“There is a difference in knowing you are black and in understanding what it means to be black in America. Before I was ten I knew what it was to step off the sidewalk to let a white man pass.” – Margaret Walker
The issue of the abuse of power in high positions is something that happens frequently in everyday life. It can happen in the work place, it happens in politics and it happens with the police. Although racism is strictly applied to racial groups in interaction, the concept of power can be more generally applied. In fact, power, is a concept of considerable scope: it can be used to help account for group oppression per se and to explain the continued association of certain racial groups with certain class or caste positions. Class or caste membership develops from historical contact in which groups possessing a power advantage have been able to place themselves in superior positions solidifying a social structure that features a racial stratification system (Wilson, 1976). Police brutality is an ongoing problem, especially in America, it leads many people to wonder why this is the case, whilst racism is the obvious answer, the evidence of police brutality, why the police who are committing murders are not being held accountable and the improvements and efforts to bring about change in the treatment towards African American people are also is an important factors to considered. There is a general understanding of what is meant when we speak of ‘police brutality’ but for clarification, police brutality is a civil rights violation that occurs when a police officer acts by using an amount of force with regards to a civilian that is more than necessary. Excessive force by a law enforcement officers is a violation of a person’s rights (US Legal, 2019).
Although police brutality has always existed, police brutality towards black people has become more significant over the past years because activist groups like ‘Black Lives Matter’ founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in July 2013 have allowed this issue to become an internationally recognised topic. This movement started as a hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman (who is not a policeman, but a neighbourhood watch coordinator), who shot and killed an unarmed young black boy, Trayvon Martin. The Black Lives Matter movement, has been challenged by some people claiming that ‘all’ lives matter, not just ‘black lives’, as true as this is, the movement started in response to the grotesque and obvious racism against black people, therefore the people who oppose this view are explicitly suggesting that they either do not fully understand the concept, or that they do not care, meaning they are racist themselves. This is another part of the problem because although all lives do matter this contrast defeats the purpose of the subject totally as it is a way of deflecting from the problem that Black Lives Matter is trying to highlight. Black Lives Matter and Amnesty International have both worked astoundingly hard to address the issue, and their works will be displayed later in the essay in chapter 3.
The aim of this dissertation is to explore the evidence regarding police brutality, to explore if police officers are held accountable for their actions and most importantly if there has been efforts and success in improving the current situation. Additionally, the problem with general racism in America is evident and there is always a new story on a white person calling the cops on a black person, or a black person being unfairly treated by the cops. The police are in society in order to protect and implement the law, as this is their job, however, with this power they also have the right to use reasonable force (this is supposed to be used responsibly). The use of ‘deadly force’ is also allowed to be used as stated by the U.S. Supreme Court, who established that that a police officer who has probable cause to believe a suspect poses a threat of serious harm to the officer or others may use deadly force to prevent escape (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985). This might happen, for instance, if the suspect threatens the officer with a gun. The Court, however, indicated that officers should issue warnings when possible. It also held that deadly force is unjustified when the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to other, however, some police officers believe because they have a badge they are protected by law, and therefore they abuse their power and do anything that they want to do. This is the beginning of the problem.
No greater difference exists between blacks and whites than the extent to which racism exists in the administration of justice (Seltzer and Johnson, 2009). Blacks and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to believe that racism pervades the justice system from arrests to prosecutions to convictions to length and type of incarceration (Weitzer and Tuch, 1999). There have been many cases where a policeman has targeted an arrest towards a black person (as shown later in the essay in Ferguson), shot and killed or used excursive force in detaining a civilian, (Eric Garner) resulting in their death. Police use of force – particularly lethal force – is one of the most divisive issues of the twenty-first century. When an officer discharges a weapon, it’s a life changing event. A single bullet – which weighs about .02 pounds and is 10mm long – can end a life, erase a pension, or change the image of those who are sworn to serve and protect (Bergman, 2019). It is fair to say that some police officers act differently towards black people, and in particular, towards black males. There is a common stigma thought by many that black men are dangerous and a threat, however, this assumption is based on racist opinions and views, because it is impossible to gain this opinion by physical appearance. This was the case with 12 year old Tamir Rice, which will be further explores along with other cases.