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Police brutality of blacks and racial profiling by police have been topics in the news for a long time. Recently, they have both been at the forefront of news coverage, causing protests and riots across the country. With this news coverage has been two questions everyone wants to answer: Is police brutality and racial profiling an actual issue or is what we see in the news simply isolated incidents of bad cops and if it is an issue, what is and can be done about it? Looking into specific cases, as well as the overall facts and evidence around the country, it is evident that racial profiling and police brutality are major issues in the United States.
Starting with racial profiling by police, the evidence of this happening is overwhelming. In a 2015 study by statisticians in the U.S. Department of Justice, specifically the Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that blacks (12%) were more likely than whites (9%) to have the police initiate contact with them, as well as being more likely to be pulled over by the police and almost twice as likely to be stopped by the police on the streets (Davis, Whyde, & Langton, 2015). There should be no reason one race is pulled over more, stopped on the streets more, or have the police initiate contact with them more. While this could be taken as clear evidence of racial profiling, it could simply be because blacks commit more crimes than whites. But in a study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois on traffic stops, blacks were stopped 1.5 times more often than whites, were asked to consent to searches 1.7 times more often, yet whites were found with illegal contraband 1.3 times more often than blacks (2019). Therefore, in Illinois, blacks are stopped and searched more than whites, yet whites are still caught with illegal contraband more often. While Illinois doesn’t necessarily have the same data as the rest of the country, it is a specific case where racial profiling is very abundant and evident. In research of the entire country, Stanford also found evidence comparable to that of the ACLU’s research when examining police traffic stops. They found blacks were more likely to be stopped, and blacks are found with contraband at similar rates to whites (2019). While the results found by the ACLU will not be uniform across the country, Stanford’s research shows blacks are not found with contraband more often than whites. So, the fact that they are stopped and searched at significantly higher rates is evidence that police are more suspicious of blacks than whites of having illegal drugs and contraband with them when driving even though this is not the case. That is racial profiling, and it is a pertinent issue across the country.
How it works
The issue of police brutality on blacks is a much more complex topic to decide if it is an issue across the country or if it is simply isolated incidents of racist or poorly trained cops. It has been in the news for years, really getting publicity during the 1990’s, where the one case of Rodney King started outrage across the country. In March of 1991, Rodney King was on parole and ran from some cops who tried to pull him over. Once he finally stopped, he was ordered out of the car and then was beaten by the police with kicking and batons for a reported 15 minutes. It was caught on camera and was the at the forefront of news coverage for the days, weeks, and even months after that. It caused the famous Rodney King riots a year later when the four white officers charged for excessive force (Koon, Briseno, Wind, and Powell) were found not guilty (Sastry & Bates, 2017). For there to be footage of the absolutely brutal and unnecessary beating, and still have the cops be acquitted of all charges, is absolutely absurd. The outrage was completely understandable. If Rodney King had been white, and cops black, the officers would almost assuredly been found guilty. The outrage and news coverage of this lasted a while, and then it seemingly disappeared. There was still news coverage throughout the 90’s and 2000’s, but not to the extent of what it was when it first happened. Then in 2014, it hit the news again, with the case of Michael Brown.
First things first, while this is highly debatable and can be argued against, the ruling in the Michael Brown case is completely justified. In Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store, and then was confronted a few blocks away by the police officer in question, Darren Wilson. After that the events are cloudy. Some witnesses say Michael Brown never was inside the police car, while Officer Wilson and several other witnesses say Michael Brown reached into the car and started fighting and struggling with Officer Wilson. Wilson’s gun then went off, hitting Michael Brown’s thumb, who then started running. Wilson then chases Brown, who stops, and turns around. Again, some witnesses say Brown had his hands up while others, along with Wilson, say Brown started running at Wilson. Wilson then unloaded 10 shots, 6 of which hit Brown, killing him on the spot (Buchanan et al., 2015). So yes, the ambiguity of the events leading to the death means the grand jury’s decision to not indict Wilson is justifiable. But the outrage it caused by the citizens of Ferguson is also completely justified. A white officer shot at an unarmed black man 12 times two of which hit Brown in the head. That is an excessive amount, as just one is enough to kill or stop a man. The situation is obviously different from that of Rodney King, but the effect was still the same. There was national news coverage, national debate, and national outrage and riots, causing the issue of police brutality of blacks to once again reach the forefront of news coverage, which has lasted up until this day. So why is it the national coverage and debate over the topic of police brutality has persisted for longer this time around than it did in 1991? This is due to the footage and story of another case happening just a few months after Ferguson.
The case of Eric Garner in New York deserves a lot of credit for why police brutality of blacks has persisted in the news media for as long as it has. A few months after the Michael Brown case first happened and made national news, after a video surfaced of a police officer putting Eric Garner in a chokehold, who then yelled out “I can’t breathe” over and over again until he died from “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone position during physical restraint by police” (Botelho, 2014). In this case, excessive force was very evident. According to the NYPD police commissioner, the chokehold used by the officer is even prohibited by the entire department. Another white officer kills an unarmed black man with excessive force, and yet again he walks away free with no legal repercussions. Only this time, the evidence was very evident. There was video footage of what happened, but still nothing was done. This, of course, caused more outrage, and really put the issue of police brutality of blacks in the headlines of the news. If this situation never happened, or didn’t make the headlines of national news, the conversations on police brutality may have never persisted all the way until present day. It may have simply been an issue for a few months, and then disappeared the way it did in the 1990’s after the Rodney King case.
