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Published: Wednesday 1st of March 2013
Sadly, for many a decade, the USA was one of the countries with a pronounced tendency to the discrimination of all sorts of minorities. One of the most graphic illustrations of this tendency was the police brutality – often, with lethal outcomes. It has been, mildly speaking, causing controversy as long as it existed, especially among the communities under discrimination.
The most vivid example is such discrimination is, of course, the police brutality based on racial prejudice. Black people have been subject to all sorts of discrimination for the past several centuries. Even today, there are crying abuses of police authority against people of color. They include assaults, beatings, or even shootings.
Such tendency could never grow this evident and last this long without being condoned by the government. The reason was evidently to ensure the ongoing supremacy of the white race over the black one. Some may say that this claim is groundless. Nevertheless, it is up to the state to ensure that such dramatic instances of racial violence are out of the question, namely – to declare that these instances are decisively criminal.
Historical and social research reveals five practical reasons. First and foremost, driving black people into slavery was ensuring the low-paid or unpaid labor for the economy. Secondly, it facilitated the unfair distribution of land and other resources in favor of the white people. Thirdly, it enforced social stability and minimized unrest by justifying inequality. The fourth reason was that it was an easy way to confront unemployment and all the related issues. Last but not least, it was eliminating the necessity to address any differences within the white community by uniting all the white people by reference to their race, without any regard to their gender, class, and any other inequalities.
This state of events seemed effective to keep the community from social unrest. However, when the inequality could be contained no longer, and the Emancipation was enforced, which led to even more unrest, and lynching became common as a form of violence. The conservative circles would use lynching to strike the fear into the black people so that the latter did not demand the practical enforcement of Emancipation.
With the course of time, the situation grew worse. By the middle of the 20th century, the lynchings grew into the forms of fully-fledged race riots and legally-justified executions of black people. So, white supremacy took an even more violent form.
Still, lynchings and other physical violence was by far not the only form of discrimination. Black people and other minorities were also mistreated by means of harassment. This form of discrimination has examples even today.
Returning to police brutality, it affects the American society in many ways, and its effects are strongly present in our lives. The practice of police brutality against such minorities as the black people consequently inspires the hatred toward white people from the brutalized in return – particularly toward those wearing badges and carrying guns. The fact that a certain group of people keeps making very particular choices about how to enforce the Law and to use violence in instances where it is unnecessary, makes them look like they put themselves above the Law. This, in turn, gives rise to the disrespect to the Law itself. These are only a few consequences of police brutality that have been widely discussed and investigated both in the press and by the social scholars.
If we try and abstract from the specific instances of police brutality and look at it as a general concept, we can only see it as a clamant abuse of authority and the violation of the very notion of not only civil rights but also the basic human rights. And even given this, the instances of police brutality can still be seen across the country. These instances are still directed against particular minorities and still go unpunished.
The effective Civil Rights Act is quite strict about such cases. It is to provide “protection to those persons wronged by the misuse of power.” This includes but is not limited to the instances when a representative of a minority drives an expensive-looking car and gets stopped by the police on assumption that the car is either stolen or purchased for illegal earnings. Interestingly, the presence of a warrant can prevent such instances of discrimination, but only when it is present. When not, there is no document to regulate the police officer’s actions. This form of discrimination is called racial profiling. Same as other forms of discrimination, it is in direct conflict with the Fourth Amendment. It means being more suspicious against particular groups of people – namely, African American or Latino – and stopping them more often, even when they turn out innocent. This prejudice finds its way into practice by police officers all over the country. The biggest problem with racial profiling is that it is extremely hard to prove that it was the person’s skin color that got them the attention of the police officer. We see a clear tendency of the police officers being more attentive toward the racial minorities, but we cannot prove it in any given instance.
This is extremely important when it comes to a court hearing because an instance of racial profiling can be neither effectively proven, not disproven. A court, however, is by far not the only place where racial profiling takes place. Many people often use it in their everyday situations. For example, a taxi driver may choose the kind of passengers with whom he or she will not feel threatened, same as passengers may choose a cab with a driver that lets them feel safer.
