Police brutality is a central problem in modern Chicago life. Studies have shown that minorities are not just disproportionately victims of police brutality, but more so police deviance. Research has also shown how organizational characteristics, police-minority interactions, and police officers individual characteristics all influence their street-level behavior.
In light of these facts, this paper proposes three questions:
This paper attempts to view police brutality from a social science perspective using two theories:
Background Contemporary policing did not develop into an organized institution until the 1830’s. After reports of various crimes taking place throughout the country, most northern cities decided they needed better control over quickly growing populations. The disorder became so prevalent during those times because no city in the U.S. had a police department.
No city in the U.S. had an institution that would serve the citizens as well as protect them. This changed for the city of Chicago on August the 15th in 1835, when their police department was established (Mitrani 2013). The police departments around the U.S. were designed to be bureaucratic, disciplined, able to patrol entire cities, and operate effectively with the military, if need be. They are one of the most visible features of governance. For about 183 years, the Chicago police force has been organized, like all other police departments, as a “form of public institution with the assignment of imposing the law” (Fry and Berkes 1983).
For as long as they have existed, this department has received a substantial amount of public scrutiny over issues such as unfairness, racism, excessive use of force, corruption, and an overall lack of professionalism. “As communication technology continues to rapidly develop, police incidents of misconduct and police vs. community tension, have become more and more visible” (Frank 2009). The excessive use of force, racism, and overall lack of professionalism by police has prompted a series of violent chaos all throughout the United States. Specifically, the citizens of Chicago have witnessed police misconduct for a long time.
Dating back to December 4, 1969 when Officer Edward Hanrahan and his police squad raided an apartment of the Black Panther Party located on W. Monroe Street (Grossman, 2014), they entered the apartment and immediately started firing killing Fred Hampton and Mark Clark as well as injuring four other Panthers (Grossman, 2014). At a press conference later that day, Officer Hanrahan falsely claimed of having a fierce shootout between them and the Panthers, which formed the basis of killing and injuring them (Grossman, 2014).
Hanrahan was later acquitted and his conspiracy charges in the civil suit were dropped (Grossman, 2014). This event defined the office in years to come. Fast forwarding to 1972 to 1991, Officer Jon Burge along with 64 detectives, tortured over 135 Blacks, both male and females, forcing them to confess to crimes of murder. This act of police brutality not only got Burge respectfully recognized nationally by the Department of Justice, but eventually categorized locally as a disgrace to the Chicago Police Department.
Burge later served four and half years for obstruction of justice and perjury (U.S. Department of Justice 2011). Nearly four years ago on October 20, 2014, Officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald, a Black teen, while he was walking away from police with a knife in his hand (Husain 2017). When police arrived, Laquan was walking in the middle of the street and then started walking towards the side walk (Husain 2017). Officer Van Dyke stated that he feared for his life, causing him to fire 16 times killing Laquan McDonald (Husain 2017). He was later suspended without pay (Husain 2017).
In all these cases, the common variables that resulted in police brutality are presented in which a minority/ minorities were labeled suspects but unfortunately became victims. On the other hand, the police were never convicted and sentenced for the crimes they committed. What makes these Chicago cases so unique is that after each event occurred there were high-profile protests against police brutality. Studies have shown a correlation between high-profile protests and an increase in the violent crime rate (Balko 2017). I believe violent crime has increased because police practices have battered citizens’ respect for the law, the courts, and the police. Although these events have left a huge stain on citizen’s perception of police in Chicago, especially for minorities, why do police continue to commit police brutality? Why is it more so toward minorities? And which of the two theories best helps us understand their continual application of police brutality?
Over the last couple decades, a significantamount of scholarly attention has been focused on police brutality (Frank 2009). Many scholars believe that various forms of police misconduct, specifically police brutality, can be explained through theory-based research (Lersch 1998, Wolfe and Piquero 2011). Two popular theories – Social Conflict Theory and Tittle’s Control Balance Theory – will be presented while examining past Chicago Police Department cases to provide a social science perspective on the continuance of police brutality within the Chicago Police Department.
I will begin by introducing the theories, examine Chicago Police Department cases with theoretical applications, answer three questions: “Why do police continue to commit police brutality”, “Why is it more so toward minorities”, and “Which of the two theories best helps us understand their continual application of police brutality?” Lastly I will conclude with my opinion on the continuance of police brutality from an influenced selected theory perspective.
