs of police brutality. Japanese Canadians were kept under horrible living conditions in internment camps and treated brutally by police officers. As Malcolm X said, ‘You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has freedom.’

President Barack Obama once said, ”Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” The conflict between people of color and the police that work in their neighborhoods is not new. However, in recent years, it has been gaining media attention and has been a source of angst for those on both sides of the conflict. The tears cried by the wife or husband of a police officer killed in the line of duty sting as much as those cried by the spouse of a victim of racial profiling who was killed when he failed to put up his hands quickly enough after being told to exit his car. It is only through the collection of accurate data, through insightful leadership, and through understanding that this troubling problem can be effectively solved.

Eric Garner, a 43-year old New York black man died on July 17, 2014, after he was held in a chokehold by police. Garner, who had asthma had cried out ”I can’t breathe” after police piled up on top of him during the confrontation. Garner had been stopped several times for possibly selling untaxed cigarettes and was both a father and grandfather. There is a video that was taken by a bystander that has circulated around the Internet which helped to ignite the subsequent ”I can’t breathe” protests. The video which is tragic to watch clearly shows Garner’s great frustration and pain at being stopped by the police yet another time. Garner’s death was finally ruled a homicide by the medical examiner and the city of New York settled the lawsuit that followed for 5.9 million dollars but the officers involved were not prosecuted. Less than a month after Eric Garner’s death Michael Brown, a black teenager was killed on August 9, 2014, by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident began when Brown was seen on a surveillance video stealing some cigarillos from a convenience store. Brown was stopped by Wilson on the road, and the stories of what happened after that from different witnesses vary a lot. Officer Wilson claimed that Brown charged at him so he fired killing the boy. Officer Wilson was not indicted in the incident which set off even more protests.

There are many earlier similar cases of people of color being killed by white police officers but these two incidents created a public outcry and a demand that something be done. Accurate data on the issue of racism in police brutality was discovered by many concerned groups to be scarce and unreliable. To address this issue the Death in Custody Reporting Act was passed in December of 2014. This act also called the ”Ferguson Bill” requires states to give an annual report to the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicating how many people die during an arrest or while in police custody. However there are groups of concerned citizens who have in the meantime compiled data on their own because they believe it will take years for this kind of data to be collected by the states under the new law and also because many police departments may not be fully compliant.

Due to the actions that are not being taken to put a stop to this brutality, citizens begin riots, releasing their anger toward the government. Justice isn’t being served and that surely baffles me and any other person who is against this criminal act done by those who are supposed to stop it. The effects that police brutality leave on their victims is paranoia and the feeling of not being safe due to those are supposed to protect from the danger are the ones causing danger. Cops try getting away with it, try to hide evidence, don’t tell the whole story just to protect themselves and make us think about how well the system is and if it really is just. You can forget about justice when police, government agents, who are supposed to protect us “assault, kill, harass, and discriminate” the community. Their actions frighten us which make us feel antithetical to what we are supposed to feel when a police officer is around. That is why in some cases where the victim was at gunpoint, they were afraid to act or make a sudden move thinking they were going to be shot. Hearing the real life stories about these types of cases fill us with fear and uncertainty to trust a police officer.

Community policing is a policy and a strategy aimed at achieving more effective and efficient crime control reduced fear of crime improved quality of life improved police services and police legitimacy through a proactive reliance on community resources that seeks to change crime causing conditions. This assumes a need for greater accountability of police, greater public share in decision-making and greater concern for civil rights and liberties. The key characteristics of community policing are Police officers are usually called upon to be particularly thoughtful creative problem solvers. They are asked to listen to the concerns of community members, to logically reason out the roots of problems, to identify and prevent more crimes from happening. They also of course respond to dispatch calls of crimes in progress. Crime prevention is achieved through mere police presence. 

Negative interaction between the community and police is generally the norm. In communities policing, on the other hand police officers are typically assigned to specific geographic areas in their jurisdiction and establish ties with the various community groups. These groups may include ministerial (church) associations, neighborhood associations, youth groups, etc. The idea is that when police are involved with the community they are not viewed as outsiders who are there simply to enforce the law. Crime prevention is achieved through positive interaction with police and the community. The goals of community policing are to reduce crime and disorder promote citizens quality of life in communities, reduce fear of crime, and improve police citizen relations. These goals are achieved through three essential efforts community engagement, problem solving, and organizational transformation. In other words the police are the public and the public are the police. The community policing model has been translated into a number of policy initiatives.

In recent years police actions particularly police abuse has come into view of a wide public and critical eye. While citizens worry about protecting themselves from criminals it has now been shown that they must also keep a watchful eye on those who are supposed to protect and serve. This paper will discuss the types of police abuse prevalent today including the use of firearms and receipt of private information. I will also discuss what and how citizens rights are taken advantage of by police. For these problems solutions will be discussed focusing on political reform, education, and citizen review boards. These measures are necessary to protect ourselves from police taking advantage of their positions as law enforcement officers with greater permissive rights than private citizens. Because of this significant differential all citizens must take affirmative action from physical brutality, rights violations, and information abuse. Problems arise however when one side is told what to do by another as there is bound to be conflicting viewpoints. In regard to police abuse there will be many officers who feel that their job of fighting escalating street crime, gangs, narcotics violations, and other violent crimes is difficult already and that worrying about excessive policy for abusive behavior will only further decrease their ability to fight crime effectively, efficiently, and safely. 

Citizens however have been caught up in this gung-ho attitude and police are more and more often crossing the line of investigation and interrogation with abusive behavior. In the article “ On the Epidemic of Police Killings” by Steve Martinot, it seeks to clarify conceptually the common structure uniting many of the incidents in the recent crescendo of police killings of people of color going beyond their shared racist framework. In tandem with the “new Jim Crow” that Michelle Alexander describes these killings pertain to the role of the police as the selection mechanism enforcing a new color line. Martinot focuses on the killings of Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford, Trayvon Martin, and Troy Davis. When connected by their common threads these killings reveal aspects of the cultural structure of racialization in the United States. The article concludes by looking at the politico legal goal of this epidemic of killings. Minority civilians are being murdered at the hands of law enforcement.There are several ways by which we can contribute towards achieving health equity improving the wellbeing of communities of color increasing national productivity and creating a more equitable society. First, Join scholars to advocate for documenting police related deaths as notifiable conditions so that public health departments can monitor these deaths. Second,Support calls for more collaboration and partnerships among communities, researchers, policymakers and law enforcement systems. 

Third, Learn about how structural racism and white supremacy operate within institutions policies and laws. Fourth, Regardless of your field of work evaluate whether policies, laws, requirements, guidelines, etc., have unintentional negative consequences for people of color. Similarly, evaluate whether they disproportionately benefit white people and think of ways to level the playing field. Fifth, Advocate for and support criminal justice reform demilitarization of police and decriminalization of behaviors such as loitering and minor traffic violations and ending stop-and-frisk. Sixth, Support movements like Black Lives Matter that raise awareness of police brutality, and help expose and dismantle structural racism. Seventh, Remember the names the people killed. Ex:Her name was Skyler Edwards. She was 15. He was leaving a house party. Tomorrow his story may be replaced in the news by a new victim but just remember his name. To fight police abuse effectively we must have realistic expectations. We must not expect too much of any one remedy because no single remedy will cure the problem. A ‘mix’ of reforms is required. And even after citizen action has won reforms we as a community must keep the pressure on through monitoring and oversight to ensure that the reforms are actually implemented.


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