The Relationship Between Law Enforcement And Citizens: Police Brutality
History will show there has always been tension between the law enforcement and citizen relationship dating back many decades ago. The Civil Rights Era yielded lots of violence and protests from citizens and activists asking for the brutality at the hands of law enforcement to end. During this time, African Americans were the most affected by the police brutality which included being sprayed with fire hoses, being attacked by police dogs, and in some cases being savagely beaten with batons. Racial inequality and segregation among blacks and whites accounted for a major part of this treatment and it developed a distrust and hate from the black community towards officers. Fast forward more than five decades later, the issue of police brutality is still present.
Over the past five years, there have been thousands of claims of police brutality. The larger number of the incidents affect the African American community still and has progressed from fire hoses, batons, and attack dogs to guns. Many of the incidents recorded during the past five years have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Police brutality is not a new trend; however, many people still do not see the seriousness of these allegations. Given the history of the relationship between law enforcement and citizens, has there been any real positive progress?
There were many early high-profile cases when police brutality was evident and proven. Once case that gained a lot of media attention nationwide was the Rodney King case in Los Angeles, Ca in the early 90s. Rodney King was severely beaten by at least four Los Angeles police officers. The officers were initially acquitted, but two of them were later found guilty in a civil suit and Rodney King was awarded more than three million dollars in damages. Although this case was brutal, Rodney King came out of this situation alive and able to tell his story. Many of the more recent cases have resulted in countless deaths, with blacks leading the numbers. One of the more recent cases of police brutality that gained national attention was the Eric Garner case. Mr. Garner, who was an unarmed African American male, died back in 2014 after being placed in a choke hold by a New York City Police officer. Though Mr. Garner begged for his life, stating “I can’t breathe” several times. The officer ignored Mr. Garner’s plea for help and continued choking him until he died. The officer’s not being indicted by the grand jury led to protests from citizens, which started the “Black Lives Matter” movement. In the years following the Eric Garner case, there would be hundreds more cases of alleged police brutality, some leading to death, with victims as young as six-years-old. Black offenders are more likely to be shot and killed by police than white offenders of the same, similar or worse crimes. There have been many sad incidents in recent news where offenders have committed crimes against innocent victims. There have been mass shootings at schools, churches and other places and events. In these cases, some offenders were white, some were black, and others were different races. In nearly every case involving white offenders, they were taken into custody alive and able to stand trial, unless they took their own life after committing their crime.
In one tragic high-profile case, Dylan Roof, a white male, walked into a historic black church in downtown Charleston and shot and killed nine innocent blacks, including a state Senator, who were attending prayer service. Pictures of Dylan Roof eating Burger King with law enforcement officers after being taken into custody made their way to the internet. Dylan roof killed nine innocent people, was fed fast food by law enforcement and lived to make it to trial without a scratch on his body. In another tragic high-profile case, Philando Castille, a highly respected black father and food service worker, was stopped for a broken tail light while riding with his wife and child in the car. Mr. Castille complied with the officer’s request and even let the officer know he had a registered weapon and a license to carry. However, Mr. Castille was murdered in front of his wife and child and the officer was not convicted. Mr. Castille was a hard-working father with no criminal record, he did not kill anyone, he was not fed fast food, but instead died as a result of a broken tail light.
There are some critics who believe it’s not only right, but legal for officers to base traffic stops and treatment of citizens on their race or physical features. Ristroph suggests, “that the Fourth Amendment gives officers the right to search and seizure on the ground of suspicion, even if the officer bases this decision on a person’s race” (2017). It is this type of thinking that keeps the racial divide growing. Unjustifiable murder should be punishable by law for anyone who commits the crime. Most of the outrage surrounding the cases is not only that majority of the victims are minority, especially African American men, but also the lack of reprimand for law enforcement who recklessly open fire and kill the citizens who are later found to have been unarmed and many of them complied with the commands of officers. For the many hundreds of unarmed citizens killed by cops over the past decade, there have only been a small few held accountable for their actions. Law enforcement have a responsibility to protect and serve citizens. However, is there protection from the law enforcement officers who abuse their power and hurt or kill citizens?
The government is supposed to assume responsibility when citizens “rights are violated”. They way these cases are handled is one factor that helps shape the way the public views the justice system. One of the key factors in determining whether a law enforcement officer will face charges in a brutality or murder case is the grand jury indictment. The prosecutor is responsible for presenting evidence to the grand jury to show there is probable cause for a trial when the law enforcement officer is the accused. The issue is that most of the cops who are accused have worked in partnership with the same prosecutor to help put offenders in jail. This alone leads to the lack of trust citizens, especially in the African American communities, have for not only law enforcement, but the justice system as a whole. Not all law enforcement officers are bad, there are some really great ones. Law enforcement officers undoubtedly face dangers with each call they answer. When they are responding to a call, they have no idea of who or what they will see and what the outcome will be. Once they arrive and can better assess the situation is where their training should kick in. A well-trained law enforcement officer should know when excessive/deadly force should be used based on the circumstances and not based on the race of an offender. There have been news stories of officers who would go to areas where there was known tension between law enforcement and citizens and try to establish positive interaction and engagement with the community to help build that trust back.
There are also law enforcement officers who go above and beyond to negotiate with offenders, so the outcome is peaceful. Officers have the responsibility to protect and serve, but they also have the right to protect their own safety if they are in imminent danger. For example, the recent tragic shooting of seven law enforcement officials in Florence, SC, who were serving a warrant for an alleged sexual assault of a minor charge. One of the officers sadly lost his life as a result of the injuries. These are some of the dangers that come with being an officer of the law. All lives matter, no matter the race. There is no law which states that one race of people is better or more entitled to live life more than the other.
The key to fixing the issues surrounding the relationship between law enforcement and citizens is learning to respect one another and understanding that the next person’s life is just as important as your own or your loved ones. Once a person is dead, there is no coming back from that. I am in no way minimizing the dangers men and women of law enforcement face each day they are on duty. However, we cannot overlook the fact that a person who is unarmed and complying with law enforcement should never lose his or her life due to an overzealous officer or one who holds bias against a class of people. The laws should stand for everyone, murder is murder, unless it’s in self-defense.
I believe that more officer indictments in proven cases of over excessive use of power, brutality and murder would make the trigger-happy cops think twice before shooting unarmed suspects. The same goes for offenders who bring harm to law enforcement or anyone else, they should pay heavily for their crimes. No one should have to walk around in fear of their lives. Even though law enforcement face dangers with each call they respond too, police brutality among African Americans is a huge issue because hundreds of unarmed African American men and women have been killed by police officers and reports show that blacks make up the largest percent of people killed by law enforcement.
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