To serve and protect,” is a common phrase that is used among police officers that defines their primary duty as a cop. What once was a powerful notion, has lost its meaning through time. Instead, its reputation is now riddled with cases involving what is known as police brutality along with memorable names such as Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Timothy Thomas, and Abner Louima just to name a few. The use of excessive force by the police is nothing new, and with so many cases out there, it is clear that “to serve and protect” does not exactly apply to all of law enforcement as it should. Through displays of racial profiling, over assertiveness of power, and overall bad attitude, some individual law enforcement officials have lost the trust and respect of society, making some people question how police brutality can be reduced. Police brutality is defined as “a civil rights violation that occurs when a police officer acts with excessive force by using an amount of force with regards to a civilian that is more than necessary” (Police Brutality, 2008, para. 1). Although someone might argue that it is something that is over exaggerated, there has been proof through audio and videotape footages as well as eye witness accounts that such acts do exist. Take for instance, the infamous Rodney King beating, where George Holliday, a plumbing manager videotaped the scene of law enforcement officials kicking and beating King with metal batons from his bedroom apartment (Linder, 2001). Another example is the incident that occurred in Philadelphia, where a news helicopter videotaped four police officers beating three black men (Barker, 2008). Many will claim that police brutality doesn’t exist because it is rarely caught on videotape or documented. But if it’s not a real problem, then why are there cases and studies done on police brutality? According to Carl Dix, a writer for Black Scholar, between January 1994 and August 1996, at least 100 people died at the hands of the NYPD (1997) . Also, in Chicago alone, there were over 37,000 police brutality complaints from 1984 to 1994 (Dix, 1997). In addition, according to Associated Press, a study done by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over “2,000 criminal suspects died in police custody over a three year period” (2007, para. 1). After taking a look at the studies and cases reported on police brutality, one might ask, why do law enforcement officials commit acts of brutality? Are police officers overreacting when their authority is challenged such as the case involving Rodney King? Or could it be that in some of these cases they are just having a bad day and they are unable to separate their personal problems with their job? Although both of these answers might be true, a number of cases of police brutality have shown that racial profiling is also a reason why police brutality exists. Well known names such as Rodney King, Abner Louima, Timothy Thomas, Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell are a couple of examples where minorities were disrespected due to their race.
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On August 9, 1997, Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant was beaten and sodomized by Brooklyn cops (Roane, 2001). Abner Louima was arrested for interfering with law enforcement officials as they tried breaking up a feud between two women (Hinojosa, 1997). After Louima was put into the patrol car, the police officers began calling him racial names and beating him before taking him to the 70th precinct (Hinojosa, 1997). It was there at the station, that the horrific event took place. Louima was taken to the bathroom where police officers made him strip down and sodomized him with a plunger (Hinojosa, 1997). Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, was a 22 year old man who made a living on the sidewalks of lower Manhattan selling random merchandise from a cart to people (Fritsch, 2000). On the night of February 4, 1999, Mr. Diallo was shot 19 times out of 41 bullets by four law enforcement officials as he stood unarmed on the stoop of his apartment building in which he shared with a friend and his two cousins (Fritsch, 2000). Officer Carroll, one of the four police officers said that the reason they all shot at Mr. Diallo was because he was behaving suspiciously and that he fit the description of a serial rapist (Fritsch, 2000). Officer Carroll also mentioned under cross-examination that he could not see Mr. Diallo to determine his race (Fritsch, 2000). So inIn conclusion, in the dark of the night, Officer Carroll is not able to recognize Amadou Diallo’s race, but instead claims that he fit the description of a serial rapist. (Fritsch, 2000) Timothy Thomas was 19 years old when he was shot in an alley. On April 7, 2001, Officer Stephen Roach chased down Timothy Thomas for having 14 warrants on him (Larson, 2004). Officer Roach claimed that he shot Thomas because he thought he was reaching for a gun. (Larson, 2004). No gun was ever found on the body of Timothy Thomas (Larson, 2004). After the death of Timothy Thomas, information was found that revealed that his death was just another case of racial profiling. Prior to his death, Timothy Thomas was pulled over 11 times in no more than two months (Larson, 2004). He was cited 21 times, mostly for driving without a seat belt and for driving without a license (Larson, 2004). Although Timothy Thomas consistently broke the law, the question if racial profiling existed here was that why was Thomas being pulled over for not having a license (Larson, 2004)? How can a law enforcement official assume that someone is driving without a license? It was reasonable for Thomas to be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt because a police officer is able to notice that if they are looking closely, but it is impossible to detect if someone is driving without a license. (Larson, 2004) Sean Bell is another minority that was involved in a police brutality case where the color of his skin was a factor. On November 25, 2006, Sean Bell was killed outside of a Queen’s nightclub just hours before his wedding (Bell’s fiancée, 2008). The Queen’s nightclub was at the time under investigation due to complaints of weapons, drugs, and prostitution (Bell’s fiancée, 2008). The tragedy happened when Bell and his friends were leaving the nightclub. Believing that one of Sean Bell’s friends was going to grab a gun out of the car because an argument broke out, the detectives called for backup as Bell panicked and began to drive off (Bell’s fiancée, 2008). 