The contemporary social problem I would like to conduct sociological research on is the use of excessive force used by members of the police department in recent unconscionable shootings of unarmed civilians. With all the recent attention that the people of Ferguson Missouri and New York City have been able to rise on this issue, making it a media sensation, it seemed like a good topic to discuss. Police brutality is an egregious, ongoing problem in our society that, until just recently, has been accepted as a sad fact of life by the people it affects and is largely ignored by the rest of society, including politicians and the mass media. Police brutality affects the people that society has come to stigmatize such as minorities, the mentally ill and impoverished people, more so than the well off or middle to upper class white people.
b. Literature Review
Some cities often start new, or “rookie”, police officers in the areas with the largest concentration of reported crimes of their city. “Rookie” officers lack the experience of personal interaction with the public because, oftentimes, their training has been limited to a classroom setting. An example of a rookie officer committing police brutality is in the case of Akai Gurly. On November 20th of this year, new police officer Peter Liang shot and killed an unarmed man named Akai Gurly in front of his girlfriend while in a dark stairwell in east New York. Locals, due to the violence that happens in the surrounding the
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Police brutality and office involved shootings have sparked national debate and created a strain between police officers and citizens. Recently, there have been more home videos that display acts of aggression by police officers. These police officers often use excessive forces or a condescending tone towards people of color which is why there needs to be a better way to mend police and civilian relationship. People should be able to trust the police in their communities rather than fear them.
-By definition the term police brutality is “applied in the context of causing physical harm, it may also involve psychological harm through the use of intimidation tactics beyond the scope of officially sanctioned police procedure.” In today’s society we have police known as riot police, who are known throughout the world to use extreme force. Statistics show almost every time the riot police are involved in crowd control, there is at least one fatality and multiple injured. This is why I believe this is one of the most important issues in the World today. Police are there to protect us but from April 2009 to June 2010 in the United States there were 5986 reports of misconduct from police officers. Police brutality has today’s citizens doubting the police department, and how they go about their arrest. Police brutality is an everyday occurrence, especially in cities where there are large communities of Blacks, Latinos and Asians.
A great deal of society views law enforcement officers as heroic and honorable individuals, whose main purpose is to protect and serve the community. For many officers, this description is accurate, however for others; violence and brutality against innocent citizens is the key to getting the job done. For years, minorities have fallen victim to police brutality based on racial profiling, stereotypes and other unjustifiable reasons that has cost several innocent lives. The involvement of officers in police brutality against minority social groups causes tainted and negative views on policing and their overall duty to protect, when they are ultimately the aggressors in this case. Police brutality is a violent incident involving an officer and a victim, usually including excessive force, unnecessary violence and sometimes resulting in a senseless fatality. Minority groups such as African Americans and Hispanics have often been the victims of this form of abuse by officers, however little justice has been done in order to protect these individuals from this form of cruelty by the hands of those with the most power.
Police brutality is seen as a real problem in America today. What people do not seem to realize is that the police carry a massive burden each day. The work that officers do has the potential to be very demanding and sometimes involves dangerous situations. In these situations the officers are in the position where they may be required to use force to gain control. The continuum of force dictates the level that is most appropriate for the situation. Most people do not realize that is not the officers job the meet the force. However, it is their job to overcome the force. Police departments have very strict standard operating procedures about officer use force and how force is applied. With this paper, I will attempt to explain the continuum of force, police discretion, and why the police can do some of the things they do.
First, it is crucial to note that police brutality is not synonymous to racism against a particular group. However, there is a stigma that police often racially profile a specific African Americans. In February 2015, two cases of police brutality did not involve African Americans; instead the two victims were a Hispanic shot and killed in Washington State and an Indian-American severely paralyzed in Alabama. Even with this considered, of late, a majority of police brutality cases have involved minorities and specifically African American males. Cases such as Michael Brown and Freddie Gray have sparked a cultural uprising. These trigger event inspired the protests and riots against police brutality demonstrating collective action and physical violence, but the idea of police brutality is much larger than these individual cases, since it is a reoccurring cycle.
“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” These were the last words of Eric Garner, a middle-aged African American man. Garner died at the hands of multiple police officers who were trying to restrain him for selling cigarettes. These sorts of images are showcased on television way too often. To the point that some people feel helpless, they know that they alone do not have the power to overthrow the superiority of an officer. So they have really no choice but watch the tragedy unfold. Also fear that if they interfere, that they may be the next victim. “I am most struck by the behavior of the EMTs, who stood along with the police and did nothing as they watched Eric Garner die” (Williams 10). Although some people deny that police brutality is a problem, recent studies and events (such as the one listed above) prove that ultra-aggressive police officers, militarization of police agencies, and the effects of racism have increased police brutality.
As of September 1, 2015, in the United States police officers have killed 776 people and 161 of those people were unarmed at the time of their death (MintPress). There have been too many incidents where police officers have injured or killed someone that could have been prevented. Using maximum force with a suspect has become a routine in many confrontations. Officers have not been given the proper training to deal with individuals and how to handle them without using a weapon. If they were given more training on how to deal with situations resulting in using a weapon to stop an individual during certain scenarios police brutality situations would decrease, lives would be saved, and police would get their good reputation back. However, police departments would have to spend more money on re-training. Some people agree with police brutality and think that a civilian deserved their punishment, which is not right because no one deserves to be beaten or killed. Situations involving police brutality have been increasing throughout the years, which is a problem that must to be solved.
