Many African Americans become victims of police brutality due to the systemic racism and criminalization of people of color. African Americans are unfairly targeted by law enforcement and not afforded the same rights and privileges as other races in America. There have been many historic events in our current society surrounding police brutality such as the incidents surrounding Rodney King, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner. After constantly hearing in the news about unarmed African Americans becoming victims to the police, it is clear that African Americans are directly targeted by the police, more specifically black men.
According to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics from 2014, for all age groups, black male individuals are arrested and have the highest rate of imprisonment in state and federal facilities which rate is 3.8 to 10.5 times more than the rate for white men and 1.4 to 3.1 times more than the rate for Hispanic men (Carson 23). The primary factor that explains these statistics is the fact that Africans Americans as a race are racially profiled by the police. The frequencies of which African Americans have been murdered by the police are not accidental situations, nor are they reflective of the excuses that have come to be standard police responses to these situations; fear of personal safety. Police brutality and racially profiling is also not just about individual officers, but a culture that allows prejudice and violence against communities of color to go unchecked. With the use of new and updated technology like body cameras, these statistics could be reversed because they would show proof that majority of these incidents are not justified and prevent officers from targeting black men.
On March 2, 1991, an African American man named Rodney Glen King was watching a basketball game and drinking 40-ounce beers at a friend’s house in suburban Los Angeles. Upon leaving his friend’s house, he ran a red light and nearly caused an accident. When four officers arrived on the scene, they ordered him to get out of the car and get on the ground. At first, he did not comply and just smiled at the scenery around him. The officers described him as having bizarre behavior and a spaced-out look, which they used to try to justify their actions. King was able to successfully avoid a swarming maneuver that the officers tried to use still able to rise to his feet despite being hit twice by an electric stun gun. This is when the officers started to strike them with metal batons and kick him repeatedly, even after him repeatedly saying please stop. A year later, on April 29, 1992 four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted on the beating of Rodney King. There was an 81 second video of the beating, that showed a group of officers kicking, stomping, and beating on him with metal batons in an intersection in South Los Angeles.
Since it was caught on video, it sparked a national debate about police brutality and injustice. Despite the videotape being shown in court, a jury in Simi Valley concluded a year that the evidence was not sufficient to convict the officers (Owens and Browning 153). Within hours of the jury’s verdict, Los Angeles erupted in riots. When it was over, fifty-four people had lost their lives, over 7,000 people had been arrested, and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of property had been destroyed (Deitz 74). Angry crowds gathered in in cities all across the country. When the officer was not indicted in the beating of Rodney King, that represented the usual outcome of cases involving police and unarmed black man.
Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by and killed by a police officer in at Cudell park in Cleveland, Ohio on November 22, 2014. There was a call to the police department stating that there was an African American male in a park brandishing a firearm, and the caller made sure to say that the suspected firearm was presumed to be fake. The police dispatcher who took the call failed to notify the officers of these details. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, one of the officers fired two shots into Tamir Rice’s abdomen. For 4 full minutes after being shot, he was not given any first aid. He was with his 14-year-old sister at the time, who the officers pinned and handcuffed, preventing her from comforting her bleeding brother. The officers claimed that Tamir didn’t respond to them shouting and him and was reaching for a gun in his waistband, although he was unarmed. The officer that fired the gun, Timothy Loehmann, was an officer in training at the time at claimed that he had no choice but to shoot and kill the twelve-year-old. In the investigation it was noted that Tamir had a toy gun. Days after his death, a video went viral showing that Tamir’s body fell to the ground immediately after the police cruiser arrived on the scene. This video along with multiply witness testimonies contradicts the officers’ claims that they were shouting at Tamir, since they gave him no time to react to any warnings that may have been given. Activists and community leaders appealed to the courts to have the two officers arrested and indicted on the charges of murder and negligent homicide, with the video evidence providing probable charge. On December 28, 2015 a grand jury in Cuyahoga County of Ohio decided not to indict the two white police officers, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, in the death of Tamir Rice.
