Police Brutality in America
The issue of police brutality especially against the black minority of the American society has been a contentious issue of the past couple of years. However, its origin can be progressively traced to link the current and past indications that confirm the crisis has existed for over decades and no requisite measures have been taken to prudently address the challenge and create a good environment between the police and those they ought to protect especially the black minorities of the American society (Stamper, 2016). Significant police brutality against the African Americans have been observed since the Harlem resonance of 1920, the Watts riots of 1965 through to the beating Rodney King in March 1991, the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999 forty-one times though he was practically unarmed to contemporary shootings and other forms of violence by the police aimed at the black American community. Basically the police brutality exhibits a high degree of racial discrimination with the black and other minority populations being considered more likely to be offenders compared to the native and Indian Americans (Lentz et al, 2007).
Racial discrimination is based on ideologies about a given group of people based on their race that is aimed at justifying the inequalities fostered against them. Even though in the views of many racial discrimination is an individual perception, it can also be institutionally propagated (Lopez, 2000). Combining both prejudice and discrimination, both the vital justice institutions in the American society; the courts and the police departments have perpetrated injustices against the blacks (Chaney et al, 2013).
Statistics offer alarming indications that American ethnic minorities especially the blacks and the Hispanics are the undeserving victims of the institutional discrimination. Though they form the lesser composition of the total population, they exhibit relatively high numbers behind bars and contact with the law enforcement and interpreting institutions. As at 2015, the Census Bureau Statistics indicated that the overall United States population was 323,127,513. The major four racial groups contributed to these numbers in different proportions. White American’s stood at 61.4%, Hispanics at 17.6%, blacks at 13.3% and 5.6% for the Asians (Census Bureau of Statistics, 2015). The Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2015 indicated that 97% of the total population in the correction facilities both state and federal have sentences that are of over one year. At the state correction facilities, the numbers stand at 1,298,200 while the federal prisons host 178,000 inmates. This brings the total population by June 2015 to be at 1,526,800 inmates in the United States of America. Nearly 50% and 16% of the in inmates in federal and state prisons respectively were serving drug related sentences. Of the total population about 62% serving drug related sentences were Hispanics and blacks who in real sense in regard to the total population do not account for even a quarter of the population (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2015). From a reasonable point of view, one would easily detect that the statistics highlight a trend that unjustly associates a given group of people with a certain crime. Institutional racial discrimination in the American justice system is crisis that calls for deeper inquest as the numbers depict (Lopez, 2000).
The American police departments over years have in their law enforcement endeavors developed alarming discriminations against the African Americans. The racial discrimination is based on a fallacy that the chances of an African American committing an offence is higher compared to that of the other communities (Chaney et al, 2013). One then asks themselves, what formed the basis of the assumption that blacks are more likely to commit offences compared to other ethnicities and races?
The drug war is believed to be the catalyst of police brutality especially based on race (Cooper, 2015). The drugs became a symbol of youth rebellion, political dissent and social upheaval in the 1960s. this prompted the government to terminate the researches that were being carried out to establish the medical and safety of the drugs. President Nixon declared the so called “War on Drugs” in 1971. According John Ehrlichman a top aid of the president during this reign, Nixon felt like he had an enemy in blacks and other minorities and the only way to handle the problem without creating explosive tensions was to create an image of them in the eyes of the public. Prejudicing them would be effective to foster injustices against them. The Hispanics were associated with marijuana and the blacks with heroine. It is a belief that Nixon’s administration ensured the same were availed for the various two respective race to popularize it with them and ultimately make them illegal after a good population had become used to and addicted to them. By doing this, his administration would successfully disrupt the two communities by raiding their homes, arresting their leaders and break up their meetings (Wood et al, 2009). The succeeding reign of Ronald Reagan escalated the institutional discrimination based on race and masked by war on drugs. The number of people put behind bars for nonviolent drug law offences increased significantly from 50,000 in 1980 to 400,000 by 1997. Daryl Gates, the Los Angeles police chief at that time believed that casual drugs users ought to be taken out and shot. He was mainly referring to the already prejudiced black and Hispanic communities. His radical view against the drug users set the stage for DARE drug education program which despite unapproved effectiveness, did gain massive adoption by many states. Reagan’s wife also did highly publicize an anti-drug campaign since 1981 that adopted the slogan “Just Say No”. Such awareness programs increased the proportion of Americans who believed drug was their number one challenge from 2-6% in 1985 to a remarkable 64% in 1989. The result of this activities is that there was experienced high levels of arrests and incarcerations causing what was regarded as the epitome of police brutality in America. The reign of Bill Clinton was no much strange to the methods of used by his republican predecessors. He rejected the US sentencing commission recommendation for removal of the disparity of penalties for offender of powder cocaine and crack. He further rejected the encouragement to end the ban for funding of the free access to syringes. George Bush came into office and his era was characterized with heavy militarization of the drug war seeing the brutality increase even further. President Obama did significant reforms to the drug policies that were mainly legislative bases such as reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, bringing to an end the federal interference with marijuana laws and bringing to an end the federal ban on funding for syringes. The enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act during the Obama era is observed to have had a significant role in reducing the disparities behind the bars but the police brutality was insignificantly affected by this legislation.
