Police brutality is a complicated phenomenon, with widespread impacts on today’s social fabrics. Police brutality is a severe issue in the United States and encompasses the life-threatening and often unlawful application of force against the civilian population, ranging from, assaults, torture, and to an extent, murder. While the expression aims to cause physical injury, it is not just that; police brutality results in a psychological detriment, through intimidation strategies, including paranoia and post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) (Wood & Dennard, 2017). Many cases of police brutalities in the United States were affected with approval of the legal system, for instance, during the Civil Rights Movement era. The qualifying parameters included race variances, politics, religion, socioeconomic status, or sometimes exit between the law enforcers and the citizens (Milner, George, & Allison, 2016). The present paper explores police brutality as a severe problem in the United States, the contributing factors and the effects on the society, and an overview of how police brutality can be curtailed.
Race Relation and Police Brutality in the U.S.
Racism and racial profiling are cited as the major contributing factor for police brutality in the contemporary United States. Ritchie & Mogul (2007), in there finding, argue that racial minorities, including African Americans and Latino, bear the impact of police brutalities and excessive force in many parts of the United States (Ritchie & Mogul 2007). Evidence of racial profiling by the police is extensively documented in courts, by commissions of inquiry, and several cases captured and shared by the public through video camcorders. African American males are often met with excessive force encounters by the police compared to their societal counterparts (Milner, George & Allison, 2016). Study shows that African American males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police compared to the White males, and constitutes about 31 deaths per million compared to White males at 1.47 deaths per million (Milner, George & Allison, 2016). Police brutality includes harassment, ill-treatment, racist language, false arrests, baseless stops and searches, and unjustified shootings. The use of force by law against the people of color is predominantly every day in the context of approaches used in the “war on drugs,” the “war on terror,” “zero tolerance” and “quality of life” regulatory initiatives, and controlling of protests (Ritchie & Mogul 2007).
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According to Alam (2015), starting with the inception of slavery through the periods following the “Civil Rights Movement” of the 1950s and 1960s, the White Americans have held an old conviction that of the necessity to provide racial regulations of the minority groups. Black males have been a worry for decades. The degradation of minority groups serve as an assertion of White supremacy. Embrick (2015) cited a formerly supervisory duty of the slave bosses and racist organizations, including the Ku Klux Klan, in keeping minorities in check and under social control. The same concepts have now fallen in the United States criminal justice department systems. Racial bullying, police brutalization, and public portrayal of the degradation of African American males are still approaches used to marginalize this population (Embrick, 2015).
Gates (2019) asserts that the days of slavery and period after the “Emancipation Proclamation,” Black males have endured the constant targets of White supremacy in the U.S. For instance, during the era of Jim Crow, the Blacks, predominantly the males, were consistently snatched from their households during the night and murdered, and no actions taken against the aggressors (Gates 2019). As such, today’s legally-condoned police viciousness witnessed across the U.S. comes straight from the longstanding racist grounds, which were constructed to inhibit Blacks and other minorities from progressing in the academics, social, or economic spheres (Embrick, 2015).
It is also worthwhile to explore the approaches through which intergroup biases are perpetuated in the United States and the resulting consequence—among them being the harsh treatment of the minority Blacks. Embrick (2015) maintained that in a society where the mainstream group is born with privilege, it is challenging to conceptualize the marginalized and underprivileged life faced by minorities. The negative outlooks toward the Blacks and other minority groups in the U.S. are learned from the society members connected in early childhood (Embrick 2015). In many cases, the whites blame or defend the brutal acts of excessive force or brutalization of the minorities. In a nationwide survey conducted in 2014 by PEW Research Center, the Blacks held that race was the key contributing factor to police shootings and killings of Black males by police officers. The White Americans, on the other hand, thought that an inquiry would be reasonable to establish if the excessive use of force by the police is justifiable and prudently improper. In the same study, the Blacks were circumspect to defend police brutality involving the Blacks compared to their White America counterparts (Bruce, 2014).
A large share of the African Americans in Ferguson than their counterpart whites believed that the shooting of Michael Brown pointed a tough question about race, according to a study conducted soon after the event. About 80% of Blacks upheld that Brown’s shooting raised grave issues “that need to be discussed.” The Whites had a considerably different view. Approximately 50% argued that the phenomenon was getting much attention than it merited, while about 37% shared similar opinions of the Blacks that the shooting pointed to substantive race issues that need attention (PEW Research Center 2014), as indicated in figure 1.
Figure 1: Blacks and Whites Views on Brown’s Shooting and Racism
Source: (PEW Research Center, 2014).
CNN conducted a poll in 2015 in which, the minority Americans were asked about their perception by the U.S. criminal system. Not astoundingly, about 69% of the Blacks interviewed said that the whites were privileged, and received better treatments that the Blacks. Only 42% of the Whites agreed that the White American society received better treatment than the Black community. To sum it up, Gates (2019) maintained that systemic racial and social divisions is main cause of police brutality in U.S. (Gates 2019). The divisions are propagated by white supremacy and degradation of the minority groups, particularly the Blacks.
