We trust our law enforcement to make sounds judgments for the sake of our protection. However it is alarming to see the high rates of police’s use of excessive force in needless situations. Even more alarming is the distinction in treatment of white and non-white people. Many people of color have an image of police as the representation of white supremacy and oppression (Walker, 593). Another perception of police officers is that they cannot be trusted. This is likely due to the commonality of instances of police brutality. The police do have the right to use force on a criminal suspect, but it is only under certain circumstances and they must follow specific guidelines (Walker, 592). In certain instances of police’s use of excessive force, the sole factor contributing to the hostility between the police and minority communities was race (Walker, 588). The reality of one person is subjective and based solely on that one individual’s experiences. One person of color’s perception of law enforcement could be completely different from another, especially if they are of two differing minorities. For some, police are seen as courageous men and women who endanger their lives to ensure the community’s wellbeing. That is, after all, what their title entails. However, many have been the targets of racial profiling. Terms such as “DWB,” driving while black, describe the situation in which people of color are pulled over for supposed traffic violations in order for to further investigate suspicions of criminal activity (Walker, 595).
Senseless violence creates a stigma toward police. This stigma makes the public fear the police, and almost everyone has an account or series of anecdotes that show how much they fear the police. For example, a group of college kids are walking around late at night in the city, and they hear police sirens down the street. They will instantly get afraid, even if those kids aren’t doing anything wrong. A large amount of complaints that drive this fear were made in the latest Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) survey in 2007. Surveyed state and local law enforcement agencies, representing 5% of agencies and 59% of officers, received a total of 26,556 citizen complaints about police use of force. A third of all these force complaints were not sustained (34%). Twenty-five percent were unfounded, 23% resulted in officers being released of the charges, and 8% were sustained. The sustained force complaints became an indicator of excessive force. Results show an estimate of about 2,000 incidents of police using excessive force among large agencies.
A majority of officers are let “off the hook” from being charged with crimes against the public. In the case of David Sal Silva of Kern County in California that took place last year, police used excessive force on Silva and he died at the scene. The beating was contributory to his death but neither the Kern County sheriff’s deputies nor the California Highway Patrol officers were convicted of any crime (Marcum). Although the incident was highly publicized, it eventually faded away. There are many overlooked instances, however instances of targeted police brutality are becoming a normal recurrence, such as in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The police in Albuquerque were scrutinized and the United States Justice Department began an investigation of the police department and discovered that officers “too often used deadly force in an unconstitutional manner,” and of the 20 fatal police shootings since 2009, most were not constitutional (McLaughlin). The issue of police brutality has a long history. Not only in Albuquerque but across the nation. The Department of Justice, along with the Community Relations Service, published a handbook: “Police Use of Excessive Force: A Conciliation Handbook for the Police and the Community” to address the use of excessive force in the United States’ police departments across the country. The Department of Justice (D.O.J) originally published this in 1999 and was last updated in 2002. The handbook argues that the key is to create a culture that looks down upon an unconstitutional amount of force within the individual departments across the country. “Community policing creates a positive atmosphere…A department can set objectives (reduce complaints, police shootings, and injuries to civilians) and then set out to shift the culture to accomplish these objectives by developing policies and procedures, training it officers and monitoring them for compliance”. The goal is to create an atmosphere or culture that looks down upon acts of violence that are done by police, so that the occurrences are rare and the police are held accountable for their actions.
Many people don’t believe that police officers racially profile. They tend to say, “They are just protecting us.” When in reality officers do and it has gotten to the point where when a person hears a police siren they jump and feel scared because they may be the one getting in trouble. Should people have to feel scared every time they see a police officer? Law enforcement officials are supposed to make us feel safe from danger, not the opposite. People of color are usually the ones that are targeted the most and most people just watch and do not say anything about it. Some officers take extreme measures and end up injuring a citizen when it is not needed. In an extreme example, Gabrielle Calhoun was beaten unconscious by a police officer. Calhoun is a black teenage girl that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were girls fighting and police broke up the fight and allowed the girls to go into the restaurant bathrooms to clean up. They proceeded to fight again in the restaurant. A woman police officer went in to the restaurant and approached Calhoun’s table and grabbed her male friend. Calhoun followed after them and the female police officer had turned around and knocked her unconscious with her nightstick. The police officer started to choke Calhoun and when Calhoun started to gasp for air telling the officer she had asthma the officer replied, “I don’t care if you have asthma. You were hitting my officer” (BYP 1). An officer’s job is not to kill the person instigating a fight, especially if the citizen did not cross an officer.
Racial profiling does not only happen with the police. It is common to see women move to the other side of the street if they spot a man of color approaching. This is primarily due to the fact that they media play a significant role in vilifying men of color. They also vilify other races. In airplanes, people are more cautious around Arabic people because of 9/11. The media reinforces the stereotypes perceived by the general public. Racial profiling happens everyday on T.V. shows and people just laugh at the idea and it is seen as a joke rather than a serious matter. In the movie “Non-Stop” an air-marshal starts getting bomb threats from a random telephone number. When he announces that there is a bomb on board everyone looks to the Arabic passenger like he was the person sending threats. He ended up being a doctor and helps save some passengers. When people watch these shows and laugh at the funny things they say on these shows, it reinforces and approves the message that was sent by the media.
The American people count on law enforcement officials to look out for the general wellbeing of the public. The perception of police officers among communities of color is that rather than protect them, police officers are only interested in pursuing them to discover a crime of some sort. With many reform programs being implemented in police departments across the country, there is hope that a new culture will be born among law enforcement officials. One of fairness and free of stereotypes and senseless brutality against people that are tired of being succumbed by the negative stereotypes and misconceptions reinforced by the media and approved of by the general public.
Breakdown of NYPD stops based on race, followed by a breakdown of the races in New York City.
Breakdown of instances where police’s use of excessive force led to the death of African Americans from the Malcolm X Grassroots Organization.
BYP. “Gabrielle Calhoun Beaten Unconscious by Police.” Black Youth Project. N.p., 11 July 2013. Web. 26 April 2014.
Hickman, Matthew. “Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Citizen Complaints about Police Use of Force.” Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Citizen Complaints about Police Use of Force. Department of Justice, 26 June 2006. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
Marcum April 11, Diana. “No Criminal Charges in Death of Man Beaten by Kern County Deputies.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 11 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
McLaughlin, Eliott C., John Newsome, Shawn Nottingham, and Ashley Fantz. “Albuquerque Police Have ‘pattern’ of Excessive, Deadly Force, Report Says.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
Non-Stop. Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra. Perf. Liam Neeson, Juliane Moore, and Scoot McNairy. Universal Pictures. 2014. Film.
“POLICE USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE.” DOJ:CRS:. Department of Justice, June 1999. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
Walker, April. “Racial Profiling-Separate And Unequal Keeping The Minorities In Line-The Role Of Law Enforcement In America.” St. Thomas Law Review 23.4 (2011): 576-619. OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 30 Apr. 2014.