In recent years and in light of recent tragedies, police actions, specifically police brutality, has come into view of a large, public and rather critical eye. The power to take life rests in the final stage of the criminal justice system. However, the controversy lies where due process does not. While the use of deadly force is defined and limited by departmental policies, it remains an act guided chiefly by the judgment of individual officers in pressure situations. (Goldkamp 1976, 169). Many current studies have emphasized the racial disparities in minority deaths, primarily black Americans, killed by police through means of deadly force. The history of occurrences reveals the forlorn truth that police reforms only receive attention in wake of highly publicized episodes of police misconduct. The notorious 1992 Los Angeles riots brought the matter to mass public attention and prompted improved law enforcement policy. Significant local reforms resulted, for instance, ending the policy of lifetime terms for police chiefs. Additionally, on a broader platform, in 1994, Congress approved provisions to the Crime Control Act in effort to tackle police abuse in a more structured way.
Every person should have equal rights and opportunities not based on their ethnicity, race, or culture. There are countrywide issues that have lead to racial injustice. In recent discussions on racial injustice, one major issue has been the many cases of police brutality and hate crimes against minorities. Many falsely accused people are being incarcerated simply based on the color of their skin or how they look. Racism has been a huge part of Americas past and will continue to be a part of our history as time progresses. It is our history itself that keeps racism in America regrettably alive. It is what has shaped our society today. The actions of unlawful police officers have been presented through media. By revealing the problems with our law enforcement this has allowed the public to see the roots of this issue. There are many factors that contribute to the issue of police brutality, they are all derived from the roots of the tree of our history. It is time that people take a stand against hate crimes such as police brutality.
A young man’s brutal death at the hands of the police is found justified in a court of law due to his “suspicious” appearance: a black hoodie and his hands in his pocket. An elderly woman is fatally shot in her home for her relation to a suspected criminal. A married man with two toddlers is choked to death after a minor traffic stop by an officer who later claimed that his unarmed victim was wielding a gun. These people all have a few commonalities: the color of their skin, their presumed guilt at first sight, and their ultimate unjustified death administered by the law force. These are not uncommon occurrences. Due to the staggeringly disproportionate rate of African-Americans killed by the police, and the underlying rampant racial profiling, police brutality towards blacks in America must be called to light.
Excessive force and police brutality have become common terms for anyone keeping up with today’s current events. In 2014, the media covered numerous cases of excessive force that resulted in the deaths of several people of color (Nelson & Staff, 2014). The most widely covered cases by the media in 2014 were of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black male shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri; and Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black male in Staten Island, New York who was put into a choke by police officer Daniel Pantaleo until he lost consciousness and stopped breathing (Nelson & Staff, 2014). These cases brought attention to the seriousness of police brutality and the curiosity of how often it occurs (Brown, 2015).
Justice has become nothing more than a word in American society. Badges allow militarized police officers to brutalize and kill unarmed citizens. Police brutality is not a new issue, it first appeared in 1872 when the Chicago Tribune reported the beating of a civilian by a police officer. Although police brutality has been present for decades, the severity has tremendously increased in the past twenty years. It is critical for citizens to become aware of the growing statistics and casualties of the epidemic. By educating Americans on the problem, it may lead to preventing further incidents.
Police and community relations has always been a work in progress, some communities are more challenging than others. There are various factors that impact the relationship police have with civilians such as geographical location, race, gender, personal experience and in personal ones as well. In the last few years police and the African American community on a national level been more disconnected due to a pattern of unforeseen circumstances of unarmed black men being shot and killed by officers, that end up serving no jail or repercussion besides paid administrative leave. Police brutality is defined by The Law Dictionary as the use of force used unnecessarily. “Force that is used beyond what is necessary to handle the
Police brutality has adverse effects on society in its entirety and, hence, there is need to stop these acts so as to improve cohesiveness and the observation of the law in society.
Police brutality, more specifically, the systemic racism, discrimination, and disparities that pervade law enforcement and the judiciary system in the United States are the main social problems discussed in Olivia A. Cole's (2014) article concerning the state violence perpetrated by the police in America on Black lives. When one analyzes racism and police brutality from the conflict perspective, it becomes apparent that society continues to be held together by forceful acts of power and coercion for the benefit of the dominant group in power (Leon-Guerrero 2016). There are multiple social institutions that simultaneously create, regulate, and attempt to resolve the issues of police brutality and racism. The government and the politics which come with this institution are perhaps the most predominant instigator. The institution of law, mainly the Judiciary and Legislative systems, and of course, the media play a central role as well. The broad scope and influence these institutions have on society are what ultimately makes police brutality and racism a public issue rather than a personal trouble. One has to consider the magnitude of individuals who experience racism in America and those who perpetuate it as well. Labeling these issues as personal troubles would only serve to diminish the culpability of the abovementioned social institutions regarding their role concerning racism and police brutality.