American police brutality and use of excessive force in the 1990s was a major problem, primarily because of the racial prejudice that has come with it. By definition, excessive force refers to force in excess of what a police officer reasonably believes is necessary (Legal Information Institute). Officers of the law would attempt to justify these immoral actions by claiming that they might have feared for their safety or something of the sort. It has occurred many times throughout the past couple of decades and throughout the history of America. This type of conflict is base, much like Macbeth’s conflicts are laid out in ‘No Fear Shakespeare: Macbeth’: “Creating conflict from base, immoral feelings rather than for the greater good of oneself or others is unjustifiable”.
There is an extremely important psychological component in police brutality and excessive use of force. There are many police officers possess implicit biases toward minorities (Weir). An implicit bias is a subconscious “identity trap” where you automatically feel a certain way about someone or something. This bias is usually negative and does not allow officers to have complete control over some of the actions they may commit on the job. They influence attitudes and behaviors “without the officer consciously aware of it” (Weir). Considering this, one could surmise that there is a way to justify particular violent crimes involving police officers and members of a minority community. Experiments have also been conducted by the American Psychological Association to further demonstrate the effects of this implicit bias. People were brought in and were instructed to push a button to “shoot” when images were flashed in front of them. Images of people that were holding either a weapon or a harmless object. The likelihood of “being black, unarmed, and shot by police is about 3.5 times higher the probability of being white, unarmed, and shot by police” (Weir). This implicit cognitive process also applies to something as simple as a name. It takes White Americans a longer time to associate good thoughts when presented with a black sounding name such as Darnell, than when presented with a white sounding name such as Chad (Weir). Part of why police brutality due to racial prejudice occurs is because it is a cognitive process that is extremely difficult to break. Much like trying to break a habit, except it is far more difficult because it is an innate function of the brain. Police departments have not provided adequate training to officers with implicit biases, and because of this lack of training “police are less likely to view violence as a last resort” (Kristian). When the door is left open for unnecessary police brutality, then there are sure to be people that walk through it. Officers also have a rule of thumb that enforces ingroup bias, where they favor their troupe more than they do any other (Weir). Police officers have an unwritten code or pact with each other that warrants the behavior of other officers engaging in misconduct. This pact, in addition with stereotypes and perceptions, foster situations of brutality and use of excessive force on the members of minority groups. No one likes a tattletale, especially when the expected consequences of one’s actions can be severe and life changing.
Officers in Nineties America may have often found themselves in a situation where a minority group appears to be hostile, giving those officers the ability to wrongfully exercise their power to abuse and oppress that minority group. For example, in 1989, a group of five young teenagers were wrongly charged with a crime they did not commit. They were all part of a minority group, four African Americans and one Hispanic American. Because they were located near the scene of the crime, they were taken in, abused, coerced into confessions, and finally charged with assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual assault, and attempted murder. The interrogation techniques used on the minors was an abuse of power and excessive force. The detectives were able to intimidate the minors by “confronting the suspects with assertion of guilt yet minimizing the perceived consequences of the confessions” (Sleek). The primary detectives were White Americans, and the prosecutor on trial was White American. The victim of the attack, Trisha Meili, is a White American. Since all of the suspects were a part of a minority group, there is reason to believe that they were wrongfully abused partly because of the lingering prejudice in America. Not because of a sense of justice that should have led to further investigation and the capture of the actual culprit of the rape and assault. The one who committed the crime, Matias Reyes, confessed to raping the jogger after the convicted five served varying prison sentences.
Police brutality and excessive use of force have not been as prevalent in the past decade than it has in the past couple of decades. Primarily because new laws and countermeasures have been created to avoid these kinds of cases. However, it still does occur on occasion and the reasons have not changed. There is still a great division between the minorities and majorities. In 2016, a Pew survey found that “33% of African Americans said police do a good or excellent job of using the right amount of force in each encounter” (Santhanam), this compared to the “75% of White Americans who believed in the judgement of police” (Santhanam). This division is a clear indication of why cases that involve excessive force and brutality occur in the first place. African Americans largely feel that they are the primary targets for police brutality and excessive force, they feel this way because of the clear and vivid images that come to mind where a White American police officer(s) is brutalizing an unarmed African American. Racial prejudice is an attitude that a lot of people still have to this day. It will always be a lingering aspect of America’s future; it was an extremely large and important part of its past. The brutalization of African Americans has been around since Americas conception, a part of its culture for centuries. The problem of brutality and excessive use of force has been “intimately interwoven with the country’s history of discrimination against non-White people” (Weisburd, David, and Malay Kiran Majmundar, 251). But by learning from the past, America is able to minimize police brutality and excessive use of force toward a minority group within the last decade. However, it does still occur, and it occurs for the wrong reasons. An American citizen of a minority group should never have to be subjected to immoral actions taken by officers due to attitudes that the officer may hold toward that citizen. Such actions taken by an officer of the law could never be properly justified in that context. There is no excuse for racial prejudice ruining someone’s life or even someone’s day.
