Police Brutality In America: Activity of Black Lives Matter

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Police brutality has been around since the 1900s towards all races, however recently minorities have been targeted by the police, especially black men who are “strikingly vulnerable,” (Khan). This is now a rising problem that has affected many states across the United States. This involves unnecessary and unjustified violence towards people by the police; in disregard, if they are breaking the law or not. Over recent years this issue has become more prevalent due to social media broadcasting these injustices. The killings of innocent young black men by police officers have ignited movements including, ‘Black Lives Matter’. One of the main reasons why police have been criticized is because of some of their discriminatory practices towards people of color, in contrast to their more merciful ways toward white people.

When looking at police brutality closer, racism seems to be the underlying issue. This is based on the fact that a black man is 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than their white peers (Khan 2019) One of the Leading Causes for death of black man is police brutality, in fact, “1-in-1,000 black men can expect to die,” due to this rising issue (Khan). A surprising statistic that points out the risk that young African American men have to face. However, arguably the statistics can be due to the higher crime rate amongst minorities. The majority of killings by police take place in lower-income neighborhoods where minorities are typically located. According to research done by the Washington Post, most black men who are killed by the police don’t show more of a lethal threat than their white counterparts. (Lowery). This information suggests possible bias amongst police officers that minorities are more likely to be doing something illegal or criminals.

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One of the biggest problems with police brutality is that most of the time, police aren’t held responsible for their actions. It is quite common for these situations to be the word of the police officer against the word of the possible “criminal”. In most of these instances, it is more common for the judge to side with the police officer. Which is most likely due to the judge being biased or no little to evidence being presented. Occasionally, when it comes to the court case and racial prejudice is prevalent, it results in wrongful convictions and imprisonment of African Americas in-spite of the discrimination shown by police in the first place. In a period of fewer than three years between 2014 and 2016, there were nine such high-profile murder cases, only one of which has resulted in a serious conviction so far (Garner). This forces people to examine the justice system closer and criticize their racist or biased ways.

Police officers involved in brutality against black men claim to fear for their lives when they are performing traffic stops on black men. They are dehumanizing black men and looking at them as animals when they are indeed humans. Historically, African Americans have faced many negative stereotypes that now have unfortunately lead to their death. For example, the killing of an unarmed black man named Ryan Twyman. He was shot 34 times by a Los Angeles Officer in June of 2019. Soon after his death, his family realized how often a black man gets pulled over and how the police treat him because of his blackness. Ryan had seizures and instead of helping him they suggested that he was on drugs. The constant bias and unfair treatment by the police is not acceptable, especially in a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice for all”, as well as human diversity (Adedoyin 2019). It is concerning to witness people of authority abuse their power and the law as a way of expressing their bias towards other races. Not only is it illegal but damaging to society and the respect of authority. Police brutality is not an issue that should only worry about minorities, but instead of all citizens because these actions taken by the police is the first step to an oppressive society. Everyone should be concerned that the police are willing to disobey the law no matter who is on the other hand - the police are here to protect us at the end of the day.

Today most African Americans live in fear, regardless if they are criminals or innocent people. This problem has reached a point in which psychologists are now recognizing the rise of mental health issues and emotional trauma on other black people in America, especially those in the neighbors that police shootings take place. Even if they just read or heard about it on the news, mentally it was found to take a toll on them. Research showed “effects on mental health occurred in the 1–2 months after exposure” and that typically includes anxiety, depression, and antisocial behavior (Lancet). They feel less than their white peers because they know and have seen the unfair treatment of people like them by people that are there to protect everyone equally.

After the shooting and murder of Trayvon Martin in February of 2012, a movement is known as “The Black Lives Matter” begins. Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old African American male visiting his father in Sanford on February 26th. On this day, Martin watched an NBA All-Star game in a gated community, later leaving to pick-up snacks at a local 7-11. When he arrived back to the gated community, he was confronted with George Zimmerman, a police officer who believed Martin, unarmed, to be dangerous and “on drugs,” (Mother Jones). After being told not to follow him, Zimmerman disobeyed, got into a wrestling match, and shot him. Trayvon was pronounced dead.

While police brutality has been around for decades, this murder outraged many and ignited the movement known for propelling the nation into awareness. The Black Lives Matter began because of three, strong African American women who wanted not only justice for the innocent, black lives the United States lose daily, but also to speak up for a community that has been silenced due to the color of their skin. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created “a Black-center political will and movement building project,” and it has been relevant for nearly six years, (Black Lives Matter). The three-member group quickly became a member-led organization consisting of over 40 chapters. While maintaining the original vision, members of different chapters spread awareness of the hate crimes, discrimination, and police brutality occurring within the black communities of their hometowns. Because of the movement and the hashtag associated with it, the deaths of Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Mya Hall, Walter Scott, Sandra bland—to name a few—reached a multitude within minutes.

The movement’s mission to spread awareness does not stop on the screens most of the society views. It spreads within the walls of academic buildings and has become a frequent topic. Though some educators steer clear of the topic, others quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “A threat of justice in one community is a threat to justice in every community.” Thus, they not only talk about the movement, but they also teach it. Trinity Thompson of Harlem, New York believes that it’s her duty as a teacher and educator to enlighten her students on the world around them. When talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, she is sure to mention the initial incident that led to another used hashtag and the results of that incident. In her eyes, she believes it to be “an opportunity to teach about collective action and to link past racial justice movements to the present. But all educators, by virtue of the fact that their students have either direct or mediated exposure to Black Lives Matter, should know the basic facts about the movement’s central beliefs and practices,” (Pitts). Whether the students agree with the movement or not, it is their right to be informed of the cruelties occurring around them.

