Police Brutality – Misconduct and Shootings

Abstract

In the United States, Police brutality has been a source of concern for many years. Police officers have been known to use excessive and unnecessary force on innocent and unarmed civilians. There have been numerous instances of police officers killing civilians when such force was unwarranted. It is important to look at how police brutality affects the community as well as fellow police officers. There are a number of measures that should be taken to stop this menace. The police should be the ones protecting the community but as it has turned out, they have become part of the problem. There has been a loss of trust from the public which affects the police’s ability to do their job. Addressing the issue and getting rid of it altogether is important as it will lead to a new phase of police-community relationship. For example, better training for the police, harsh punishments to those found guilty of brutality and a complete overhaul of the system will be an excellent place to start.

Police Brutality

Police brutality has been a major issue in the American society as it sees people who are meant to serve and protect the citizens use their power to harm them. Police brutality became a widespread issue in the 1960’s during the civil rights movement. As African-American activists led protests throughout the country, it resulted in riots all over which were met by fierce resistance by the police officers. Various police departments authorized the use of excessive force, live bullets, police dogs, tear gas and water hoses to attack the protestors. It only led to heightened tensions between the two factions of society as many people became wary of police officers as a slow hatred began to brew between the African-American community and the police departments. It is not based on unfounded claims as many citizens were unlawfully killed during this period due to the excessive force wielded by the officers. It was believed that the increased number of protests encouraged by the civil rights movement was harmful and dangerous to the society and the police treated them as such (Perry, 2017). Even after the civil rights movement ended, the police brutality on innocent and unarmed civilians has been ongoing up to the present time.

It is wrong for police officers to cause harm to civilians while they pose no threat. There have been many cases of African-American individuals, mostly men, being unlawfully attacked by police officers. Instances of normal traffic stops turning to murder scenes have become too regular. A driver obliges to the police officer’s request to pull over, but then things go south for whatever reason, leaving someone hurt or worse, killed. It was the case on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston, South Carolina where Walter Scott was fatally shot by Michael Sager after a routine traffic stop (Shiller, 2016). The police officer stopped Mr. Scott for a non-functioning brake light. The dashcam video from officer Sager’s car shows that Walter Scott fled after the police officer returned to his car for some reason. It led to a foot chase which resulted in a physical altercation at a nearby pawn shop. The officer fired his taser gun at Scott which did not immobilize him, so he opted to use his firearm. Autopsy results reveal that Walter Scott was shot a total of five times with the fatal shot going through his back, heart, and lungs. In this incident, Walter Scott tried to flee the scene and got involved in an altercation with the officer. However, an eyewitness recorded the event on his phone stating that officer Sager had the situation under control and there was no need for him shooting at Walter Scott.

Another similar incident occurred in Falcon Heights, Minnesota where police officer Jeronimo Yenez pulled over Philando Castile who was driving in the company of his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter. While officer Yenez approached the driver’s window and requested for Mr. Castile’s license and registration, the driver disclosed that he had a firearm just so that the officer knew in case he was to search the car. On hearing that, the officer started acting as though Mr. Castile was reaching for his weapon although his girlfriend who was seated on the passenger seat stated that he was not doing it. Officer Yenez shot Philando Castile seven times (Nascimento, 2017). The victim unable to survive his gunshot wounds died in the Hennepin County Medical Center twenty minutes after the incident. Officer Yenez was tried for his Second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm and was found not guilty on all charges on June 16, 2017.

The final incident that will be reviewed will be the recent case of Botham Jean. While in his apartment, he was fatally shot by Officer Amber Guyger who for some reason thought it was her apartment. She stated in her affidavit that she entered the unlocked apartment thinking it was hers even though it was on a different floor. As it was dark, she saw a large silhouette and assumed that she was being robbed. She then drew her weapon and gave commands to Mr.’ Jean which she states were ignored resulting in her shooting twice hitting the man in the torso. It is baffling to think that anyone would mistake their apartment more so a police officer. The fact that she fired her weapon without switching on the lights to have an idea on what was going on highlights negligence on her part. Such incidents support claims made by many that our police departments have trigger-happy officers (Black, 2017). The number of individuals who have been killed or harmed in similar situations is shocking.

