Police Brutality In America
Police brutality is an issue that has jumped in and out of the media and the attention of the public. Currently it has sprung back up as a social issue and is receiving ever increasing attention on all fronts. Police brutality affects not only its direct victim but local inhabitants and other officers as well. A lot of the attention allotted to police brutality is given to the people by the media. Police brutality and its effects must be understood in order to be eradicated.
Police brutality is not an issue created during modern times, but it wasn’t until recently that police brutality resurfaced as a growing issue. This was mainly due in part to the Ferguson and the Zimmerman shootings. This seems to be the case in the past as well with a police brutality video sparking riots all over Los Angeles back in 1992. It’s hard to determine what event sparked the creation of police brutality. It’s seems almost that along with the creation of the police department came police brutality. The phrase brutality itself suggests a very physical and visceral action being committed by officers. Police brutality is often seem among riot officers, because of the harsh situations they are put into. Almost all of these encounters result in civilian injuries and at least one fatality. Many cases involve people of African American decent which stems from racial inequality in the past. Many officers still express with racism through brutality towards young African Americans ending with a brutal beating or a shooting of said individual. This theory becomes disproven when officers of African American decent show hatred towards other African Americans. A fictional example of this can be seen in the movie “Boyz n the Hood” in which Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character is threatened at gunpoint by an African American officer for his skin color. What makes matters worse is the fact that a lot of police brutality goes unpunished or even unnoticed like the example above. For the amount of trials that make it to court only 5% are seen all the way through and one in four officers have their charges dropped before trial. As long as these actions go unpunished officers will continue to terrorize communities across America with a lasting negative effect.
Acts of police brutality can have a lasting effect on certain areas of America. When an officer brutalizes someone whether they are a criminal or not, they are creating a scene. Young children often bear witness to the scene and don’t see a person trying to keep them safe but instead an individual who is out there trying to hurt you. This image is how young children see officers of the law and a lot of times this leads them to distrust cops. Some groups actually sprang out of communities where these actions were commonly seen coming from officers. One group in particular known as NWA was a rap group that rapped about what they saw around them. One song in particular “Fuck the Police” tells about how police treat minorities or people of color harsher than people who are white. In an article written by Tom Ryan the effects of police brutality on the direct victim can vary. The most common effect of course is death of either the officer or the suspect. Along with this if guns are never drawn but the suspect is still beaten harshly there is the probability of psychological effects such as PTSD caused by the stressful situation. An article about the effects of police brutality written by an author under the alibi Angel talks about her own experiences. She speaks about how she is afraid to leave her house and no longer feels protected by the police and she most likely has a case of PTSD. If officers of the law went out or their way to reach out and reconnect with communities like this there would be a lot more friendliness towards officers. Instead many officers present themselves as someone to be feared and do little to earn trust from others. With the fear involved with them some people are afraid to speak out against officers wrongful actions for fear of their own life.
When it comes to officers speaking out about other officers, things get a little more complicated and dangerous. This is due to the fact that many officers who speak out against brutality get their careers or themselves killed. One instance of this is the unlawful treatment of Officer Joseph Crystal who was forced to quit the police force due to his treatment by other officers (Schapiro). Crystal witnessed an act of unwarranted aggression towards a suspect by another officer and then reported the incident to a superior. After his report no one wanted to work with Crystal and he was unable to receive a promotion even after outstanding police work. Crystal’s circumstances are a lot like those experienced by another officer during the 70’s. This officer’s name was Frank Serpico and he attempted to stop the corruption in his police department (Serpico). Many officers were accepting money every month confiscated from drug deals, but Serpico did not. In the end after taking a bullet to the face and facing ridicule from his colleagues Serpico was able to testify against his colleagues. His hopes were that his efforts would end police corruption for good. Little did he know that it would just resurface in a different form known as police brutality.