Karl Marx and several other conflict theorists perceive conflict as an engine of change that creates more conflicts as well as contradictions, which sometimes get resolved. They believe that the history of mankind is a result of conflicts between social classes and that these conflicts have evolved over time as the assertiveness of meeting the needs within society have changed. In Karl Marx’s book titled “Communist Manifesto”, written in 1848, he introduced the Social Conflict Theory.
His theory argues that society, which is made up of individuals competing for limited resources, is best understood as a competition and not as a complex system striving for equilibrium (Lyudmila 2014: 95). It also expresses that there are two classes that make up a society: the ruling class (bourgeoisie) and the subject class (proletariat) (which I will discuss more in detail later) (Lyudmila 2014: 95). These groups have various forms of conflict when seeking to obtain differing amounts of the limited resources. Majority of the time the ruling class uses its power to retain power and exploit the subject class. Overall, the theory states that these classes interact more so on a foundation based around conflict than on consensus.
Marx believed that the constructions of society were built upon the idea of “superstructure” and “base.” He argued that government, culture, social institutions, etc. rest on the base, which is made up of the society’s economic character. For Marx, it is the base (economy) that determines what a society will be like.
Marx believed that the society’s economic structure (base) was independent and that society’s superstructure was dependent on that (base). From an economical perspective, Marx argued that conflicts arose between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as way of bringing about change (Harman 1998). He labeled the Bourgeoisie as the owners of production and the Proletariat as the laborers of production (Harman 1998).
In Marx’s words, “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other—Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (Marx and Engels 1848). Social Conflict Theory on Police Brutality One of the police department’s main objective for their officers is to preserve the status quo of inequality and to assist the powerful to exploit the powerless (Lersch 1998).
As wicked as it may sound, this theory argues this from a historical and sociological perspective. History has repeated itself constantly when examining the Chicago police department. Most minorities, especially when stating their perspectives on police brutality, project a clear vision of iniquitousness from police officers. According to Marx, government institutions such as police departments are a part of the “superstructure” that consist of the Bourgeoisie (ruling class). Falling in this category, police officers exercise their authority by using their power to retain power and exploit minorities. Their reasoning for operating in this manner is so that the owners of production will always be owners and the laborers for production will always be laborers. Furthermore, creating more and more of a gap between equality, for the longevity of the sustainability of power.
Case Examination 1 “On November 2, 1983, police officers John Byrne, Peter Dignan, and Charles Grunhard burst into Darrell Cannon’s apartment and arrested him for the murder of Darrin Ross (Bowman and Taylor 2012). On the way to the police headquarters in Area 2, the officers warned Cannon that they had “a scientific way of interrogating niggers,” and that he was in for the “hardest day of his life.” Officer Dignan then began to crack Cannon across the knee with his flashlight (Bowman and Taylor 2012).
When they arrived at Area 2, the officers marched Cannon into an interrogation room and handcuffed him to a wall. Officer Michael Bosco entered the room and asked Cannon if he was ready to talk. Cannon replied by insisting on exercising his constitutional right to silence (Bowman and Taylor 2012). Officer Bosco responded by revealing an electric cattle prod, assuming Cannon would revoke his constitutional rights (Bowman and Taylor 2012). Officers Bryne, Dignan and Grunhard then transported Cannon to a remote location on the far southeast side of Chicago and began to torture him more (Bowman and Taylor 2012). He was abused for the next several hours. While in handcuffs, officer Dignan presented a shotgun shell to Cannon and stated that he “take a good look” as he turned the opposite direction from Cannon and pretended as if he was loading a shotgun (Bowman and Taylor 2012). Officer Dignan then jammed the gun in Cannon’s mouth and demanded that he confess.
When Cannon refused, the officer pulled the trigger (Bowman and Taylor 2012). Again he rammed the gun into Cannon’s mouth and demanded that he confess. Again, when Cannon refused, officer Dignan pulled the trigger. The officer repeated this at least three times. Officers Dignan, Byrne, and Grunhard then forced Cannon, who remained handcuffed with his hands behind his back, into the back seat of the car and yanked his pants down (Bowman and Taylor 2012). They then pulled out a cattle prod, pressed it against Cannon’s testicles and repeatedly administered electric shocks (Bowman and Taylor 2012).
