Police Brutality and Race
Police Violence and African Americans
When Does the Use of Force Become Police Brutality?
Police Brutality and the Black Lives Matter Movement
Police Brutality and the Blue Lives Matter Movement
The Use of Violence: Is there a Limit to the Amount of Force Police Officers Should Use on a Suspect?
Why “Just Comply” Is Not the Answer to Police Brutality
Are Minorities the Victims of Higher Rates of Police Violence?
Police Brutality: Is there a War on Cops or a War by Cops?
I. Introduction – Definition
B. Racial Disparity in American Criminal Justice
C. The Black Lives Matter Movement
D. Subsequent Killings
E. Delrawn Small on July 4, 2016
F. Alton Sterling on July 5, 2016
G. Philando Castile on July 6, 2016
H. Blue Lives Matter
I. Police Brutality and Attacks on the Police are Separate Issues
III. Conclusion – Proposed Solution
This essay examines the topic of police brutality through the lens of disproportionate violence against unarmed African Americans. The paper focuses on the development of the Black Lives Matter movement, including the movement’s goals, as well as the public response to the movement. It also focuses on the Blue Live Matter movement, and the violent attacks on police officers, which have been in apparent retaliation against police violence. The paper begins by defining police brutality. Next, it discusses how racial discrimination in the criminal justice system results in African Americans being disproportionately targeted for police brutality. It goes on to discuss the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Then, it discusses the ambush-style killings of police officers at a Black Lives Matter movement rally in Dallas, Texas. Finally, the author discusses whether the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are in conflict, or whether that conflict is a myth perpetuated by those who want to encourage continued ill will between the African American community and the police.
Police Brutality:Is there a War on Cops or a War by Cops
Police brutality is a difficult concept to define because police officers hold a very unique position in American society. Police officers are the only individuals in the United States authorized to use reasonable force against United States citizen civilians in the routine exercise of their duties. No other people in the United States, including non-police members of the armed forces have the right. Police officers may legally physically use reasonable force to stop and apprehend criminal suspects, and are given broad discretion in determining what force is reasonable. Police brutality is “the use of excessive and/or unnecessary force by police when dealing with civilians” (Danilina, 2016).
While the legal definition of police brutality seems as if it should be clear, is has proven far more difficult to eliminate the connotations that surround the term and impact how it is applied. Those who are against what they see as a militarization of modern policing may suggest that any heavy-handed approach by the police is an act of police brutality, even if the action does not include excessive or unnecessary force. On the other hand, those who suggest that police are at an increased risk of victimization by violent criminals are often reluctant to label even overtly violent or aggressive acts by officers as examples of police brutality. From a public policy perspective, it seems clear that the pro-policing advocates are having more success with their position: officers who use violence against unarmed and non-violent suspects are rarely charged with and even less frequently convicted of underlying criminal offenses.
While people claim there is a war on cops, the facts do not support this claim; not only are there already enhanced punishments for offenders who assault or kill police officers, but also police officers who use violence against unarmed and non-violent suspects rarely face criminal punishment for their actions.
Racial Disparity in American Criminal Justice
While racial disparity in the American criminal justice system is not the same issue as police brutality, it is a closely related issue. African Americans are far more likely than non-blacks to have interactions with police officers. For example, although blacks and whites self-report using drugs at approximately the same rights, blacks are approximately three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana usage than whites (American Civil Liberties Union, 2016). These disparities exist at all levels of the criminal justice system; African Americans are more likely to be investigated by police, arrested, charged, convicted, and receive longer sentences than non-black offenders (Nellis et al., 2008). While evidence of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system does not, on its own, suggest that African Americans are also disproportionately victims of police brutality, it does suggest that, through more frequent contact with the police than non-blacks, African Americans are at greater risk of being targets of police brutality.
While police brutality has plagued law enforcement since its inception, it has often been hidden and ignored. However, the prevalence of cell phones cameras and the ease with which citizens can record such actions has made it much more difficult to ignore police brutality. In fact, the modern debate over police brutality was prompted by footage of the killing of an unarmed African American teenager, Mike Brown, in Ferguson Missouri.
The Black Lives Matter Movement
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, was shot repeatedly by a white police officer, Darrell Wilson (Clarke and Lett, 2014). While witnesses disagreed about whether Brown or Wilson was the primary aggressor, cell phone video footage showed Brown running from Wilson. In addition, Wilson did not observe Brown breaking any laws that would have authorized an arrest, though Brown was jaywalking when the altercation began. No immediate action was taken against Wilson and the city of Ferguson responded initially with peaceful protests. However, rioters began to flock to the scene, and the city of Ferguson responded by using military-style weapons on the crowds and by repeatedly violating the First Amendment rights of protestors and the press who had gathered to document the protests. “On Aug. 13, 2014, police in Ferguson, Missouri, assaulted and arrested two journalists for allegedly failing to exit a McDonald’s quickly enough while on a break from covering the protests” (Sandvik, 2014). Although the prosecutor presented the case to the grand jury, they refused to indict Wilson, which resulted in renewed protests.
While Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors created the Black Lives Matter movement in response to George Zimmerman killing an unarmed Trayvon Martin as the teenager walked through his father’s neighborhood, it came to national prominence during the events in Ferguson (Garza, 2016). According to its founders, Black Lives Matter is an “ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression” (Garza, 2016). The Black Lives Matter movement has been active in protesting police brutality against members of the African American community, and has been falsely accused by detractors as promoting violence against the police. None of the movement’s founders or leaders have ever advocated violence against the police, and none of the vigilantes who have used retributive violence against the police have been members of the Black Lives Matter movement.
While police brutality did not disappear, the issue faded from the forefront of the American news cycle until the summer of 2016, when three separate murders of unarmed black men by police officers were captured on cell phones. On July 4, 2016, an off-duty police officer shot and killed Delrawn Small in a road-rage incident (Daily News, 2016). On July 5, 2016 police officers in Baton Rouge killed an unarmed Alton Sterling (Lau & Stole, 2016). Then, on July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot in the head by a police officer as he reached for his wallet to show his identification during a routine traffic stop (McLaughlin, 2016). As one might expect, this series of seemingly unprovoked killings of African American males by police officers left the African American community devastated, and prompted a series of rallies and protests against police brutality.
Blue Lives Matter
The immediate response by some, though not all, people was to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement and to respond with the derivative Blue Lives Matter logo. This Blue Lives Matter movement gained unexpected momentum when a lone individual opened fire on police officers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas, Texas on July 7, 2016. The shooter killed five officers, wounded others, and wounded civilians in the crowd (Fernandez, et. al, 2016). On July 17, 2016, a gunman shot and killed three police officers in Baton Rouge (Visser, 2016). Both shooters were African American males and the attacks were apparently in retaliation for the murders of unarmed African Americans by police, which prompted many to characterize the actions as a race war and emphasize the importance of protecting police lives.
Police Brutality is Separate from Attacks on the Police
However, while it should go without saying that police officers deserve to be protected while in the lawful execution of their duties as police officers, the fact that two criminals planned and executed deadly attacks on police officers should not be seen as an excuse or justification of police brutality against the African American community. First, not only were these criminals not acting on behalf of any social activist group like Black Lives Matter, they were certainly not acting on behalf of the black community as a whole. Furthermore, other criminals have previously planned attacks on law enforcement officers without calls for retribution against their race, as whole. In fact, the majority of assailants and killers of police officers in America are white males. In addition, the risk that criminals will engage in violence against a police officer is one of the inherent risks of entering into a career in law enforcement. Despite that risk, police officers have faced a declining risk of being murdered or assaulted on the job since the 1970s. While these two attacks have been very high-profile and have led many people to believe in the rhetoric that there is a “war on police” being waged by the African American community, the reality is that police officers deaths have experienced a dramatic decline since the 1970s and that blacks are not the offenders in the majority of those homicides.
Does the fact that police officers are not facing an increased risk of death mean that blue lives should not matter? Of course not. However, if one looks at existing laws and policies, it becomes clear that blue lives already matter. Not only have states consistently sought to improve the protective gear and weapons that police officers use, but many states have enacted enhancement statutes that increase the severity of assault charges if the victim of the assault is an on-duty police officer. These laws are an overt recognition that blue lives matter. One solution to the current police brutality problem would be to enact similar enhancement statutes that would increase the severity of charges if the actor was a police officer engaging in police brutality. Another solution would be for the Justice Department to acknowledge the difficulty of local police departments and prosecutors investigating their own officers and use 18 U.S.C.S. § 242, to bring federal charges against officers who have violated a citizen’s civil rights through the use of police brutality.
We hope this example Police Brutality essay will provide you with a template or guideline in helping you write your own paper on this topic. You are free to use any information, sources, or topics, titles, or ideas provided in this essay as long as you properly cite the information in your paper and on your reference page.