Excessive Force and Police perceptions
Police perceptions in the use of excessive force is another contributing factor to police brutality in the U.S. Hooker (2016) noted the perception by many that the minority groups were not equal to the dominant whites when facing unwarranted force applied by the police. The author argued that there is a nonexistence of trust in the police among Black Americans because of the perception by this faction that Black lives, mostly men are less of value to the American community, and readily dispensable (Hooker 2016). Besides, there also exists a long-held opinion that the majority of Whites have a obsession with racial order/population control. The direct acts of asserting control to the behavioral and social dynamics of minority groups could be a partial reason as to the prevalence of police brutality and the killing of Black males by the police (Hooker 2016).
There is also an extensive amount of research indicating the hazardous impact of the unfavorable view about African Americans. Included in an adverse view about the Blacks is the supposition that most of them are inherently violent and criminal deviants. Such beliefs account for the racial segregation in the justice system outcomes when relating the Blacks with other groups in the U.S. (Najdowski et al., 2015). The stereotyping the African Americans as aggressive and hostile communities subconsciously impacts how other groups, including the police, make judgments about them (Najdowski et al., 2015). The subconscious association of Blacks and criminality may have significantly impacted why the police encounter them with much force, sometimes resulting in the shoot to kill.
Approaches to curtail police brutality in the U.S.
Police brutality continues to rattle our sociaty, with the burden mostly falling on the Blacks. Nevertheless, this conduct can be curtailed. Scholars, researchers, and public policymakers have recently come out to support the proper training of police as a way of address police brutality. Training that includes stopping and thinking when in elevated environments of danger is shown to have the potential for reducing excessive use of force by the police when interacting with suspects. Research had proven that when unarmed African Americans were shot during different encounters with the law enforcers, the officers reported feeling threatened as the primary cause for the excessive reactive force (Klinger 2012). There is generally a perception of raised feelings of danger in disenfranchised and low-income communities, even when the behavior of the suspect poses no reason for concern.
As such, there is a need for community police training. A training of this particular nature will help the police officer understand the actions and behaviors of different groups, therefore, decreasing the anxiety when encountering people who are not of their race or socioeconomic level. Besides, research indicates that community police training, when effectively implemented, can translate into better relationships between the police and members of the community, thereby lowering the cases of threat perception mistakes (Klinger 2012). The association is essential in curtailing the current rampant cases of police brutalities in the United States. A closer reappraisal of the police administration that enforces the work rule and set work environment is essential alongside community police training to establish and correct the root-course of this problem once and for all.
The findings of this study suggest that police brutality is still a grave issue in the United States. Police brutality is primarily fueled by racial relations between the majority Whites and the minority groups, and tolerated by officers who are commanding the police. The Black community is the most affected by this menace due to the negative perception of other groups. There is an inherent supposition that the Blacks, mainly the males, are violent and criminal deviants. The perception has led to police applying excessive force on them based on feeling threatened. The paper recommends two things to address police brutality in the United States. First, there is a need for community police training to enhance the relationship between the police and the public. Second, a close reexamination of the police administration that enforces the work rule and set work environment is necessary to establish and correct the root-course of this problem.
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Alam, I. Z. (2015). Analysis of Police Use of Force in the New York Stop and Frisk Policy.
Bruce, D. (2014 November). Ferguson highlights deep divisions between blacks and whites in America. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/26/ferguson-highlights-deep-divisions-between-blacks-and-whites-in-america/
Embrick, D. G. (2015). Two nations revisited: The lynching of Black and brown bodies, police brutality, and racial control in ‘post-racial’ America. Critical Sociology, 41(6), 835-843.
Gates, Jr, H. L. (2019). Stony the road: Reconstruction, White supremacy, and the rise of Jim Crow. Penguin Press.
Hooker, J. (2016). Black Lives Matter and the paradoxes of US Black politics: From democratic sacrifice to democratic repair. Political Theory, 44(4), 448-469.
Klinger, D. A. (2012). Police training as an instrument of accountability. Louis U. Pub. L. Rev., 32, 111.
Pew Research Center (2014). Stark Racial Divisions in Reactions to Ferguson Police Shooting. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2014/08/18/stark-racial-divisions-in-reactions-to-ferguson-police-shooting/
Ritchie, A. J., & Mogul, J. L. (2007). In the shadows of the war on terror: Persistent police brutality and abuse of people of color in the United States. DePaul J. Soc. Just., 1, 175.
Wood, J., & Dennard, S. (2017). Gang membership: Links to violence exposure, paranoia, PTSD, anxiety, and forced control of behavior in prison. Psychiatry, 80(1), 30-41.