The Unjustified Use of Police Force
Is there any justice in the use of force by police? Those that support this brutality reason out that this will kick out crime on the streets and the world would be a better place to live in. Those against it claim that humanity should be upheld even for the worst kind of criminal even though those facing police brutality are often times just suspects.
Due to the arguments presented by both sides and because of the belief that individuals should be treated better, the argument against police brutality is most compelling. The idea that anyone could find themselves or a loved one on the receiving end even on mere suspicion is terrifying. No one wants to be a victim yet often times we sit on the sidelines. The Graham Court cautioned, “The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” It also reinforced, “As in other Fourth Amendment contexts… the ‘reasonableness’ inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” (Graham v. Connor, 1989) Excessive force is solely a Fourth Amendment issue. A clause in the Fourth Amendment states that people have the right to “be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures,” (United States Constitution, Amendment IV)
Police brutality and African American battles go way back. They go back to the migration days of the African Americans migrating from the south as freed slaves into the north that was predominantly white. The white police departments where unaccustomed to their huge numbers and reacted with fear and hostility. They saw them as a long oppressed group that may retaliate against them and therefore mistreated them in the belief that they were protecting their own and their property. Segregation was therefore used as a tool to keep these inhabitants in check and often times the African American community was accused falsely or given harsh sentences for minor crimes. They learnt to fight for their rights, won some, but lost a majority. A question comes to play why things have not changed after so long. We ought to have moved on to other things but we refuse to.
According to Washington post, ‘blacks are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.’ A recent homicide case was in the spotlight to demonstrate this injustice. The case of Philando Castile, a respected school nutritionist was pulled over for a broken tail light. Castile was shot dead through his own open window after admitting to owning a licensed concealed weapon by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. The accused walked away scot free triggering protests in the streets and chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’. “My son loved this city, and this city killed my son,” Mr. Castile’s mother, Valerie, said as she stood on a corner outside the courthouse afterward. “And a murderer gets away. Are you kidding me right now?” She continued, “The system in this country continues to fail black people and will continue to fail us.” (Smith, 2017) This shows a police system against the people it is supposed to protect. We are a country whose larger population leaves the fight for fair treatment to those affected by it. We have often played immunity, yet one day, the tables might just turn and we will all be victims with no one to fight for us.
During the Civil Rights Era, aggressive dispersion such as the use of police dogs and fire hoses against peaceful protesters was rampant. They also involve assault and battery, deliberate violence, torture, murder, false arrest, intimidation, verbal abuse and mistreatment. Zoot Suit Riots were a series of riots that occurred in 1943. It happened between the US police and Mexican American youths in Los Angeles. The riots began on June 3, 1943, after a group of sailors stated that they had been attacked by a group of Mexican American zoot-suiters. As a result, on June 4 a number of uniformed sailors chartered cabs and proceeded to the Mexican American residence, seeking out the zoot-suiters. What occurred that evening and in the following days was a series of conflicts primarily between servicemen and zoot-suiters. The result was beatings of the youth by policemen, stripping of the youth of their clothing, urinating on their clothing, and directions to burn them. The attacked youth were later arrested in their masses. (Coroian, 2017) This was an attack on race as well as civil rights. Those youths had every right to exercise what they strongly believed yet a narrow mentality was being forced on them mainly because they did not fit the mainstream.
Events following the 9/11 attack on America saw the rise of a new kind of victim; the Muslim American. This was unjustly explained on grounds of filtering terrorists. In the months that followed, Muslim Americans started voicing complaints of harassment by police officers and racial profiling. Many law enforcers started operations that saw them infiltrating mosques in the pretext of hunting down terrorists. This we see as an attack on the freedom of religion, thousands could not worship peacefully because fear of what lurked in their areas of worship was a constant threat. Where do we go if the only thing that gives us hope, religion, is also under threat?
“Crime is a problem that preoccupies the news and the public. As the nation has engaged in ‘wars’ on crime and drugs over the past several decades, crime has become an ever more prevalent staple of news reporting. Police use of physical force is a particularly controversial issue in American crime fighting,” (Lawrence, 2000).
The sick are not spared either. Kelly Thomas cried out for his father 31 times. At least 26 times he yelled “help me” and cried “I’m sorry” 15 times during the lethal beating. Thomas responded “OK” to police, to tell them he was complying, a full 29 times. He politely used words like “Sir” and “Please” when he spoke to the officers while they were beating him to death. (David, 2015)
Kelly Thomas, a 37 Year old homeless man suffering from schizophrenia, was brutally and fatally beaten by police in Fullerton, California. On July 5, 2011, Fullerton Police were dispatched for reports of vandalism. Noticing Thomas was in the vicinity of the alleged vandalisms Officer Manuel Ramos approached Thomas and tried to search him, Thomas allegedly resisted. A 30 minute surveillance video was released that captured the entire ordeal. “Now you see my fists? They’re getting ready to fuck you up,” was a threat hurled at Thomas by Officer Ramos. Thomas responded by saying, “Start punching, dude.” In the video, as Officer Ramos and Corporal Jay Cicinelli order Thomas to get on the ground, they are seen arming themselves with batons and then start attacking Thomas’s legs as he falls to the ground. The incident continues off camera as one of the officers is seen running around the cruiser to continue the beating. As officers attempted to arrest Thomas while he was on the ground, Thomas is repeatedly heard screaming in pain and yelling and he even manages to get out a plea for help by calmly saying, “Help me… help me please.” Perhaps the most concerning cry by Thomas is “I can’t breathe!” (Kim & Jackson, 2014) This was an incident that clearly showed excessive use of force by police. It was something totally avoidable yet they went all the way in the beating that resulted into death five days later. These officers still went scot free. In almost all the cases we have examined, the men in blue were acquitted of all the charges. Does it therefore mean that we have all lost it? The police can go ahead and beat up a sick person, the people given the chance to correct it, the court jury, support them instead. Does it mean that we have all lost humanity? Are we losing the fundamentals of what makes us human?