Several civil society groups that wedged loyal war on drug abuse were formed and they encourage the enactment of Samaritan laws on drugs and the decriminalization of other drugs such as marijuana in various states. The assault by the police force on the Americans continued to be on the rise with over 700,000 behind bars for marijuana and over 500,000 for drug laws violation (Wood et al, 2009).
The hostility between the police force and the minority populations and the white lower class is majorly attributed to the issue of drug war. It is these sections of the population that are perceived to be highly involved with drug offences by the American police force. It is for this reason that they from the larger fractions of the convictions coupled with brutality compared to the white working middle and upper class who reasonably use the drugs on relatively the same level.
Various police and federal strategies to curb both drug users and sellers escalated the hostility between the police and the public because of the manner in which they were conducted. Driving While Black and Drug sweeps are just but examples of the initiatives the police took to arrest or detain individuals without warrants for the purposes of procuring searches against their liberty rights. The police exploited these avenues to foster racial discrimination relying on the perception that Hispanics and blacks were the notaries of the American population in defiling the laws of Drug war. In most cases, the neighborhoods raided were those considered to be highly composed of the black or Hispanic populations. The impromptu stops of pedestrians and motorists both exhibited the blacks and Hispanics being the most probable to be subjected to such processes even though in most instances they were found innocent of any drug related offences (Cooper, 2015). The Hispanics and the African Americans thus felt targeted by law enforcement agencies and at times did take panicky measures such as running like 18-year-old Ramarley Graham did before being shot in the house or trying high speed escapes even when they knew they were innocent. The police in such instances assumed they were guilty and often resorted to the use of excessive force that became the troubling brutality driven by racial discrimination (Stamper, 2016).
It is unacceptable to embrace such a crisis especially after knowing its root cause. American citizens are being victimized by the same law enforcement agencies that should be protecting them. They are discriminatorily treated by the justice system based on their race. The cause of all these infringements; war against drugs they call it. The problem has to be fixed and there are many options that can deal with it to various levels. The principles of community policing stated by Sir Robert Peel cannot be effectively achieved when the brutality by the police force continues and their relationship with the public continues to be a strained one that makes people of a given race feel they are being targeted by the police. The recent killings of police such as in Oakland by civilians is just a highlight of how the situation needs swift interventions. It has become a war of the society against the police (Lentz et al, 2007).
One way of fixing the problem is through training. Police brutality starts long before the trigger is pulled, the fists are clinched and the chokehold is applied. Police officers take less time spans in training compared to cosmeticians. They average 622 hours compared to a total 2650 hours for the cosmeticians as stated by former police officer Randy Shrewsberry. A reasonable person would expect someone who is going to handle weapons, secure arrests and enforce the law would be subject to a better training. This is just one factor that if addressed will ensure police officers are more professional and rational when on and off duty. Sweden and Norway police officers are much more trained and it is no riddle that this is the reason which despite them executing arrests, the cases of brutality, use of excessive force or police shootings are rarely recorded. If the system already has a dysfunctional form of training then it obvious that such is passed on to its graduates who are the police officers that upon graduating are tasked with protecting lives but they take them away, guaranteeing liberty but subject people to fear of going to places at different times. Overhauling the system for training of the police and putting in place one that is long enough for the officers to acquire sufficient knowledge and skills and further provides for regular refresher courses aimed at improving their abilities will be key to addressing the challenge of police brutality (Shaun, 2016).