50 bullets were then shot at Bell’s car in what the NYPD called an act of self defense (Barker, 2008). In the end, no gun was ever found (Bell’s fiancée, 2008). Michael Warren and Evelyn Warren’s incident is no different from any other case involving racial profiling. Michael Warren and his wife Evelyn were beaten and arrested by law enforcement officials as they tried to stop the police officers from viciously assaulting a young black male (Arinde, 2007). Michael and his wife were charged with obstruction, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest (Arinde, 2007). Not all cases involving police brutality has to do with racial profiling, but it is considered as the main reason why it exists though. Sometimes police officers will over assert their power due to their authoritative figure. It can be argued though that law enforcement officials will sometimes have to use excessive force just to protect themselves and their surroundings. The line is crossed though when the use of excessive force is used when no danger is present. Take for example the case of Audra Harmon, a 38 year old mom mother who was driving her kid’s children home from wrestling practice (Celizic, 2009). According to Mike Celizic, a contributor of TODAYShow.com, Audra Harmon was resting her hand on her cheek as she was driving (Celizic, 2009). Deputy Sean Andrews, who is now under internal investigations, pulled Harmon over thinking she was talking on her cell phone (Celizic, 2009). After Harmon tried proving to Andrews that she was not talking on her cell phone by letting him check her purse, Andrews cited her for speeding instead (Celizic, 2009). Audra Harmon was then put under arrest for getting out of her car because she wanted proof that she was speeding (Celizic, 2009). Deputy Sean Andrews then crossed the line when he dragged Harmon out of her vehicle and aswhile she was trying to talk to him,him; Andrews pulled out his Tasertaser and fired tasered Ms. Harmon in front of her children (Celizic, 2009). For every action, there is a reaction. As police brutality cases begin piling up, people’s views of law enforcement officials begin to change negatively. Police brutality can and has affected society in a number of different ways. It can reveal injustice in law enforcement. For every case that arises in which the police are found guilty of acting out what is deemed as brutality through the unnecessary use of excessive force, people begin to question if the law is really on their side when it comes to their rights. With so many cases where rights have been violated, is there really justice being executed behind the badge? In Audra Harmon’s case, where Deputy Sean Andrews yanked her out of her car and then shocked Harmon to her knees by a Tasertaser, a number of rights were violated (Celizic, 2009). Audra Harmon would then later file a civil suit against Deputy Sean Andrews for violating her Fourth and 14th Amendment rights which included unreasonable search and unauthorized use of excessive force (Celizic, 2009). In addition, this suit would also include “emotional distress, false arrest, assault and battery and malicious prosecution” (Celizic, 2009, para. 26). Police brutality can reveal society’s racism. Each and every time a case becomes exposed to the public and race is undeniably a contributing factor, it further reminds society that we as a country still harbor a dirty little secret that has not been, and perhaps never will be completely erased . Timothy Thomas and Amadou Diallo were both two out of many cases where race played a vital role in police actions. Timothy Thomas prior to his death was being pulled over consistently for not driving without a license. How were law enforcement officials aware of Thomas not driving without a license? After receiving 14 warrants, Timothy Thomas would later be chased down and killed for supposedly pulling out a weapon
Amadou Diallo was shot at by 41 bullets and hit 19 times because he was behaving suspiciously and that he fit the description of a serial rapist (Fritsch, 2000). On the stoop of Mr. Diallo’s apartment building, in the dark of the night, Officer Carroll would later testify that he was not able to recognize Mr. Diallo’s race; only that he fit the description of a serial rapist (Fritsch, 2000). After the shooting of Amadou Diallo, over 300 people gathered to protest around the building where Mr. Diallo was shot at. Fourteen people were arrested there, while another fifteen protesters were arrested in Albany (Fritsch, 2000). Police brutality can lead to a loss of trust and respect for law enforcement officials while making society feel less safe. People begin to fear those who are supposed to protect us, while others protest in anger. Within 24 hours after Timothy Thomas was shot by Officer Roach, the African-American community exploded on the streets (Larson, 2004). Police officers ran through the streets, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to try to stop the riot (Larson, 2004). “The shooting touched off three nights of unrest in which dozens of people were injured and more than 800 were arrested” (Ohio Officer, 2001, para. 7). After the shooting of Amadou Diallo, over 300 people gathered to protest around the building where Mr. Diallo was shot at (Fritsch, 2000). Fourteen people were arrested there, while another fifteen protesters were arrested in Albany (Fritsch, 2000). Continuing their tradition sinceSince October 22, 1996, thousands of protesters have marched every year for