On July 14, 2014 a 43-year-old African American man named Eric Garner died after being detained by police officers of the New York Police Department in Staten Island, New York. Initially, he was arrested for selling individual cigarettes on the streets, which is illegal. The entire arrest was captured on video and showed Garner being held in a chokehold for at least 15 seconds and pinned to the ground. While pinned to the ground by an officer named Daniel Pantaleo, he repeatedly lets him know that the choke hold is impairing him by saying I can’t breathe. He wasn’t provided any medical assistance, nor did the officers let up on their choke hold. The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office autopsy report concluded that the chokehold was responsible for his death since he suffered from asthma. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police (Sparrow 25). The grand jury failed to indict the police officer who killed Garner, which started many civil protests. Protesters chanted I can’t breathe, in support of trying to get justice for his death.
These are just a few of the hundreds of incidents that have occurred, and as a response to the highly publicized police killings of unarmed black men, many civil rights movements have risen. One of the most known is Black Lives Matter, a movement and national organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene when violence was inflicted on black communities by the state and vigilantes. It was founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometti, and Patrisse Cullors, therefore it wasn’t around during the time of Rodney King’s police encounter and others around that time. Instead of one large organized movement, there were many separate civil rights movements in the 90’s. Unlike those previous civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter is decentralized, and encourages leaders from communities all across this country rather than one leader. One of the three founders, Alicia Garza describes this movement as an ideological and political intervention in a world where black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise (Garza).
The enragement surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin after he was shot and killed, then put on trial for his own murder, is what led to the Black Lives Matter Movement. The creation of this movement was a response to the anti-black racism that permeates our society, and also unfortunately previous movements. After the death of Trayvon Martin, it became more prevalent to how many African Americans become victims to police brutality, without receiving any justice. Trayvon Martin’s case differed than most other cases because he was killed by a civilian, not a police officer. After Trayvon’s death and the verdict of his case was publicized across our country, other cases became widely publicized as well. It ignited an urge in the black community to organize and fight for a change. As more unarmed Black men and women continued to be killed by police officers in cities around the country, the movement utilized social media platforms, primarily Twitter and Facebook, to organize protests in response to police violence against African Americans . By the end of 2015, the ratio was 6:1 of unarmed black men dying as a result of being shot by the police in the United States. Out of the 102 cases that that took place in 2015 that dealt with unarmed African Americans, only ten resulted in police being charged with a crime (Geller et al 2325). The Black Lives Metter movement aims to changes these statistics and unify our society. Groups associated with Black Lives Matter have advocated for a wide variety of policy changes including body cameras, independent special prosecutors, greater transparency in policing (Fasching-Warner and Hartlep 5). This movement has drawn enormous attention from all sides of the political spectrum at the local and national levels.
After hearing about the several incidents surrounding police brutality inflicted on African Americans all around our country, there is a clear pattern. After each story breaks out to the public the police release a statement, officers get placed on leave, protests break out, and the case goes to trial with an outcome of no indictment for the police officers. In each of the cases, white police officers were involved and none of them were held accountable for the beatings or deaths, regardless of them being at fault. This is because they are going around killing unarmed African Americans when it is not necessary and claiming it as self-defense. None of these officers are getting indicted on these crimes and it continues to happen, since they know they can get away with it.
If these officers truly felt as though their lives were in danger, they could have shot the victims once in the leg to make them unable to get away or even use a taser to make them fall to the ground. The outcome should never be to take a life, unless they propose an actual threat to the officer’s life. In order to prevent further deaths, the police department should be held accountable. The department has to accept what the officers are doing and hold each officer accountable, as well as be willing to fix the problem. In each case the police officers claimed that they feared for their lives, yet the evidence proved that there was no definitive justification for them to feel threatened. Police officers sign up for a job that ensures the safety of others, so when something goes wrong, they have to be able to admit fault. Law enforcement leaders should promote a vision in which the use of excessive force is the least desirable outcome.