Commonly, profiling is known to employ the CARD system. CARD stands for class, age, race, and dress – these are the main factors used in profiling, and these are the details that police officers look at when choosing whether or not to stop a person. Obviously, the CARD system is not a document or a set of exact guidelines to follow. It is vague, and therefore, nobody is really safe from falling into this category.
Another controversial issue about police brutality is about how it gets practiced in prison. Of course, an officer will exercise his or her authority over the convict, and authority abuse takes place. However, it also gets features of racial discrimination and profiling, when we consider the statistics that tell us that most officers are white and two third of the convicts are Latino or African American.
To facilitate the discussion around police brutality, it is commonly divided into five levels:
It is common knowledge that a police officer or any other enforcement officer should only use a lethal weapon when their or someone else’s life is at risk. This is the only possible case where the use of deadly force can be justified legally or morally. It appears that the job of a law enforcement officer and the lifestyle that it builds eventually gives the person a certain outlook. The person begins to think that he or she can tell a potential criminal who can pose a threat to someone else’s life, among other people. This judgment can involve race, religion, and sex. This, in combination with another factor – the constant stress bound with the job of law enforcement – often leads to instances of such misconduct as police brutality.
When a police officer or any other law enforcement official gets suspected of police brutality, this person is subject to a civil court hearing. The statistics show that in most cases the suspect is declared innocent. In other cases, he or she will be found guilty of a minor example of misconduct, much less critical than police brutality. A great illustration of such tendency took place in 1994 when a 28-year-old Puerto Rican accidentally hit a police car with his football. He and his playmates resisted arrest and were subdued by the reinforcement that arrived later. However, instead of being taken to the police, Baez was taken to a hospital, where he was found dead of asphyxiation. This was the result of the scuffle between him and a police officer. It was an evident case of misconduct, but nobody was found guilty.
Today, several decades after the shocking incident, the racial prejudice that still exists in the society encourages the law enforcement officials to remain violent – directly or indirectly – to everyone who they deem more capable of crime than others. In such a situation, a police worker who abuses his or her authority may sincerely believe that he or she has done the right thing and find him- or herself completely innocent.
There are several ways to improve the situation. First, the instances of police brutality and its impermissibility should be widely discussed during the training of police officers. Secondly, the very law enforcement personnel should be more diverse – racially and otherwise. The implementation of such approaches has already been fruitful. The changes made to the recruitment and training processes of law enforcement officials have given visible results. The very presence of people from various backgrounds at a police station dissolves racial stereotypes that a police worker may have, thus removing the racism component from the police brutality issue. More thorough background checks are also effective for decreasing the number of instances of police brutality by getting the candidates with less pre-disposition to violence hired. As for the already working law enforcement officials, they need repeated re-training sessions or even courses to ensure that they act in strict accordance with the guidelines during arrests, questionings, and other situations where police brutality may occur. Speaking of these guidelines, they also have room for improvement by clarifying all the ambiguous notions that may be understood in different ways. The laws regarding the proper conduct of police work need to have clearer notions and more detailed instructions as to what police should and should not do in all the possible cases. A police worker should have less room for understanding the rules his or her own way. Also, the consequences of misconduct should be defined more clearly, so that every law enforcement worker knew exactly what awaits him or her for each particular case of misconduct – from a verbal reprimand to suspension or firing. This should be of great help to officers who may have the urge to apply physical strength or even weapons while performing their duties.
Today, we can observe evident progress in the situation around police brutality. Its instances are much rarer than they used to be, and racial profiling is not practiced as often as it used to. However, there are still instances of police brutality that inevitably shock the society and undermine the authority of law enforcement – so, there is still room for improvement in this regard. We should be persistent in reforming and improving the recruitment, training, and other procedures in law enforcement to minimize the instances of police brutality and let no innocent suffer unjustly.