Cannon succumbed and agreed to say, that he had knowingly participated in the murder of Darrin Ross (Bowman and Taylor 2012). The officers then drove Cannon to a police auto pound. Cannon felt safer there and recanted his statement only to find out that the officers would resume torturing him (Bowman and Taylor 2012). The officers replaced the shotgun with the cattle prod; instead of ramming the gun into his mouth, they shoved in the cattle prod (Bowman and Taylor 2012). This torture continued until Cannon finally agreed again to confessing to the murder of Darrin Ross (Bowman and Taylor 2012).
On November 7, 1983, five days after his arrest, Cannon’s wife filed a complaint with the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards (Bowman and Taylor 2012). The State of Illinois had proceeded in charging Cannon with murder but his attorney moved to suppress the confession (Bowman and Taylor 2012). His attorney stated that police officers coerced Cannon by applying torture techniques for a confession (Bowman and Taylor 2012). But these complaints and motions were for naught.
The officers lied to the Office of Professional Standards investigators, stating that Cannon had not been tortured (Bowman and Taylor 2012). The Office of Professional Standards complaint was dismissed as “not sustained,” and the motion to suppress was denied (Bowman and Taylor 2012). Almost a year later Cannon was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Darrin Ross. (Bowman and Taylor 2012)
This case encompasses the aspects of the Social Conflict Theory in the following ways :
Cannon is seeking freedom from racial profiling, police brutality, and conviction/incarceration. On the other hand, the officers are seeking financial freedom, by ways of receiving promotions for their work within the department such as the number of arrest and convictions. In this context of police and minority interactions, as expressed by the Social Conflict Theory, it appears that the effects of the Bourgeoisie- Proletariat conflict influence the dynamics of the police-minority interactions. It’s a clear representation of ruling class interests often imposing control over the subject class. Since the police department’s administrative actions greatly affect officers’ behaviors (i.e. Stephens 2011 and Lersch 1998), there lies inadequate measures to check for police misconduct. This was presented in the case when the Office of Professional Standards dismissed the complaint. This presents one of the many examples that repeatedly occur against minorities, which “may be interpreted as an inevitable outcome of the powerlessness of the political subordinates” (Kwon 2012).
Furthermore, the case suggests that the Proletariat – especially visible minorities – are more rigorously scrutinized by police officers (Lersch 1998). They are also disproportionally represented in the criminal justice system as presented with Cannon’s verdict ending with a life-sentence in prison (Lersch 1998). The case shows the existence of inequality which is widely recognized and refuted by many (Kwon 2012). “Overall, the almost automatic assumption that subordinate groups are composed of transgressors and should thus be controlled is also often portrayed in everyday life interactions” (Petersilia 1983; Walker 1994).
In conclusion, this theory identifies a constant conflict for obtaining power and limited resources within society as a means of surviving. It suggests that the conflicts that occur due to mankind’s history of battle between social classes are the reasons police brutality is so often applied. Furthermore, it presents that social classes seek out limited resources more so by any means than their opponents, which result in conflicts where the higher social class usually wins.
According to the Social Conflict Theory, police continue to commit police brutality as a means of retaining and gaining power for their social class and/or superstructure. This act allows them to portray a perspective of “not to be messed with” to the subject class, which in return, according to the Chicago police department’s history, has minimal to no consequences. This act also assists them in staying in their social class or upgrading because of the incentives for making arrest and convictions. Since there are no harsh consequences and incentives are given for the amount of arrest an officer accumulates, then it is obvious to see why police brutality continues from a Social Conflict perspective.
Social Conflict Theory presents minorities as part of the base and subject class. With the ruling class consisting of police officers and their desires to retain money and power, it is only obvious to attack the minorities to get what they want. This reason along with the history of social class conflicts, is the result of minorities being targeted with police brutality more so than their White counter-partners.
Although this theory does express historical conflicts as a perception of police actions of deviance, specifically police brutality, it only looks at things from a macro-level and not both macro and micro-levels. For example, studies found that 12% of officers in a department received more than one citizen complaint a year (Lersch 1998). This indicated that there was a “small number of officers who account for the disproportionate number of complaints” (Punch and Gilmour 2010:94).
This example presents associated patterns of police misconduct but it does not specify why they commit police brutality at times and places. Also it does not define why other officers do not. It creates a perspective, that all police officers commit police brutality from a macro-level. Because individual level interactions will always be factors in police brutality, and “officers are able to select their victims … in many forms of police misconduct,” “acknowledging the links between the different levels of analysis provides a more accurate and holistic understanding of this phenomenon” (Kwon 2012 and Lersch 1998:82).