There have been many cases in which lots of people will believe that there is more to it than just doing the job of an officer. From Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Timothy Thomas to Michael Brown, one could surmise that there are some aspects of racial prejudice involved. The case of Rodney King for example, looking at the viral video footage of this beating, it is not hard to see that there are racial components involved. A bystander of the event recorded “five officers pummeling Rodney King with batons more than 50 times as he struggled on the ground outside his car” (Flatow). With the help of digital technology, police brutality became a nationwide dilemma. One African American individual laid out on the ground surrounded by several white American police officers being ruthlessly attacked. The Rodney King case sparked outrage in the community, and many Americans were appalled at the fact that such an event can take place. Why was such an excessive amount of force used against a defenseless African American man? It is an unjustifiable act of aggression with roots of racial prejudice and discrimination. This type of conflict is malevolent and selfish. There is no justifiable reason to commit such acts of aggression towards any individual, especially one of a minority group.
Exactly how Macbeth would operate, out of malevolence and for his own satisfaction would initiate conflict with other characters such as Banquo and Macduff. Macbeth sought to gain power at the expense of others welfare. He betrayed his king and his own friend in order to become the king he was prophesied to be. Although it is not for the same exact reasons Macbeth and officers that commit brutality in America start these conflicts for the wrong reasons, and they are hardly justifiable. And unlike how Beowulf would operate, he mostly initiated conflict because of the purity of his heart and to protect his people. He was a genuine hero that wanted to be remembered as one, he respected all of those around him. He fought with monsters so that he could save people from despair. Beowulf was also never the one to initiate conflict, he only ended conflicts. For example, his conflict with the monster Grendel and it’s mother. He slayed both of them using his own strength at the request of the king of the Danes. And in doing so he would the people avoid further tragedy at the hands of Grendel. He fought hard even in old age solely to protect his own people. Officers that commit brutality and use excessive force against a minority do not do so in order to protect the community, they do so mostly because they hold a prejudice against that minority.
- “Excessive Force.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/excessive_force. 19 Nov. 2019.
- Flatow, Nicole. “What Has Changed About Police Brutality In America, From Rodney King To Michael Brown.” ThinkProgress, 11 Sept. 2014, https://thinkprogress.org/what-has-changed-about-police-brutality-in-america-from-rodney-king-to-michael-brown-e6b29a2feff8/. 19 Nov. 2019.
- Kristian, Bonnie. “Seven Reasons Police Brutality Is Systemic, Not Anecdotal.” The American Conservative, 13 Nov. 2019, www.theamericanconservative.com/seven-reasons-police-brutality-is-systematic-not-anecdotal/?utm_source=feedly&utm_reader=feedly&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seven-reasons-police-brutality-is-systematic-not-anecdotal. 30 Jan. 2020.
- Santhanam, Laura. “After Ferguson, Black Men Still Face the Highest Risk of Being Killed by Police.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 9 Aug. 2019, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/after-ferguson-black-men-and-boys-still-face-the-highest-risk-of-being-killed-by-police. 19 Nov. 2019.
- Sleek, Scott. “The Science and the Injustice of the Central Park Jogger Case.” Association for Psychological Science – APS, 30 July 2015, https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-science-and-the-injustice-of-the-central-park-jogger-case. 19 Nov. 2019.
- Shakespeare, William, and John Crowther. No Fear Shakespeare: Macbeth. Spark, 2003. 30 Jan. 2020.
- Weir, Kirsten. “Policing in black and white” American Psychological Association Dec. 2016 https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/12/cover-policing.
- Weisburd, David, and Malay Kiran Majmundar. Proactive Policing: Effects on Crime and Communities. National Academies Press, 2018.