To decrease the rates of African Americans being killed, officers should be under audio and video surveillance. They should be required to wear body cameras, in addition to their dashboard cameras, while on duty. This is a way to decrease all forms of police brutality and protect the civilians. In an 18 month study ran in Rialto, California fifty-four officers were randomly assigned to wear a Taser Axon body camera system .The results of the study showed that shifts without cameras experienced twice as many incidents of use of force as shifts with cameras, and the rate of use of force incidents per 1,000 contacts was reduced by 2.5 times overall as compared to the previous twelve-month period (Ready and Young 447) . This proves that body cameras increase transparency and police legitimacy, improve behavior among both police officers and citizens, and reduce police use of force. If more officers wore body cameras, they would be less likely to shoot African Americans as quickly as they do now, thus preventing deaths. Officers are often not held accountable for their misconduct, and the cameras would provide accountability for both the officers and the civilians. They would be held accountable for their actions because there would be clear proof of what happened.
The videos from these cameras would serve very useful for criminal proceedings, as they often show the ugly truth of interactions between black people and the police. The outcomes of the cases previously discussed show that videos from bystanders recording from their phones don’t result in indictments or convictions because they are considered circumstantial evidence. Body camera footage is much more powerful and indiscriminate when it comes to presenting evidence in court. The footage from the body cameras could also be beneficial to use during training to show examples of how they should and shouldn’t conduct themselves. The body cameras should be worn when responding to a 911 call or when they are making a traffic stop, since that is when most of the problems occur. If the cameras only record these particular moments, this will decrease the amount of footage that’s being reviewed for a case. It would also bring down the cost of storing these footages. There are currently no federal rules for when an officer should and should not turn on their cameras, so it would be up to the police department. All departments should make the firm decision of making the police wear cameras during the times they are interacting with people. If the police officer purposely never turns on their cameras, they should be subject to consequences. If a civilian ends up getting hurt in any way during the time their camera is off, the officer should be suspended as opposed to administrative leave.
One issue that may arise is who gets access to the cameras. The public does not necessarily need access to the video footage unless they are a part of the victims’ family or on the team of detectives. Everyone who is in the courtroom, if it makes it to court, should be able to watch the video because it would be considered evidence. If the officer attempts to fabricate the story in any way, the body camera video could easily settle it. Most police departments are funded by the city council. They can receive a grant from the federal government and give details as to what body cameras can do for the country as a whole in order to increase the chance of receiving funding. Some may also argue that making police wear body cameras is an invasion of privacy since all of the police surroundings while arresting someone will be shown. Faces in the surrounding can be easily made anonymous by being blurred out.
There is clear tension between police forces and black communities. Violence being inflicted onto black people by the police is one of the predominant traumatic events that consistently affects the lives of young black youth and our communities. The impact of police brutality is much broader than simply affecting the individuals who have experienced racialized violence, it is a constant reminder of the historic and current devaluing of Black lives (Alang et al. 664). It sends a signal that there is little hope for justice. Police used to be thought of as protecting us, but now they are thought of us the ones who kill us. Since 2005, only 54 officers have been charged in the thousands of fatal shootings, and the vast majority of those officers were exonerated or acquitted (Carasick 4).
These targeted victims are often exploited through their criminal records, physical appearances, or misperceived attributes and that has been used to justify their unlawful deaths. Way too often, police officers take away our lives in a flash due to a perceived threat, although the victims that they deemed to be a threat were unarmed, physically subdued, or lying on the ground.
The result of this is the tension and lack of trust within the police and black communities throughout America. Police officers have been abusing their powers and our judicial stem has let them get away with it. Holding these officers responsible for their crimes and using body cameras to prove that they are using unnecessary force can turn these statistics around and lower the rates of deaths due to police brutality.
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