Throughout the history of policing in the United States, police have often applied brutality and abused the rights of ethnic groups and minor (disadvantaged) social classes by extending authority and applying excessive force while performing their official duties. In addition to causing physical harm, police officers have applied psychological pressure by using intimidation tactics that fall beyond the limits of the officially sanctioned procedures.
Today, the incidents of police brutality are often subject to the tacit approval of their superior officers, while the representatives of ethnic groups and minor (disadvantaged) social classes lack proper means to prove the guilt of police representatives. Many misdeeds are hidden behind the scenes and the shade of law while superior officers often cover-up the illegal activities and brutalities of the police. There are various factors that encourage police brutality including the system of police management, a criminal and justice systems which discourage prosecutors from investigating various misconducts performed by police offices, the political system which operates in favor of police instead of minority communities. The list of these factors is extended with a racist political culture fearing crime and encouraging tough policing.
Throughout the history, there were many incidents of police violence and brutality against ethnical and racial groups across the United States. Thus, police brutality is fairly associated with ethnical and racial profiling. In a huge diverse and multicultural melting pot there are various racial, religious, ethnic political and socio-economic differences between the citizenry and the police. In most cases, the victims of police violence and brutality belong to relatively discouraged social groups, including poor people, and ethnical minorities.
Various incidents of brutality no the part of police were obvious during the African-American Civil Rights Movement while the racial group was struggling for racial equality and justice. The most notable incidents took place in 1963-1964 during the Birmingham campaign and 1965 Selma to Montgomery. During these marches media covered unprecedented brutality that caused national contempt. Martin Luther King Jr. was among the main critics of police violence and brutality in speeches. Police widely used tear gas and billy clubs during anti-war demonstrations and in 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago that featured a real police riot.
Given the historical context, race and ethnicity have been closely related to numerous accusations of police violence and brutality. As a result, we evidence the outbreaks of race riots. One of the notable uprisings took place after the brutality against Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department. After the acquittal of four police officers, Los Angeles Riots broke out anew in 1992 (Powers, 1995).
Post 9/11 events have created the tensed social atmosphere featured by the increased police brutality. The so-called ‘War on Terror’ has enabled police officers with the feeling of impunity. As a result, civilian control mechanisms over law enforcement agencies have eliminated. Such state of events enables the police to further abuse the rights of socially discriminated groups. A great number of incidents remain unreported and it is hard for the victims to prove the wrongdoings of the police officers (Weitzer 2002).
The violence is often provoked by the lower status of various ethnical and racial groups. Poverty and low socio-economic standards of life virtually make these groups unprotected. Using their authority and knowledge of law, police officers often trespass their powers and abuse these discriminated categories. Thus, the efforts of civil organizations should be enforced to provide necessary protection to the victims of police brutality and violence. In cooperation with other stakeholders they can lobby essential legislation for fair treatment of disadvantaged and discriminated groups.
- Powers, M. (1995). “Civilian Oversight Is Necessary to Prevent Police Brutality”. In Winters, Paul A. Policing the Police. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. pp. 56–60.
- Weitzer, R. (2002). “Incidents of police misconduct and public opinion”, Journal of Criminal Justice, 30 (5). pp. 397–408