It is funny that we are given opportunities to be different and make a difference yet we still don’t utilize the chance. In 1970 a lot of young African Americans were given a chance to be in the police force. After graduating from their numerous academies in their numerous numbers they were assimilated into the existing police departments. This were a people given a chance to police their own people but when it came to the actual ground, they bowed to the pressure of being good police officers by standards set by their predecessors and the people they answer to. Rookies are another form that police departments use to promote violence. Rookies are often under pressure to learn fast and more often than not they bow to their mentors’ wishes and use unnecessary force in situations they could have done better. This is two examples of a workforce that could have put a stop to all this madness. They did not. They had a chance to change the dynamics, but the injustice went on.
Children are often what a society uses as a measure of innocence, so what happens when they are on the receiving end? Aiyana Jones an African American girl, 10 years of age was shot in the head in the year 2010. She was killed during a raid conducted by police officers from Detroit Police Department. The news hit national television massively and the public outcry for justice was heard. Officer Joseph Weekly was the officer arrested in connection to the crime. He was charged on two accounts; involuntary manslaughter and reckless gun handling. (Schaefer, 2010) The first account was dropped as a mistrial and after a few years he was cleared on the second charge as well. A case that had cameras rolling for a while ought to have gone a different direction Justice should have been delivered at least for the sake of our children. It is amazing how two judges and two juries could not deliver justice for a young girl. Innocent and yet to fathom the trials and injustices of life. What about the family? What about the emotional trauma? Did anyone consider the turmoil this caused her parents? What about her play mates, school mates and friends? What possible explanation would you give some young minds to ensure that they don’t turn out to be the same case adults in their society? Children rarely know how to handle trauma in their lives, was any counseling provided? Was any assurance that what befell their friend would not befall them as well? The children of that neighborhood will grow up with two options to be the silent victims or to be the people with the power to change situations and yet not exercise that power.
In every society because of the diversity of attitudes and different backgrounds, people are entitled to different opinions. We can’t all fit in one cocoon. There are people who believe in the use of force for various reasons.
Everyone has this idea that jails and prisons are the perfect place for mentally ill “criminals” to go because while they are there, they will get the help that they need. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, in 1972, Marc Abramson coined the term “Criminalization of Mentally Disordered Behavior,” (Abramson, 1972). These ‘criminals’ at the end of the day become sicker as excessive force continues to be used on them. This instead of being taken to mental hospitals. These sick people are also human, they did not choose to be what they are, it is a condition they were born with. We have options yet we don’t explore them. In 2005, in Los Angeles, former Sheriff Lee Baca said: “I run the biggest mental hospital in the country,” (Torrey, Kennard, Eslinger, Lamb, & Pavle, 2010). In 2007, then state mental health commissioner John Houston stated, “‘we are more or less criminalizing mental illness,’ he said. ‘Jail becomes a default mental health facility because there are no resources to provide care, (Torrey, Kennard, Eslinger, Lamb, & Pavle, 2010)
There is a group of people that believe in their safety, just them, and the minute their safety is threatened they will advocate for force on people. Their motto is ‘kill them, reduce crime’. In this category, are the rich, the who is who and the people that run the country. They don’t need to be licensed gun holders even if they are. They can use their guns at will at the slightest provocation and walk away scot free. They also have influence over the police force, so their influence will work for them. Justice in the case of a poor man is rarely served.
Race has been an issue running back to the foundations of this great country. You get judged for just the colour of your skin. Your skin colour is translated as crime or innocent. Your skin colour becomes the measure upon which guilt is measured. But why? Why would another human being degrade another to death just for the sake of shade? Why would one heart hate another so much, so badly, treat another so cruelly only because their colour is different? This is why we are not even defending innocent children because they have been doomed to their colour , not their strengths or their intellectual capacity or the talents they process but with the curse that was placed upon their heads at birth, when they had no control of the outcome. To a racist however, all this does not hold water, they are justified even in their wrong doing.
We all believe in a higher being, a power that governs our limited minds. Various factors determine the religion we choose. The family we were born to, the society around us, the conviction we felt once, the experiences that made us who we are among others, all shape our decisions to the religion of our choice. The use of religion as a basis to be hostile to others because we believe their religion advocates for something we do not like is often encouraged. We are busy pointing fingers towards each other because at some point every religion including the one we swear by will be under fire, accused of one crime or another and often it is hearsay. People have hidden under their religions for so long in order to perpetrate crimes against