Works Cited / References
American Civil Liberties Union. (2016). Racial disparities in criminal justice. Retrieved July 26, 2016 from ACLU website: https://www.aclu.org/issues/mass-incarceration/racial-disparities-criminal-justice
Clarke, R. & Lett, C. (2014, November 11). What happened when Michael Brown met Officer Darren Wilson? Retrieved July 26, 2016 from CNN website: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/08/us/ferguson-brown-timeline/
Daily News. (2016). Cop who killed Delrawn Small stripped of gun and shield as AG investigates video contradicting his story. Retrieved July 26, 2016 from Daily News website: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/killed-delrawn-small-stripped-gun-shield-article-1.2707114
Danilina, S. (2016). What is police brutality? Retrieved July 26, 2016 from The Law Dictionary website: http://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-is-police-brutality/
Fernandez, M., Perez-Pena, R., & Bromwich, J. (2016, July 8). Five Dallas officers were killed as payback, police chief says. Retrieved July 26, 2016 from The New York Times website: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/09/us/dallas-police-shooting.html?_r=0
Garza, A. (2016). Herstory: The creation of a movement. Retrieved July 26, 2016 from The Black Lives Matter website: http://blacklivesmatter.com/herstory/
Mau, L. & Stole, B. (2016, July 5). ‘He’s got a gun! Gun’: Video shows fatal confrontation Retrieved July 26, 2016 from The Advocate website: http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/alton_sterling/article_7a1711be-1d0a-5f98-9274-113b819b7431.html
McLaughlin, E. (2016, July 8). Woman streams aftermath of fatal officer-involved shooting. Retrieved July 26, 2016 from CNN website: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/07/us/falcon-heights-shooting-minnesota/
Nellis, A., Greene, J., & Mauer, M. (2008). Reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Retrieved July 26, 2016 from The Sentencing Project website: http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Reducing-Racial-Disparity-in-the-Criminal-Justice-System-A-Manual-for-Practitioners-and-Policymakers.pdf
Sandvick, R. (2014, November 26). Documenting the arrests of journalists in Ferguson. Retrieved July 26, 2016 from Freedom of the Press Foundation website: https://freedom.press/blog/2014/08/documenting-arrests-journalists-ferguson
Visser, S. (2016, July 17). Baton Rouge shooting: 3 officers dead; shooter was Missouri man, sources say. Retrieved July 26, 2016 from the CNN website: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/17/us/baton-route-police-shooting/
18 U.S.C.S. § 242.
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We trust our law enforcement to make sounds judgments for the sake of our protection. However it is alarming to see the high rates of police’s use of excessive force in needless situations. Even more alarming is the distinction in treatment of white and non-white people. Many people of color have an image of police as the representation of white supremacy and oppression (Walker, 593). Another perception of police officers is that they cannot be trusted. This is likely due to the commonality of instances of police brutality. The police do have the right to use force on a criminal suspect, but it is only under certain circumstances and they must follow specific guidelines (Walker, 592). In certain instances of police’s use of excessive force, the sole factor contributing to the hostility between the police and minority communities was race (Walker, 588). The reality of one person is subjective and based solely on that one individual’s experiences. One person of color’s perception of law enforcement could be completely different from another, especially if they are of two differing minorities. For some, police are seen as courageous men and women who endanger their lives to ensure the community’s wellbeing. That is, after all, what their title entails. However, many have been the targets of racial profiling. Terms such as “DWB,” driving while black, describe the situation in which people of color are pulled over for supposed traffic violations in order for to further investigate suspicions of criminal activity (Walker, 595).
Senseless violence creates a stigma toward police. This stigma makes the public fear the police, and almost everyone has an account or series of anecdotes that show how much they fear the police. For example, a group of college kids are walking around late at night in the city, and they hear police sirens down the street. They will instantly get afraid, even if those kids aren’t doing anything wrong. A large amount of complaints that drive this fear were made in the latest Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) survey in 2007. Surveyed state and local law enforcement agencies, representing 5% of agencies and 59% of officers, received a total of 26,556 citizen complaints about police use of force. A third of all these force complaints were not sustained (34%). Twenty-five percent were unfounded, 23% resulted in officers being released of the charges, and 8% were sustained. The sustained force complaints became an indicator of excessive force. Results show an estimate of about 2,000 incidents of police using excessive force among large agencies.
