Police Brutality Essay
"But they didn’t have to beat me this bad. I don’t know what I did to be beat
up." Rodney King, March 3, 1991. Police brutality has been a long lasting
problem in the United States since at least 1903 when police Captain Williams
of the New York Police Departmen coined the phrase, "There is more law at
the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.;
In the 1920’s the Wichersham Commission had a number of instances of police
Many of these included the use of the "third degree" (beating to
obtain a confession). This is a very effective way to get a confession out of
somebody. However, beating the accused could easily elicit a confession from
a scared and innocent person. Also, this puts the accused person’s life in
danger. Police officers must make snap life and death decisions daily. Officers’
work in an environment where death (theirs, their partners, and an innocent or
guilty person) is one decision away.
How does that constant fear effect an
officer’s perception? Unfortunately, many that are attracted to law
enforcement are aggressive and prone towards violence as a solution. Police
officers have a lot of power. With this power comes responsibility. Police
brutality can be defined as the excessive or unreasonable use of force in
dealing with citizens, suspects and offenders. A nationally known example
occurred on the morning of March 3, 1991. Rodney King was pulled out of his
vehicle and beaten by two Los Angeles police officers.
The LAPD had
originally given chase to Mr. King’s vehicle due to a failure to yield. Officers
fired a 50,000-volt Taser electric dart gun at Mr. King. They also hit King with
King, according to police officials, was hit approximately 56 times.
Mr. King had 11 broken bones at the base of his skull. Also, the bones holding
his eye in the right socket were broken (LA Times March 19, 1991 p. A20).
The policemen reported that Mr.
King appeared to be on PCP at the time he
was pulled over. Subsequent tests indicated Mr. King had no drugs or alcohol
in his system (Serrano, 1991 p. A1). The Rodney King incident was however,
captured by a private citizen on videotape. This videotape has subsequently
been broadcast nationally and the ensuing trial against the police officers
involved captivated our nation.
(LA Times March 19, 1991 p. A20).
Twenty-seven uniformed officers witnessed this incident from various law
enforcement agencies. None of the officers (those individuals who are
supposed to protect citizens) made any effort to stop this abuse.(LA Times
March 19, 1991 p. A20).
The level of escalation even went so far as to call in a
police helicopter! (Ironically, the lights from the helicopter actually improved
the lighting for the videotape.) The King beating brought complaints from the
Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley and national attention from civil rights
leaders. Many believed the beating was racially motivated and extended from a
pattern of abusive behavior by police towards blacks. (McDonald 1991) This
act of violent behavior from police officers has brought many questions to the
national table, such as: Is police brutality on the rise? Is the police hiding
behind their badges? How does the public view police brutality? How can
we raise public awareness? Is police brutality on the rise? This is an important
question to ask ourselves and the police departments. A study in seventeen
counties in Northern California indicated that in the past two years excessive
force and neglect has resulted in at least seven deaths and fatal injury. (Saari,
no date) In fact a nine-month period from August 26, 1996 to June 29, 1997
seven citizens died as a result of police brutality.
Sonoma County California
currently has the highest rate of custody deaths in the bay area (Saari). In
many cases the situation (according to police accounts) has rapidly escalated to
a point where police feel the need to use deadly force. Many of those
committing crimes are mentally ill. The Sonoma County Alliance for the
Mentally Ill advises that police officers in confrontations with people
experiencing psychiatric episodes: Speak calmly and quietly Slow down the
pace Be willing to repeat yourself Do not try to hurry a resolution This
increase in violence is part of a toughened criminal justice system, which
includes the war on drugs, the building of new prisons, and the garnering of
federal habeas corpus rights. (Kerstetter, 1985 p.160) This rise in police
brutality may come from a quick criminalization .