Police brutality has long been a topic of discussion for years, though in recent years it has garnered a lot of attention and controversy due in large to the increase number of deaths of unarmed individuals effecting different communities. There is a steadily growing opinion that police departments may be corrupt as citizens look to police officers to enforce the law and protect the public, and not to be feared or violate their civil rights. Excessive use of force by the police is not only unnecessary but also violates the rights that are given to the public, and in most cases there are more complaints of excessive force being used against people with an ethnic background during traffic stops which is the most common form of interaction between the police and public citizens. The paper will cover instances where abuse of power was used in different situations and focus on the following topics: racial bias, the extent of physical and excessive force, legal consequences, and some of the environment structures that may have contributed to officers perception and thus resulted in them using excessive force.
Excessive force used by police officers, more commonly known as police brutality is done intentionally with either physical, psychological, or verbal abuse by a law enforcement official. Law enforcement officials are the only individuals in the country who are given the legal authority to use physical force against others in order to do their jobs on a daily basis and in most cases, it becomes very difficult to determine is the appropriate amount of force is used. Modern policing is viewed as a militant mobilization of power as more and more situations are now becoming widely known, with instances of racial profiling and injustice in what some would call a corrupt system giving rise to the black lives matter movement as well as the blue lives matter as a direct counter reaction. In order to accurately discuss these topics without any bias we must approach this with an objective stance on the issue and analyze the data that can be found.
Firstly, one of the key points we should analyze is racial profiling. According to a recent survey conducted in North Carolina by Stanford University, there have been instances of racial profiling. Stanford personnel looked at well over 4.5 million traffic stops in multiple cities of the state and concluded that a traffic stop the also involved a search of the vehicle was drastically different between drivers with an ethnic background, such as African Americans or Hispanics, then white drivers. This data uncovered a pattern of racial profiling or at the very least racial discrimination had been taking place in the state for years and found that while searching vehicles that had ethnic owners, officers were less likely to find either controlled substances or weapons. However, when vehicles that belonged to white owners were searched on a typical traffic stop, those items were found and recovered which indicates that had there not been a bias to search individuals with an ethnic background there is a probability that more contraband could have been removed from the streets. The results that were uncovered in North Carolina are not only happening there but also in other states which show that this is no isolated study. In 2011, an analysis of Maricopa county police department in Arizona discovered that Hispanics in the county were at least nine times more likely to be stopped than any other ethnic group. The reasoning behind the frequent stops of Hispanics was a provided by the then police chief Joe Arpaio who mandated Hispanics be stopped as a way to combat undocumented immigrants in the state. It was later discovered that the courts had prohibited the stops of Hispanics, indicating that Arpaio was acting on his own accord, therefore violating a state rule and as a result he was found guilty of criminal contempt but was later pardoned by the President of the United States Donald Trump.
Some cases of racial profiling and discrimination have led the police to use excessive force, and in some instances the death of individuals. Police Brutality has posed as a problem for quite some time, but the first recorded case that had an impact on how the police were to govern themselves was Graham V. Connor. This now infamous case in which a victim experiencing diabetic symptoms named Graham was on his way to a store with the intent of purchasing juice to counteract the insulin reaction he was about to go through. While Graham was inside the store, he took notice of the number of patrons ahead waiting in the checkout line and left the premises requesting his friend, who was driving, to take him to another friend’s home. A local law enforcement official, Connor, saw Graham enter and depart the store in a rush causing him to have some concern, decided to follow the vehicle carrying Graham. Officer Connor then proceeded to conduct a traffic stop in order to figure out what transpired moments before, and prior to speaking with the individuals in the vehicle requested assistance for back up. Once assistance arrived, Graham and the driver of the vehicle were placed in handcuffs, but both individuals informed the police that he was diabetic and experiencing an insulin reaction due to his condition. While in the custody of officer Conner and other officials, Graham suffered unwarranted injuries which consisted of a bruised forehead, a broken foot, as well as an injured shoulder. Graham and the driver were eventually released on their own accord after the officials received information that nothing took place at the store they were previously at, though the damage was already done. When Graham initially sued, the local courts sided with the responding officers and agreed that no excessive force was used during the encounter, however the case was pushed to the Supreme Court and the verdict was in favor of the victim. With the supreme court concluding that excessive force had been used, it also ordered that there should be objective reasonableness whenever a law enforcement official makes an arrest, stops a vehicle for investigatory purposes, or to even search a vehicle. This established that a standard that all police officers should exercise reasonable appropriate amount of force in order to stop a necessary action or crime. Since this case, there have been countless others that have been presented in the court of law with different levels of police brutality. A staggering one thousand one hundred forty-seven individuals died at the hands of police officers in the year 2017 alone with the majority of deaths coming as a result of police shootings, and over half of the deaths were unnecessary as the police were responding to non-violent offenses or worst yet traffic stops. In One hundred forty-nine of those deaths, the supposed suspect was an unarmed individual, not only were they unarmed but studies show that there were more people with an ethnic background killed than other individuals who identified as white. The statistics found in this study as well as other highly publicized cases such as the death of Walter Scott who was shot in his back five times in April 2015 due to a daytime traffic stop for a non-functioning brake light, the death in April 2015 of Freddie Gray who died while in police custody, and Philando Castile’s girlfriend streamed the aftermath of his shooting on a social media site have been the fueling force for the black lives matter movement as an outcry for change against the police and the justice system. This has caused courts to have to further stress the use and need of deadly force can only be utilized in certain instances such as preventing the escape of an inmate, or the responding officer has reason to believe the perpetrator is a risk to not only the officer but the general public. With the overly high number of deaths at the hands of police officers, only thirteen officers were charged and found guilty in a court of law.
Consequences of these actions by police officers range from states enforcing the use of dashboard cameras, body cameras, and in some rare occasions have cost officers their jobs either to administrative discharge, suspension, or even jail time. In some instances, just the accusation of wrongdoing will cause an officer to lose their weapon and be placed somewhere in the department in order to monitor their actions. Victims of police brutality are allowed the right to find justice through federal and state laws as it is governed that citizens of the country are to be protected from the abuse of power the government holds which includes police misconduct. Individuals who believe their constitutional rights have been violated depend on a statute within the United States Code under Title 42 known as Section 1983. This statute was passed in order to control tyrannical conduct by government officials. As stated previously, body cameras are one consequence that has long been argued as an implementation tool in place to hold officers accountable in recent years though according to a report team at the George Mason University from the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy data shows something different. Research shows that while complaints have decreased, body cameras have not changed the outcome of use of force. With the steadily increasing use of body cameras, prosecutions have shown an even divide between officers deciding not to use force and officers who still apply some amount of force in order to handle different situations. More often now though, citizens are going to court for their actions thanks to what is being revealed on camera.
In conclusion, police brutality has proven to be a severe issue within the United States, and though there have been technology with the rapid development and use of body cameras and outcry of the general public as a way to modify policing, there still needs to be an effort on the departments to hold officers accountable for their actions. It should be noted that to understand police brutality we must look at past events and learn how to overcome and know that police brutality isn’t just limited to current times. Research has even been conducted to mitigate the further dissolve of trust between the public and policing agencies, suggesting that there should be more emphasis placed on the department such as pre employment screening and background checks.