the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. From all across the United States, in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, New York City, and Seattle, the coalition aim to fight against police brutality by marching in cities protesting (National day of protest, 2007). Henry David Thoreau once said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root” (as cited in Herman, 2007, para. 1). The same principle can be applied to what Thoreau once said for how police brutality can be reduced. Many people have filed claims and lawsuits, but for some reason, this solution has not worked effectively in the past. On the other hand, some reports have not been filed due to a scare in retaliation (Police brutality facts, 2006). In New York, critics say that complaints against police brutality were down because people have given up (Lacayo & Benson, 1997). And despite more than 16,000 complaints against New York cops since 1993, only 180 officers have been disciplined, most of them with just a lecture or the loss of a vacation day (Lacayo & Benson, 1997, para. 2). So byBy what effective means is there to resolve police brutality? Some options are to “police the police,” where the local community should be able to have some oversight of the police. In addition, the local community as well as law enforcement officials must lose the “us vs. them” mentality. We should be working together to fight crime, not against each other. And if the local community isn’t able to have some oversight of the police where they are able to monitor them; a higher authority must be set in place to be able to oversee the operations of law enforcement officials. A suggestion has also been made to hire more ethnic minorities (Policing the police, 1997). Whatever the remedy is, something has to give where it is written in stone that police brutality will not be tolerated. (Policing the police, 1997) Since the 1990’s, several police departments that have had a reputation of having bad apples working in their department, have begun to show improvement (Lacayo & Benson, 1997). Their solution to reduce the amount of police brutality cases was by providing effective police training, installing a higher authority, and developing better relations with the local community (Lacayo & Benson, 1997). Not only has their solution eliminated the “us vs. them” mentality, but it also sent out a clear message that police brutality would not be tolerated. (Lacayo & Benson, 1997) The Los Angeles Police Department has also shown effective progress in reducing police brutality by hiring more ethnic minorities (Lacayo & Benson, 1997). “Its percentage of white officers has decreased from 61.3% in March ’91 to 50% in July ’97, producing a rank and file less likely to see a minority community as a hostile planet” (Lacayo & Benson, 1997, para. 4). In addition, they have hired more female police officers with an increase of about 4% (Lacayo & Benson, 1997). Studies have shown that female law enforcement officials are less prone to abusive behavior (Lacayo & Benson, 1997). To top it all off, the city also swore in an African-American veteran of the police department as their new police chief (Lacayo & Benson, 1997). Another solution to resolve the issue of police brutality was by taking a look at the civilian Civilian review Review boardBoard. In short, a civilian review board allows civilians to have the power and the opportunity in reviewing investigations of complaints against law enforcement officials. Civilian review boards thus hold police officers accountable for police misconduct. The problem is when a civilian review board is made up of a majority of former members of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and lawyers such as the one in New York (Lacayo & Benson, 1997). The only way to resolve this issue would be to take out those who may be biased to the complaints. (Lacayo & Benson, 1997) Law enforcement officials need to be held accountable for their actions just like ordinary citizens who break the law. They can only be held accountable by having public officials denouncing police brutality related incidents. It must not be covered up;. Putting putting a blanket over a problem will not make it the problem go away. Law enforcement officials have been known to cover up their tracks making it hard to document cases of police brutality. This is also known as the “blue wall of silence.” The “blue wall of silence” is defined as “the secrecy of police officers who lie or look the other way to protect other police officers” (Blue wall of silence, 2009, para. 1). The “blue wall of silence” enables cops to murder without being punished (Tatum, 2000). The “blue wall of silence” therefore not only prevents victims from getting justice, but it also destroys the image of law enforcement officials. The only way to break this “blue wall of silence” would be to appoint a higher authority to oversee the bad apples in the department. By covering up another law enforcement’s tracks, and looking the other way, police officers begin to lose the trust and respect of society. (Tatum, 2000) It has been made clear that there are many proposed solutions to stop police brutality. The answer then is to not just rely on only one remedy, but a combination of solutions to effectively reduce police brutality. All in all, police brutality must not be tolerated. It’s reasonable to argue that in certain situations, cops will need to exercise the use of force to not only protect them, but to also protect their surroundings. However, it becomes a real problem that begs a real solution when they go beyond the badge and execute their authority in rogue manner, putting them above the law. Police brutality is a problem that still exists and will exist until an effective solution is implemented and the police are strictly held accountable for their actions. Until then, more and more people will continue to lose their trust and respect for the men in blue while many others will continue to be victimized.
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