Police brutality in the United States is defined as extreme and often unlawful use of force against civilians ranging from assault and battery (e.
g., beatings) to torture and murder (Police Brutality 2016). While the expression is most often applied to causing physical injury, it is not limited to just that. It is also the psychological harm through the application of intimidation tactics, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and paranoia. In the past, officers who had been involved in police brutality have generally acted with the approval of the legal system. Qualifications being; differences in race, religion, politics, or socioeconomic status sometimes exist between police and citizens. Today, individuals who engage in police brutality may do so with the approval of their superiors or they may be rogue officers.
In either circumstances, they may carry out such actions under appearance of justice and, more often than not, succeed in developing a cover-up for their unlawful activity. Some officers may view the population as a commonly deserving group for such punishment (Police brutality in the United States 2017). In his report, Arnold (2015) stated, “All lives do matter in a utopian society, but in today’s society that doesn’t hold weight when it comes to the epidemic of violence against people of color, especially African-Americans. We have laws to restrain criminals from committing horrific crimes against citizens and we must have specific laws and national policy reform that holds law-enforcement responsible in the same way”. Hundreds of citizens are killed by police annually throughout the United States, yet the exact amount is unknown because the lives lost are not always all accounted for. Due to the restricted information available, African American men are unfortunately the most impacted by officers who use lethal force as a method of detainment.
African American women are also at risk of losing their lives to police violence or sexual assault. Police officers are expected to be accountable for upholding the law, as well as respecting and protecting the lives of any and all members of the society. While most agree, their jobs are laborious and often dangerous, there are safer and reasonable measures that could be taken to protect the community. The shooting of not only Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, but countless others across the United States has shed light on racially discriminatory treatment by law enforcement (Deadly Force 2015). According to Whibey and Kille (2016), “Numerous efforts have been made by members of the law enforcement community to improve these situations, including promising strategies such as “community policing.” Even from a police perspective, working as a law enforcer is a very hazardous job.
“America has a relatively higher homicide rate compared to other developed nations, and has many more guns per-capita. Citizens rarely learn of the innumerable incidents where officers elect to hold fire and show restraint under extreme stress”. Even the best trained and most qualified officers will not always be able to draw and fire their weapon faster than that of a ready suspect; this generally constitutes such split-second decisions. As the FBI typically points out, police departments and officers do not always take the best approach in order to diffuse the negative outcomes of such incidents in a respectable and reasonable manner, fueling public confusion and resentment.
Interactions between African Americans and urban police departments were initially shaped by the Great Migration (1916–70). They had moved from the rural South into urban White communities in the North and West. Police departments were not used to seeing Blacks in their community, resulting in hostile attitudes ingrained in racist stereotypes. Many believed that African American men, possessed an inherent tendency toward criminal behavior. Americans of all races, ethnicity, ages, classes, and genders have been subjected to police brutality. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for instance, poor and working-class whites expressed annoyance towards discrimination. Other studies have shown that more often than not, police brutality continues to go unreported.
Harassment of homosexuals and transgender persons by police in New York City resulted in the 1969 Stonewall riots, which were originally triggered by a police raid on a gay bar. The protests distinguished the beginning of a new era in the emerging international gay rights movement. Portions of the population may perceive the police to be oppressors. In addition, there is a perception that victims of police brutality often belong to relatively powerless groups, such as minorities, the disabled, and the poor. In 1982, the federal government funded a “Police Services Study”, in which over 12,000 randomly selected citizens were interviewed in three metropolitan areas.
The study found that 13.6 percent of those surveyed claimed to have had cause to complain about police service (including verbal abuse, discourtesy and physical abuse) in the previous year. Yet only 30 percent of those who acknowledged such brutality filed formal complaints (Police Brutality 2016).