Incidents of police brutality rarely result in the assaulting officer ending up in jail even though what they did deserved it. It has led to police officers getting a sense of being untouchable by the law. When they see their partners and fellow officers being acquitted of killing someone with no just cause, they may start to think that they can get away with similar actions. The police departments across the country are facing serious backlash from a section of the population. African-Americans have been the most affected by police brutality and have started movements such as Black Lives Matter which seek to bring awareness to the issue of police brutality in their community.

Activists and citizens alike are shocked at how cases of police brutality have become too common with no real repercussions to the perpetrators. It goes against what society dictates in terms of the police and citizens relationship. People have become more afraid of the police which is bad since it limits how they will interact with them. For a long period, the police and the African-American community have had a strained relationship in terms of passing on information that might be important in solving a crime. But as time goes, the police are not helping themselves with how they handle the cases of rogue police officers. In the eyes of the public, it seems like the police often try to protect their own regardless of what they do. It leads to distrust among the public as well as amongst themselves. People are less likely to try and help the same institution that has led to many people in their community being killed.

It goes without saying that the police need information from the citizens in their cases. As much as they might have closed circuit television (CCTV) footage from crime scenes, eyewitnesses on the ground are usually the key to solving a crime. A person is likely to identify the criminal, say what transpired before, during and after the crime which might be the key to the whole case. However, with all these cases of police brutality, it is hard for citizens to be willful cooperators to the police. It is common to hear about police officers going to African-American neighborhoods to look for information, and no one opens their door for them. There have been instances of police officers forcing their way into a person’s house and attacking them or even planting false evidence. Coupled with how African-American citizens are usually a target by the police, no one, rightfully so, would like to put themselves in a position where they might become another victim.

All this tends to result in higher crime rates in these neighborhoods with the residents mainly knowing who is responsible but will not reveal to the police since they are seen as their sworn enemy. It is the reason why it is hard to effectively tackle the high crime rates in such areas since there is no relationship between the two parties. As a result, criminals tend to walk away scot-free even if they are in the custody of the police since no one will cooperate with them and identify them as a criminal. Additionally, police officers tend to become targets of some criminals for a number of reasons. Some might want to get revenge for what happened to them or someone they know. Others might want to become heroes in their cliques and community as the person who attacked or killed a police officer. It all stems from the police brutality that has affected many people across different generations. It tends to lead to people being taught that police officers are not their friends but rather their adversaries which creates a situation that did not need to exist in the first place.

Not every police officer is guilty of police brutality. As a matter of fact, only a small portion of the police force engages in such unlawful activities. However, the few that engage in brutality have affected the others immensely. It only takes a few to ruin the reputation of the collective. It should be noted that even though only a small portion of the police force use excessive force on citizens or engage in racial profiling against African-Americans, they have created a situation where people have a terrible perception towards the police officers. Most of the officers joined the police force with good intentions to serve the community and stop crime. But there are others that have a different agenda that affects the rest of the department through negative publicity. It only takes a few rogue officers to ruin the trust and relationship that is supposed to exist between the public and the police. It cannot surprise many if police officers know of some in their department are guilty of brutality towards civilians. Sometimes some individuals protect their partners if they find them in such a situation which only leads to the problem growing.

The police force is open to anyone joining their ranks which results in a very diverse institution. Since most of the police brutality is against African-American citizens, it is not farfetched to assume that there are people in the police force that are angered by it. Seeing people in your community being affected by the institution you are a part of is bound to affect some officers. It might result in some quitting the force since they do not want to be associated with such activities. Others might refuse to be partnered up with some officers who they think turn a blind eye to others attacking innocent civilians. However, there are cases where new officers are paired with seasoned officers who the automatically respect or obey. In such a case, if they witness them doing something that goes against what they are supposed to do, they will rarely confront or report them over the incident. It leads to the culture of sympathizing and turning a blind eye to the perpetrators of brutality in the police force. They will then become accustomed to it, and their conscience becomes numb to right and wrong.