While the Black Lives Matter community is large in number, there is an equally large number of individuals who do not support the movement and criticize it. There are many who believe that the movement was sparked on pure emotion and outrage when the reality is the movement is working toward legislative changes. They are fighting for the equality of African Americans that was supposedly given when segregation ended—they are creating policy changes to end the oppression of black people. The Black Lives Matter organization has inspired other organizations to curate policy demands and proposals. One of the best examples of this inspiration is Campaign Zero. Campaign Zero declares itself “A Blueprint for Ending Police Violence.” They are an interactive online site that seeks to create and change current policies that will end police brutality.

Fortunately, the normality of police brutality is something that will eventually decrease through the rise of new technology. The new developments have created more possibilities, not only for people of color but the police officers. Dash and body cameras have been used for a while now across the country. These are installed in the front of police cars and put on police officers’ uniforms. They record everything that happens. This not only allows for police to be held accountable for their actions but protect them if something goes wrong. They’re not only beneficial for the police but for the victims of police brutality to show the reality of the situation. Without video, the “police would be able to tell [the court] whatever they felt like saying about those stories, and we'd have no way to fact-check their statements” and vice-versa (King). The concern with body cameras is that the police have control of when it is on and when it off. If or when the police officer makes the decision to not have his body camera on, this puts everyone in danger, especially the targeted black men. The evidence that the camera is supposed to produce is now not there, which disregards the credibility of both parties’ words.

Most importantly, the rise and power of the internet and social media is one of the things that has sparked awareness of police brutality and unfair treatment of African Americas across the country. It is one of the reasons why in recent years, police brutality has been recognized and criticized. Social media allows people to show what is happening around them as well as giving minorities a voice that wouldn’t necessarily be possible if it wasn’t for the internet era. Raw videos taped on cell phones, dash and body cameras are posted on social media. For instance, as mentioned earlier, the killing of Ryan Tywan. The death of the innocent man “barely made the news,” however, the “video of the entire incident, which [was] roughly 50 seconds,” caused the story to gain a larger audience and deserved attention (Levin). This is important because now many unjust acts done by the police is now almost impossible to conceal and unpunished.

The solution to this problem includes awareness, body cameras, and the police being held accountable. However, the solution doesn’t reside only in the authority’s hands. African Americans that get stopped by the police, as well as bystanders, have to contribute. There are many things that they can do. As the person being stopped, obeying all of the things the police are asking of them is crucial. This can reduce the likelihood of the police using force to get what they want. As a bystander, take precautious action when seeing unfair treatment. Videotaping or even just being there can also affect the outcome of situations like these.

In conclusion, the rising issue of police brutality in America and the unfair treatment towards African- Americans need to be addressed. The first step to solving this issue is holding everyone accountable for their actions even if they are an authority figure. Young black men are living their lives in fear while their white counterparts are not worried about being stopped and killed by the police. Exposing these inequalities, with the help of videos, social media, and movements have forced America to look at the justice system and authority differently. Recognizing and dealing with this problem will move America in a better direction because not only black people but all minorities will feel heard and significant in a place that they haven’t always felt that way.

Works Cited

  1. Adedoyin, A.Christson, et al. “The Dehumanization of Black Males by Police: Teaching Social Justice—Black Life Really Does Matter!” Journal of Teaching in Social Work, vol. 39, no. 2, Apr. 2019, p. 111. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/08841233.2019.1586807.
  2. “Campaign Zero: A 'Blueprint for Ending Police Violence'.” The Center for Popular Democracy, 17 Apr. 2017, https://populardemocracy.org/news-and-publications/campaign-zero-blueprint-ending-police-violence.
  3. Garner, Eric. “After 9 High-Profile Police-Involved Deaths Of African-Americans, What Happened To The Officers?”. WBUR, 2014, http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2016/07/11/america-police-shooting-timeline.
  4. “Herstory.” Black Lives Matter, https://blacklivesmatter.com/herstory/.
  5. Khan, Amina. “Getting Killed by Police Is a Leading Cause of Death for Young Black Men in America.” Los Angeles Times, 16 Aug. 2019, www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-08-15/police-shootings-are-a-leading-cause-of-death-for-black-men.
  6. Lowery, Wesley. “Aren’T More White People Than Black People Killed By Police? Yes, But No.”. Washington Post, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/arent-more-white-people-than-black-people-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/.
  7. Levin, Sam “Los Angeles Officers Shot at Ryan Twyman 34 Times. He Was One of Four They Killed That Day.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Aug. 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/15/police-shootings-los-angeles-sheriffs-department-ryan-twyman.
  8. Pitts, Jamilah. “Why Teaching Black Lives Matter Matters: Part I.” Teaching Tolerance, https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/summer-2017/why-teaching-black-lives-matter-matters-part-i.
  9. Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of black Americans: A population-based, quasi-experimental study Bor, Jacob et al. The Lancet, Volume 392, Issue 10144, 302 - 310
  10. Thurau, Lisa H., and Johanna Wald. “Police Killings, Brutality Damaging Mental Health of Black Community.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 15 Sept. 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/policing/spotlight/2018/09/14/police-brutality-damaging-black-communitys-mental-health/1218566002/.
  11. Weinstein, Adam, and Mark Follman. “The Trayvon Martin Killing, Explained.” Mother Jones, 25 June 2017, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/03/what-happened-trayvon-martin-explained/.
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