A majority of officers are let “off the hook” from being charged with crimes against the public. In the case of David Sal Silva of Kern County in California that took place last year, police used excessive force on Silva and he died at the scene. The beating was contributory to his death but neither the Kern County sheriff’s deputies nor the California Highway Patrol officers were convicted of any crime (Marcum). Although the incident was highly publicized, it eventually faded away. There are many overlooked instances, however instances of targeted police brutality are becoming a normal recurrence, such as in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The police in Albuquerque were scrutinized and the United States Justice Department began an investigation of the police department and discovered that officers “too often used deadly force in an unconstitutional manner,” and of the 20 fatal police shootings since 2009, most were not constitutional (McLaughlin). The issue of police brutality has a long history. Not only in Albuquerque but across the nation. The Department of Justice, along with the Community Relations Service, published a handbook: “Police Use of Excessive Force: A Conciliation Handbook for the Police and the Community” to address the use of excessive force in the United States’ police departments across the country. The Department of Justice (D.O.J) originally published this in 1999 and was last updated in 2002. The handbook argues that the key is to create a culture that looks down upon an unconstitutional amount of force within the individual departments across the country. “Community policing creates a positive atmosphere…A department can set objectives (reduce complaints, police shootings, and injuries to civilians) and then set out to shift the culture to accomplish these objectives by developing policies and procedures, training it officers and monitoring them for compliance”. The goal is to create an atmosphere or culture that looks down upon acts of violence that are done by police, so that the occurrences are rare and the police are held accountable for their actions.
Many people don’t believe that police officers racially profile. They tend to say, “They are just protecting us.” When in reality officers do and it has gotten to the point where when a person hears a police siren they jump and feel scared because they may be the one getting in trouble. Should people have to feel scared every time they see a police officer? Law enforcement officials are supposed to make us feel safe from danger, not the opposite. People of color are usually the ones that are targeted the most and most people just watch and do not say anything about it. Some officers take extreme measures and end up injuring a citizen when it is not needed. In an extreme example, Gabrielle Calhoun was beaten unconscious by a police officer. Calhoun is a black teenage girl that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were girls fighting and police broke up the fight and allowed the girls to go into the restaurant bathrooms to clean up. They proceeded to fight again in the restaurant. A woman police officer went in to the restaurant and approached Calhoun’s table and grabbed her male friend. Calhoun followed after them and the female police officer had turned around and knocked her unconscious with her nightstick. The police officer started to choke Calhoun and when Calhoun started to gasp for air telling the officer she had asthma the officer replied, “I don’t care if you have asthma. You were hitting my officer” (BYP 1). An officer’s job is not to kill the person instigating a fight, especially if the citizen did not cross an officer.
Racial profiling does not only happen with the police. It is common to see women move to the other side of the street if they spot a man of color approaching. This is primarily due to the fact that they media play a significant role in vilifying men of color. They also vilify other races. In airplanes, people are more cautious around Arabic people because of 9/11. The media reinforces the stereotypes perceived by the general public. Racial profiling happens everyday on T.V. shows and people just laugh at the idea and it is seen as a joke rather than a serious matter. In the movie “Non-Stop” an air-marshal starts getting bomb threats from a random telephone number. When he announces that there is a bomb on board everyone looks to the Arabic passenger like he was the person sending threats. He ended up being a doctor and helps save some passengers. When people watch these shows and laugh at the funny things they say on these shows, it reinforces and approves the message that was sent by the media.
The American people count on law enforcement officials to look out for the general wellbeing of the public. The perception of police officers among communities of color is that rather than protect them, police officers are only interested in pursuing them to discover a crime of some sort. With many reform programs being implemented in police departments across the country, there is hope that a new culture will be born among law enforcement officials. One of fairness and free of stereotypes and senseless brutality against people that are tired of being succumbed by the negative stereotypes and misconceptions reinforced by the media and approved of by the general public.
Breakdown of NYPD stops based on race, followed by a breakdown of the races in New York City.
Breakdown of instances where police’s use of excessive force led to the death of African Americans from the Malcolm X Grassroots Organization.
BYP. “Gabrielle Calhoun Beaten Unconscious by Police.” Black Youth Project. N.p., 11 July 2013. Web. 26 April 2014.
Hickman, Matthew. “Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Citizen Complaints about Police Use of Force.” Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Citizen Complaints about Police Use of Force. Department of Justice, 26 June 2006. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
Marcum April 11, Diana. “No Criminal Charges in Death of Man Beaten by Kern County Deputies.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 11 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
McLaughlin, Eliott C., John Newsome, Shawn Nottingham, and Ashley Fantz. “Albuquerque Police Have ‘pattern’ of Excessive, Deadly Force, Report Says.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
Non-Stop. Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra. Perf. Liam Neeson, Juliane Moore, and Scoot McNairy. Universal Pictures. 2014. Film.
“POLICE USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE.” DOJ:CRS:. Department of Justice, June 1999. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
Walker, April. “Racial Profiling-Separate And Unequal Keeping The Minorities In Line-The Role Of Law Enforcement In America.” St. Thomas Law Review 23.4 (2011): 576-619. OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 30 Apr. 2014.