Tittle’s Control Balance Theory The Control Balance Theory was originally developed by Charles R. Tittle in 1995. That same year, he presented the theory in his book “Control Balance: Toward a General Theory of Deviance” (Tittle 1995). Nearly ten years later, Tittle polished the theory in “Refining Control Balance Theory” (Tittle 2004). Tittle’s theory attempts to explain behaviors or categories of behaviors, mainly but not entirely, by individuals that the majority of a given group regards as unacceptable or that typically evoke collective responses of a negative type (including actions by officials who act on behalf of a group) (Tittle 2004).
Deviant behavior and control are two focal points that help define the theory. Deviant behavior being the actions that violate social norms and control being the power to influence a persons or people’s behavior are essential points along with many other factors, in understanding this social science perspective on police brutality.
Although some acts of crime are not disapproved and do not draw negative responses from officials, most acts of crime do. Often we see police brutality and the commonness of their non-severe consequences portrayed on the media. To know more about the theory, there are some concepts that must be presented to support understanding of the theory pertaining to police brutality. These two concepts are control balance desirability and seriousness. Control balance desirability may be presented objectively or subjectively when a police officer determines whether to commit police brutality. It expresses the “aspects of deviant behavior that bear on maximization of control manipulation, which involves long-range outcomes and effective escape from counter control.” (Tittle 2004:406).Within the control balance desirability there are four underlining notions that assist in determining the concept.
These notions are:
The second concept is seriousness. “It acknowledges that the officers overall level of control is reduced when the possibility of police brutality generates potential counter-controls” (Kwon 2012). For example, a suspect of a murder crime can activate much deliberate counter control from officers, and friends and family of the victim. This crime also causes the suspect to lose some control of their environment. “The central causal process of the theory is a cognitive ‘balancing’ of the gain in control to be achieved from engaging in deviant behavior against the potential counter control that a particular act of deviance is likely to stimulate (representing a form of control loss)” (Heider, 1946, 1958, Tittle 2004: 397).
The theory assumes that everyone has a desire to gain more control but when interacting with people with control imbalances, individual’s desires increase to consciousness towards those with imbalances. Furthermore, the theory contends that deviant behavior is the main method conceived by people attempting to extend their control, once their desire for more control becomes conscious and acute (Tittle 2004). When individuals act on that desire, the theory suggests that it is dependent upon several conditions that make it more or less likely an overall gain in control due to engaging in deviant behavior.
Control Balance Theory suggests that there is one with a control imbalance and one with a control balance. Most of the time adaption occurs for those with control balances. As a result of the adaption, the control balance presents that almost any form of deviance to extend control can be countered by control to nullify that potential gain (Tittle 2004). However, deviant motivation is less likely to be activated in situations with those who have a control balance. The theory assumes that people become aware of their control circumstances only episodically and not so much logically.
Theory suggests that a person is motivated toward deviance when he/she realizes that engaging in deviant behavior will help overcome a control imbalance. Majority of the time, this motivation alone does not lead to deviant behavior but more so the opportunity. A high possibility of applying deviance must be available, which then becomes aware to those with the control balance, ultimately resulting in the application of deviant behavior. Case Examination 2 “On the night of Feb. 9, 1982 in Chicago, Illinois, two Black Americans, Andrew and his brother Jackie Wilson, were pulled over by police officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien (Perkins, 1994).
The police reports stated that Andrew Wilson took Fahey’s gun and shot him once in the head before turning on O’Brien, firing four more times after the officer had fallen to the ground (Perkins, 1994). After being picked up for questioning, Andrew appeared with a slash over his eye and marks on his legs, chest, face and ears (Perkins, 1994). He reported that officers Burge, Yucaitis, Pienta, McKenna, Hill, and O’Hara tortured and brutalized him during a 17-hour interrogation in the old Brighton Park Area detective headquarters on the South Side (Perkins, 1994).
He said the officers gave him electric shocks to his head and genitals, attached clips to his nose and ear, then cranked a ‘black box’ to produce electric currents (Perkins, 1994). (Black box was a box that had two wires and a crank attached. The wires would be attached from the box to the suspects’ handcuffed ankles and hands. The officers would crank the box which would then send electricity to the handcuffs, shocking the suspect.