These are the cases that made the issue of police brutality relevant and put it on the headlines. But is police brutality of blacks actually a serious issue or are these just specific highlighted cases of cops who went too far? Data collected by The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Vice, and highlighted and documented by Roland G. Fryer Jr., shows plenty of evidence that it is in fact an issue throughout the country. The Guardian found “the probability of being black, unarmed, and shot by police is nearly 3.5 times larger than the probability of being white, unarmed, and shot by police” (Fryer Jr., 2018). No person should be killed by a police officer while unarmed. It seems as though police officers around the country have the first instinct to pull their gun when faced with an uncooperative black man. It no longer becomes isolated incidents when it happens at rates this high. Another staggering statistic is, “although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police” (Fryer Jr., 2018). One demographic makes up almost half of the killings by police in a year, which some people would argue is because black males account for the majority of violent crimes.
However, the website Mapping police violence found that “fewer than 1 in 3 black people killed by police in America in 2014 were suspected of a violent crime and allegedly armed” (2019). Black men account for almost half of all unarmed police killings, but over 2/3 of all black men who are shot by police are involved in non-violent crimes or are unarmed. The only explanation there is for the deaths of these men is excessive force and brutality from racially prejudiced cops. Also, while generally it is thought police violence is a direct result of violent crime rates in the area, it was found that “high levels of violent crime in cities did not appear to make it any more or less likely for police departments to kill people” (Mapping police violence, 2019). Having no correlation between violent crimes and police violence is evidence in itself of brutality. If there aren’t a lot of violent crimes happening, then why are the police killing people? All across the country unarmed black men who are suspected of non-violent crimes are being shot by the police, and at rates significantly higher than whites. So yes, police brutality against blacks is a very serious issue in the United States.
Since police brutality of blacks is obviously a serious issue, then something needs to be done. And there is something being done, which has helped the issue stay in the headlines for all these years. One of the main things being done to help the case, is bringing awareness to the issue. This is being done in many ways, with one of the biggest being the way famous people around the country are doing their part in bringing awareness. Colin Kaepernick, perhaps the person who has brought more attention to the issue than anyone else, did something that irritated so many people they started boycotting the entire NFL. He took a knee. He began taking a knee during the national anthem before the games started, as a way to bring awareness to police brutality. He succeeded in his attempt, as he was all over headline news for the entire football season, and he managed to get a lot of other NFL players to do the protest with him. However, many people took his message completely the wrong way. Some people felt as though “Kaepernick was disparaging the sacrifices made by the military” (Witz, 2016). What these people do not understand is that Kaepernick is doing what whites have always said they wanted blacks to do when they protest, do it peacefully and respectfully.
The national anthem is not an ode to the military, or a song of respect to the military of the United States. Also, taking a knee has historically been one of the most consistent signs of respect across all cultures. Contrary to what some people feel, Kaepernick was peacefully protesting racial injustices and police brutality, while still showing one of the ultimate signs of respect to the national anthem and to the flag. This way of bringing awareness is just one of the few ways famous people have brought awareness to the issue. Lebron James and many of his teammates wore shirts that said “I Can’t Breathe” on them after the grand jury’s decision to not indict the officer who choked Eric Garner to death (Feeney, 2014). Athletes and famous people have a platform where they have the ability to protest issues, and they have been doing so to protest police brutality of blacks. While protesting and bringing awareness to the issue is a good start, more needs to be done to bring an end to the issue, not simply make sure people know about it.
While bringing awareness to the issue is a very important first step in ending police brutality and violence, much more needs to be done to bring an end to the issue. While there are a lot of opinions on what could be done, Campaign Zero, an organization whose whole goal is to end police violence in the United States, highlights the best ways to end violence. The first step is to end “stop and frisk” policies. According to Campaign Zero, police often use the “stop and frisk” technique as a way to come into contact with black civilians even if they do not see them doing something illegal (Solutions, 2019). The more the police come into contact with people, the more there is a risk of violence between the police and civilians. Not to mention, police generally do not use these tactics on white people to the extent they do black people. If these tactics of policing are ended, then the interactions between police and civilians will no longer happen at the rates they do, and police will not be able to stop black people unless they actually do something illegal. These tactics have been addressed, but not enough have as only 7 states actually have put an end to “stop and frisk” policies in the last 3 years (Solutions, 2019).
Another step could be independently investigating and prosecuting the police officers who are involved in shootings of civilians. Prosecutors often rely on the local police departments for their investigative purposes, so when it is one of the local police officers who are in question, there is an extreme conflict of interest. Once officers are actually held accountable for their actions, then maybe they will stop abusing and shooting innocent people. Going along with the attempt to hold police officers accountable for their actions, body cams can be a great way to do so. This will force the officers to act according to the law because all their actions will be caught on camera. While having their actions caught on camera hasn’t resulted in persecution in the past (Eric Garner and Rodney King), it will definitely help any case where a police officer is suspected of using excess force. If a police officer has a body camera on them, they will be more likely to follow correct procedures, especially if they do not have the ability to turn the cameras on or off. While all of these solutions will never bring an absolute end to police violence and abuse of blacks or citizens in general, together they can lower the amounts we see in the United States. Police violence of blacks needs to come to an end, and these are ways this can be done.
Police brutality and abuse towards blacks is a very significant issue in the United States today. While many people believe it is simply isolated incidents, the evidence overwhelmingly disputes their claims. The United States has a long history of abusing and discriminating blacks, and police violence is the modern-day method of doing so. Police need to be held accountable for their actions, and once they are, then maybe this pattern of police killing and abusing unarmed black men may come to an end. No matter what something needs to change because, as the organization Mapping Police Violence so eloquently stated, “There is no excuse for police violence” (2019).
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