A lot of the reason why officers of the law have the problems they do is because of the light shined on them from the media. Police officers have become followed by the media in the same way as actors or politicians, with their every mistake being broadcasted to the world. In the long run this is beneficial to helping understand the effects of police brutality. This is due to the fact that whatever the media says tends to effect public opinion. Many people do not research a lot of the issues discussed on the news, so whatever they hear on the news is used to form their opinions on the matter. A recent example of this power would be the Ferguson shooting where officer Darren Wilson shot 18 year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The effect stirred up the people and many protests protested the Ferguson police department along with a few others. While the media is good for bringing wrongful police actions to light a lot of what is said in smaller news networks is used to get views and the best way to do this is with shock value. Some networks feel that they will receive better views from an officer brutally beating someone rather than an officer saving someone. Since then there have been repeated cases of police violence scattered in-between good deeds which are consistently overlooked by the bad. At the same time it is still the officer’s fault that their good deeds are overlooked by their bad ones, because officers of the law should be seen as heroic peace keepers. People everywhere expect police officers to uphold the law and bring criminals to justice; that’s in their job description and brutality is not. A source more powerful than news media is social media which explodes when a story about police brutality is revealed. Social Media is becoming a powerful place for many people who want to express their opinions about an issue. Due to this constant bombardment of brutality on the public, dislike for many officers continues to grow.
The reputation of police officers in the community would have a better standing if we could solve the issue of police brutality. There are ways currently being enforced to try to reduce police brutality such as body cams. These cameras will be placed on the vests of officers so that an officers actions can be fully recorded from beginning to end. This will prevent events like the riots in 1992 sparked from the video of part of an officer beating a suspect. The whole story was the officer asking the suspect to stay on the ground and the suspect would not comply due to a large amount of drugs in his system. If the whole story had been released then the riots may have been avoided and police officers might have a better reputation in communities. Officers would be required to keep these cameras on at all times, but if there is not enough footage for their whole day then it should only be turned on from the time they exit their vehicle to the time they enter it again. The cameras would also need to include audio so that actions can be put into context and so there will be only one side to the story every time. The pressure that everything they do or say will be recorded should make officers less likely to physically harass suspects. There is a downside though, because cameras can break and there would be no way to know the difference from a camera that breaks naturally from a camera that is broken by the officer. At the same time if the officers have to turn on the cameras manually there is no way to tell the difference between an officer who forgets to turn on his camera from an officer who intentionally didn’t turn it on. Two ways these situations could possibly be combated would be to first stress the requirement of officers turning on their cameras and routinely run checkups on their camera, or be reprimanded. Although in an article by Francis Reynolds discussing the murder of seven year old Aiyana Jones, there is evidence that cameras may not stop brutality. The officers were being filmed for a show on A&E and during a raid a child was shot and killed. It was discussed that improper and excessive methods were used, but may have been a side effect of trying to increase viewers by making the raid more exciting. Outside of this incident there have been cases where officers were charged based off their own camera footage. A possible way to remind officers what they are doing on the street could be a seminar every five years to reinforce past knowledge for officers and address any current issues. All of these together will create more of a safety net against police brutality and its effects as well as protecting the lives of regular citizens.
Understanding police brutality and its effects are just the first steps to stopping it. We must all come together to try to use its past to change its future. Otherwise we will be stuck with this racially fueled issue for years to come and lose many lives along the way.
Angel. “The Long Term Effects of Police Brutality | Cop Block.” Cop Block RSS. N.p., 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
Reynolds, Francis. “Special Effects: Police Brutality and the Media | Big Think.” Big Think. The Big Think Inc., 24 May 2010. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
Ryan, Tom. “Police Brutality: The Impact on the Victims.” EHow. Demand Media, 20 June 2010. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
Schapiro, Rich. “Ex-Baltimore Cop Labeled ‘rat’…” NY Daily News. New York Daily News, 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
Serpico, Frank. “The Police Are Still Out of Control.” POLITICO Magazine. POLITICO, 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.