Introduction

Most commonly people have a bitter hatred for the police. This is because the news tends to hype things up and make all police officers look bad. When really there are only a few bad eggs giving these other law abiding officers a bad name. I am not here to state how bad the police are, I want people to know that police misconduct does happen, and it is very wrong. However, it isn’t a problem with every officer out there on watch. These minority officers are making the streets dangerous for the officers who are doing their jobs properly. I believe police brutality is a problem with those who are committing it, and I want to inform the general public who believe that all police are dirty, that not all police commit these crimes, and without the police here we would not be living in such a safe society. We need these police officers who lay their lives down at every watch for the public, but we need to weed out the bad eggs so that we can pave a safer road for the officers and civilians of the future. 

Where did it originate?

Police brutality has had a long history in the U.S. In the early days of policing, acts of mass brutality were usually attributed to the poor labor workers. From the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 (Bruce, Robert), to the Pullman Strike of 1894, the Lawrence textile strike of 1912 (McPherson, John Bruce), the Ludlow massacre of 1914 where one hundred and forty six men were gun down by the National Guard (Mauk, Ben), the Steel strike of 1919, and the Hanapepe massacre of 1924, where the police would brutally beat striking laborers. Next came Prohibition, The Civil Rights Movement, The Vietnam War and the Nixon administration which all had large scale acts of police brutality spanning from the 20s through the 60s.

However, it did not stop there. Police misconduct and brutality is still very much a problem in our country.

“An extensive U.S. Department of Justice report on police use of force released in 2001 indicates that in 1999, “approximately 422,000 people 16 years old and older were estimated to have had contact with police in which force or the threat of force was used.” Another Department of Justice report issued in 2006 shows that out of 26,556 citizen complaints about excessive use of police force among large U.S. agencies (representing 5% of agencies and 59% of officers) in 2002, about 2000 were sustained.(Hickman, Matthew)

However, other studies have shown that most police brutality goes unreported. In 1982, the federal government funded a “Police Services Study” in which over 12,000 randomly selected citizens were interviewed in three metropolitan areas. The study found that 13 percent of those surveyed had been victims of police brutality the previous year. Yet only 30 percent of those who acknowledged such brutality filed formal complaints. (Woorden, Robert E., and Robin L. Shepard.)A 1998 Human Rights Watch report stated that in all 14 precincts which it examined, the process of filing a complaint was “unnecessarily difficult and often intimidating”. (“Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States.”)

Many social justice issues rise out of this. The police have been abusing their power throughout much of U.S. history and creating fearful environments in many cities when they should be making people feel safe. Minorities appear to be the main targets of this violence as well. “In 2002, 32 individuals were shot to death in questionable circumstances, with 90% of the victims being Black or Hispanics, and over 50% of the shooters being Caucasian. In 2003, 17 individuals have been shot to death, with 90% of the victims being Black or Hispanic, while two-thirds of the shooters were Caucasian”. (“Race and the Police”)

Types of Misconduct

Even from the beginning of policing to present day, most police brutality styles have remained the same. However, with the rise in technology since the early days some things have changed. Officers in the early 20th century might have used fists or batons, but now pepper spray and Tasers are more common use of police brutality.

Today officers have a variety of police brutality methods. Most commonly there is the excessive use of force. But that is not the only type of police misconduct. Police brutality can take form in false arrests, malicious prosecution, failure of an officer to intervene, and sexual assault. (“Police misconduct and Civil Rights”)

Excessive use of force is the most common and what most people consider police misconduct, this takes form when an officer physically handles a civilian. It may be that the officer is using his fists in order to take advantage of the civilian, or what is used more often for this is pepper spray or CED’s. The pepper spray is less harmless than Tasers but can sometimes be used more than is necessary. The Tasers are the big problem in America.  Since around 2005 nearly 500 deaths have come out of the misuse of Tasers. Tasers have in some cases not only injured the suspect but the police officer as well. (“Online Safety and Technology Working Group Final Report”)

