English 152 Tue. 6:30-9:40 Police Brutality What is police brutality? It is “excessive assault” on citizens with minor infractions, particularly among minorities. Police brutality has always scarred its victims, notably among minorities. It undermines public confidence in law enforcement officers. Police brutality or harassment against minorities is so widespread that white officers may never be trusted by most people of color.
When an Afro-American or minority dies at the hands of white police officers, it becomes a racial issue. Only until recently with the Rodeny King incident that police brutality has surfaced. Police brutality or harassment can happen in a large city to a small town as it happened to me. On one occasion, about seven years ago, a friend and I were pulled over in Charlotte, Michigan late at night on the way back to Battle Creek from Lansing. I was the driver, driving through the town doing the speed limit, when my friend and I noticed a police car sitting in a vacant lot monitoring traffic. As we passed the police car, the two officers looked right at us.
At that point, I turned to my friend and told him that we were going to be pulled over or followed. Sure enough, the police car pulled out from the lot and followed us until just before the end of the city limits and pulled us over. We had not been drinking, smoking or breaking any laws. So why did we get pulled over? It was because we were black and that we looked suspicious in the police’s eyes. The two police officers approached my car and one of the officers said, “there was a robbery that took place at a convience store by two black males that fled the area recently,” and that was the reason for being pulled over.
We were asked to get out of the vehicle, got padded down and my car was searched for contraband. I maintained my composure even though both of us were very angry for being treated like criminals. We were allowed to leave, but what would have happened if I had voiced my opinion about being pulled over? I probably would have been arrested or something else. Being on a country road, nobody would have seen what might have happened. If I had pursued it any further by reporting the harassment to their chief, they would have taken the side of their own officers.
Incidents like my example happens. Not all Minorities are pulled over. Just the ones that look like suspected drug dealers by the way we dress and the cars we drive. Should a person be judged by material things? No! Case in point, What happen to me! With these negative stereotypes, minorities and Afro-Americans like me have generated a “distrust in law enforcement. A study conducted by Joe Feagin, University of Florida sociologist and nationally noted expert on race relations and University of Florida researcher Kim Lersch, found that: [b]lacks and Latinos were victims in 97% of the brutality cases documented. White Officers were involved in 93% of the assaults.
In the survey of major national and Regional newspaper between January 1990 and May 1993, the study found reports of 130 incidents of police brutality against minorities. Feagin and Lersch found that blacks and latinos were more than likely to be victims of police brutality if they were disrespectful in their demeanor towards the officers than if they had posed a deadly threat. The study also showed that white officers are rarely penalized when they assault minorities(qtd. in Jet 15). With such statics, we can see that we have a problem in this country. The most recent police brutality case happen early this year, in Southern California, involving latinos in a high speed chase with the sheriffs deputies.
Excessive assault wasn’t necessary. Had the suspects been white, would the situation been different? Probably so. There is a need to change law enforcement policies thus far. The motto “to protect and to serve” is basically true. To me, “to protect” means to protect me from criminals that may cause harm and “to serve” means to serve the public 24 hours a day.
It’s when corrupt officers go beyond the legal limits of the law to victimized minority citizens such as, their “code of silence.” When a white officer “turns the other cheek” as other white officers brutalize or harass suspects; even though the officer may feel it was not proper police procedures, he cannot “rat” on fellow officers for fear of reprisal from fellow officers. The minority victim, on the other hand, has to have proof if the alleged incident took place, if they are to file a complaint against the police officer(s). Even if proof was established, the court system will likely believe the officer(s) testimony over the victim. Only until recently, the power of a video camera was police brutality a reality. According to the New York Times, “not until recently with the Rodney King incident has police brutality really surfaced with King being awarded with a court settlement. Hundreds of complaints have been filed against the offending police department.
The New York City police department is just one example. Between 1989 and 1993, more than $1.3 billion in claims were filed against them and more than $67 million were paid to the victim charging police misconduct by the city. In 1995, the City of New York paid out $9 million in claims alone”(13). The police now quickly settle out of court, even when guilt has not been established. In the wake of the Rodney King beating, Municipalities are more anxious than ever to pay up.
When I see figures like these, it is a senseless waste of taxpayers’ money. The money could be best be spent on solving the problems. Currently, federal prosecutors have made positive steps to investigate local authorities who turn a blind eye to illegal practices or went to trial with evidence they knew to be tainted. Federal prosecutors serve mainly as a back-stop to seek justice when local law enforcement fails. The Justice Department can proceed against officers under long-standing criminal status or under provisions of last year’s crime bill, which gave it authority to look for “patterns of practice” cases against police departments with bad records.
Federal officials report that they have indicted 300 police officers around the nation over the past 5 years and convicted more than 200 of them. Federal prosecutors are stepping up the pressure on local goverments that are unwilling or unable to root out police criminality on their own ( New York Times 1995 ). What we as citizens need to do is put a stop to police misconduct on citizens, and ease the scarring that has been instilled in our lives.