Addressing racial discrimination is a sure way of reducing police brutality. The challenge is mainly experienced by the blacks and Hispanics. All institutions and individuals should take measures to create the awareness that despite the racial diversity, all humans are equal and should be treated equally by the law enforcement agencies. Leaders who tend to encourage the practice should be held accountable to the public. It is also high time that the United States had laws and not mere talks that strictly protect minority populations other than mere talks and recommendations. This will mean that officers who their acts are proved to be driven by perceptions based on the race of the victims are held accountable by the justice system. Vigorous measures should be taken to integrate the police departments and the public especially populations that have for long felt they are targets of the people with the badge. If the American police force can manage to drop the notion of blacks and Hispanics being prone to commit offences and equally treat them as innocent till proven guilty as they treat the other races, then the challenge will be greatly handled (Cooper, 2015).
The police department is considered one of the discipline forces. On this basis there is accountability to the duties, the public and significantly the seniors. Police officers report to a given senior either in their department or at the entire organization. Supervision is an important aspect in ensuring that those below a given hierarchy operate within the confines of the law and the organization. The high rates of police brutality with most of them going scot free even when the acts nakedly speak an atrocity can partially be blamed on their seniors. They are either colluding to avert justice or they are not diligently working to ensure those under their instructions and supervision are not over-exercising the authority vested on them. The supervisors may as a matter of fact lack the required resource at their disposals to track the acts of their supervisees. Improving the supervision of officers either when they are on or off duty will greatly minimize the police brutality since they will know they are accountable to their supervisors, the law and the public for their mischiefs (Lentz, 2000).
Proper reporting of the statistics on the issue of brutality should be in place to highlight to the public and concerned institutions how the crisis is really consuming the little existing good rapport between the police force and the public especially amongst the minorities of the population. The Bureau of Justice statistics does not provide the precise information on the issue of police brutality, Other than providing numbers of inmates and grading them in terms of offences, races, ages and states, the institution does not provide numbers and comprehensive analysis for the brutal actions of the police committed against the public that they ought to protect. Providing numbers of assault by police, the arrests secured by excessive use of force and people who have lost their lives unreasonably owing to actions of the police should be comprehensively be availed to the public and the government agencies that are supposed to be protecting the civilians. This move will bring into attention of the public and various institutions of the need to condemn and stand against police brutality especially those that are racially biased (Cooper, 2015).
In a nutshell, police brutality in the United States is considered one of the top forms of violating human rights. The inhuman practice has been realized decades back and the rate at which it escalates in a generation that is considered to be well informed, has high regard for equality, natural justice and respect for fundamental human rights including that of life and liberty makes the challenge more conspicuous. The government, the public and the police themselves have a great role in fixing the problem and ensuring there is a healthy working relationship between them and the public. If not addressed, the situation may incubate animosity capable of leading to another civil war (Chaney et al, 2013).
Bureau of Justice Statistics / National Corrections Reporting Program, Year-End 2015 (latest statistics) https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5869
Census Bureau Statistics for 2015 (latest statistics) available at https://www.census.gov/
Chaney, Cassandra, and Ray V. Robertson. “Racism and police brutality in America.” Journal of African American Studies 17.4 (2013): 480-505.
Cooper, Hannah LF. “War on drugs policing and police brutality.” Substance use & misuse 50.8-9 (2015): 1188-1194.
Drug Policy Alliance available at http://www.drugpolicy.org/race-and-drug-war
Lentz, Susan A., and Robert H. Chaires. “The invention of Peel’s principles: A study of policing ‘textbook’history.” Journal of Criminal Justice 35.1 (2007): 69-79.
Lopez, Ian F. Haney. “Institutional racism: Judicial conduct and a new theory of racial discrimination.” Yale Law Journal (2000): 1717-1884.
Shaun King “Solutions for Police Brutality.” New York Daily News 2016. Accessed on 26th May 26, 2017. Available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-cops-trained-cosmetologists-america-article-1.2727221
Stamper, Norm. To Protect and Serve: How to Fix AmericaÕs Police. Nation Books, 2016.
Wood, Evan, et al. “The war on drugs: a devastating public-policy disaster.” The Lancet 373.9668 (2009): 989.