The other damage done to fellow police officers is that they lose trust in one another. It is a dangerous thing if people in the same institution work together but do not trust each other. When a police officer calls for additional support having encountered a problem with a suspect, there will be others who will not be entirely convinced by them which is quite significant. Such an issue will start to manifest itself until it reaches a point where there will be a clear divide in the police force if there is not one already. It is an undesirable prospect since if the organization that is supposed to work together to protect the citizens is stifled with different factions who do not trust each other and are unwilling to work together, it will cripple the society. Criminals will become more confident and can use the excuse of police brutality on them, or false evidence was planted if there were no witnesses on the scene. It is imperative that the police find measures to address police brutality before it cripples the institution.

The first measure that can be taken to deal with police brutality is come up with strict punishment for rogue police officers. The lawmakers should pass laws that ensure officers found guilty of excessive use of force, misuse of power and attacking civilians without reason are arrested and handed lengthy jail terms. It will look to discourage those that try to misuse their position to inflict suffering on others. Firing police officers after they are found guilty of killing unarmed individuals as is common nowadays is not enough. Unlawful killing should be punished by life imprisonment if the death penalty does not apply in that state. It will make officers think twice before doing anything that is not written in their guidelines on how to interact with civilians. Police officers are given the power to protect the community, and if they turn out to be the ones hurting civilians, they should face the harshest punishment possible.

Another measure that can be taken is reviewing the system and culture in the institution and changing it. Since police brutality has been a part of the police institution for almost six decades, it is evident that there is something wrong with the system. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the old hierarchy and a new one brought in. Special emphasis should be put on coming up with new training methods that focus on how interaction with civilians whether suspected criminals or random traffic stops. A new protocol should be introduced such as body cameras on every on-duty police officer (Culhane, Boman IV & Schweitzer, 2016). It will be aimed at ending police brutality altogether. Since the only videos available of such incidents are blurry dashcam recordings and distant eyewitness videos, body cameras will give a clear indication on any incident. Additionally, penalties should be introduced to any officer who turns off their camera while on duty since it might be a sign that they intend on doing something that no one should see.

The final measure is to find ways to improve the relationship between the police and civilians mainly in the African-American community. It will be a tough thing to sell considering the history between these two parties. However, small actions such as being more respectful of any civilian under interrogation, working on removing any racial bias within the police force as well as improving the security in African-American neighborhoods. If people see that there has been an improvement in how the police conduct themselves and they are actively doing their job to stop crime, they will start coming around. Fewer people will be unwilling to open up their doors for questioning on any suspected criminal activities in their area.

In conclusion, it is a well-documented fact that police brutality has been a part of the police institution since the 1960’s. It is shocking that almost six decades later, people are still complaining of the same issues that were there in the past. It has resulted in poor relationships between some communities and the police force as well as damaging the trust between fellow police officers. There are a number of measures that should be taken to address the situation. Working on better training for the police, coming up with harsher punishments to those found guilty of brutality and a complete overhaul of the system will be an excellent place to start.

References

Black, R. V. A. (2017). Trigger-Happy Policing. Violence Against Black Bodies: An Intersectional Analysis of How Black Lives Continue to Matter, 259. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=TjglDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA259& dq=trigger+happy+police&ots=mR4FF3YkwZ&sig=LTZhpAxlKJ9bBP9lqRgegFwhiUw

Culhane, S. E., Boman IV, J. H., & Schweitzer, K. (2016). Public perceptions of the justifiability of police shootings: The role of body cameras in a pre-and post-Ferguson experiment. Police quarterly, 19(3), 251-274. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1098611116651403

Nascimento, I. (2017). Hands up, Don’t Shoot: The Use of Deadly Force by Police against Racial Minorities in the United States. UC Davis J. Int’l L. & Pol’y, 24, 63. Retrieved from https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/ucdl24┬žion=5

Perry, A. (2017). The Impact of Governmental Strategies on Black Political Discourse Groups: Voices Heard from the Black Panther Party to the Black Lives Matter Movement. In Citizenship, Democracies, and Media Engagement among Emerging Economies and Marginalized Communities (pp. 177-202). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-56215-5_8

Shiller, R. (2016). Shooting in High Definition: How Having Tough Policies in Place Makes the Use of Body Cameras in Law Enforcement Comport with the Fourth Amendment. New Eng. L. Rev., 51, 187. Retrieved from https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/newlr51┬žion=14

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