The box was also called the “Nigger box”). Andrew also testified that the officers ‘got a plastic bag out of a garbage can’ and choked him, then beat him repeatedly (Perkins, 1994). At one point stretching him across a radiator causing him to get burned” (Perkins, 1994)
This case encompasses the aspects of the Social Conflict Theory in the following ways:
In comparison to their White counterparts, they present a more hostile and disrespectful attitude towards police. “Thus, it is partially the demeanor and control balancing of both parties” which result in violent altercations: where “both [parties] are anticipating an unpleasant encounter and the situation may escalate even though neither party originally [may have] intended the situation to deteriorate” (Fridell and Pate 1997; Lersch 1998:93).
Thus, the police is highly aware of the “inability of the minorities to effectively and resourcefully mobilize themselves to use their control over politicians in order to produce institutional arrangements to check extrajudicial force of the police” (Kwon 2012). This constitutes the “low level of realistic measures of “constraints” (i.e. risks to lose their control) as perceived by the police” (Kwon 2012). As a result, this theory supports all arguments that state that as officers attempt to gain control; marginalized individuals are much more likely to be targeted.
Finally, from the context of police and minority interactions, this theory recognizes the emotional functions that play a part in the decision-making process of applying deviant behavior. Furthermore, the theory suggests that this act of police brutality is a result of police being on a “power trip”. (Power trip is when an individual uses there position of authority as leverage to obtaining control over someone by abusing them.) It also emphasizes the desires one has to maximize their control over others.
According to the Control Balance Theory, police continue to commit police brutality when their motivation combines with one of the four underlining notions: constraint, control ratio, opportunity, and self-control.
Again, these notions make up the concept of control balance desirability. For example, the officer’s motivation to commit police brutality intersects with opportunity (“acknowledges the fact that police brutality cannot occur unless it is possible” Kwon 2012 and Tittle 2004: 412), then it initiates an internal drive to commit police brutality.
Since there is an extensive amount of police brutality within the history the Chicago police department, then the officers take this into consideration as well. Also, it is common that an officer will not face a severe consequence for committing police brutality. All of the factors explain why police continue to commit police brutality.
Why is it more so toward minorities? Control Balance Theory presents all minorities as those with imbalances when in the presence of officers. Although some officers may have an imbalance, predominately the officers have balances. In the case of police brutality, the officer/officers that lead the act of deviance have a control balance; seeking to gain more control over on those with control imbalances.
Again, since there is a history of police brutality, both locally and nationally, as well as a very high percentage rate of avoiding any serious consequences, police apply it more so to minorities. More specifically, to Blacks than any other race.
Which theory best explains the application of police brutality towards minorities and why? The Control Balance Theory best explains the application of police brutality towards minorities. I believe that deviance is an internal characteristic that blossoms from teachings within ones upbringing. Their belief system, along with interactions in life with minorities, presents opportunities to practice what they have learned.
Over time, as they transition into adulthood and land the position as an officer, they apply the “practice what you preach” proverb. In a nutshell, the Control Balance Theory looked at police brutality as an internal application resulting in external damage towards minorities.
The main purpose of this paper was to obtain a social science perspective on police brutality within Chicago’s police department.
I examined and analyzed the Chicago police department’s history of police brutality by integrating two theories: Social Conflict and Control Balance. I discussed the logic of each theory, displayed an actual case while using theoretical applications from the theories, and answered the questions “Why do police continue to commit police brutality” and “Why is it more so toward minorities” from the theories perspectives. Also I applied numerous references from other sources to back up my arguments.
Overall, I believe police commit brutality as a sense of being a racist, careless about human life, greedy for an incentive such as promotion, and/or national recognition (which would lead to a promotion), their work culture, and the media’s portray of minorities. Some of the police officers within their police department are racist due to their family’s morals and values being taught to them at an early age.
This more than likely stemmed from the historical events of slavery. Over time, the officers were raised as having a sense of authority over minorities more so than Whites. As a result, they applied police brutality toward minorities as a way of being respected and as a reflection of a slave master. This, along with other factors, leads them to not have a care for human life, more so the lives of minorities.
Consciously, seeing them as a threat to society, and being more so afraid for their own lives, they initiate this act of deviance as a way of protecting themselves and society. This method of applying police brutality causes the minorities, in most cases, to submit to the police officer’s actions. In return, the officer’s receive an arrest that becomes a factor in the representation of their production. This will eventually lead to a promotion, which includes an increase in salary and more objectives. They then apply the same methodology receiving the same results. Their confidence is increased by the culture that they create in applying this methodology to obtain a promotion.
It is then seen by others and applied as well, resulting the same. Although all cops are not bad, a “few bad apples spoil the bunch.”
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