False arrests are present when police take an individual into custody, without an arrest warrant and without “probable cause.” An officer would have “probable cause” if he or she actually saw the person commit a serious crime or had a reasonable belief that the person had or was just about to commit a serious crime. The reasonableness of the officer’s belief is based on the information available at the time of the arrest, even if it turns out to be wrong. When police lack this legal justification, the person taken into custody may have a claim for false arrest. (“Police Misconduct and Civil Rights”)

A person may be the victim of “malicious prosecution” when a law enforcement official begins a criminal proceeding, without “probable cause,” but with malice toward the victim, and the criminal proceeding ends in the victim’s favor (without a conviction).This claim arises because the law states that no one should be subjected to the extreme emotional stress, embarrassment, and financial expense often involved in a criminal prosecution that lacks a legitimate basis.( “Police Misconduct and Civil Rights”)

When an officer witnesses a possible presence of police brutality and does not report it to the superiors. This in turn becomes a type of police brutality, because just like letting a bully beat your friend up is wrong, a police officer allowing police misconduct to happen is illegal. The officer could face charges if evidence is found that the officer witnessed the incident but did not report it. (“Police Misconduct and Civil Rights”)

Lastly, is police sexual assault? This can take forms in many ways. An officer giving a female a pat down search, could begin groping her or improperly touching her especially in areas that are not intended to be touched in the initial search. An officer could also verbally harass a female victim by using inappropriate language, or saying inappropriate things to the female. Officers can also bribe women to have sexual intercourse with them, in order to get them out of trouble.

The Laws

Police brutality is not a thing that should be taken lightly, but there is the law Section 1983 of Civil Rights Act which exists to protect victims from police attacks on their constitutional rights. Congress enacted 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in order to protect the rights guaranteed to all Americans by the 14th Amendment. Under Section 1983, a victim can file a lawsuit in federal court for police brutality. Section 1983 allows any person within the United States to sue a government official for depriving them of a constitutional right. (Britnall, Kent)

In police brutality cases, the following violations are common: Fourth Amendment. An officer touching your physical person or even use of a gun is a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment. Even a police CED may violate this right. Fifth Amendment. Intentionally refusing to read a suspect their Miranda rights and interrogating them can violate this right. 14th Amendment. Slurs and verbal abuse based on race can violate a suspect’s right to equal protection. (Britnall, Kent)

Victims of police brutality can sue any police agency or government institution under Section 1983. Depending on who was the one violating your rights you can sue:  Law enforcement officers? It may seem obvious, but you can sue the officers responsible as well as their supervisors for any injuries and violations of your rights. These officers, however, in a lot of cases the officers do not get the blame.

City and county governments. Often this is the common way to sue a police department, which cannot be sued directly. For example, victims often sue “The City of Los Angeles” instead of the “LAPD.” Or the mayor of a city. Another way to sue a city department is to sue the mayor of that city. (Britnall, Kent)

Conclusion

The Rodney King case is the prime example of the officers getting tried for their mistakes. But even in this case the officers came out with only a slap to the hand. This in no way teaches other offending officers the lesson they need to change, so the brutality continues to affect innocent people as well as make it dangerous for those officers doing their jobs right. It is a cold reality, but it is a reality we face unless something is done about it.

Police officers can make a difference in this effort though. When an obvious incident of police misconduct is witnessed officers need to be the ones to inform the authorities so that a similar incident does not happen again. In some circumstances this maybe difficult to detect, because there are many cases where it may have appeared police brutality was present when the victim; however was really the one in the wrong.

This is also a community issue as well, it does not have to be the officers that are the ones trying to resolve these types of domestic cases. Neighborhood watches can help officers out and limit the use officers have to do. Civilians could start raising funds for police brutality organizations in order to bring a stop to it. Something is going to have to be done in order to secure the rights and safety of the people, as well as the safety of future officers to come.