With police brutality, law enforcement spreads fear among citizens
May 10, 2016
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“I honestly think that the majority of police just try to protect themselves by hurting people before we get a chance to hurt them.” Leshaun Bolden, 27, from Philadelphia.
“I’ve had negative interactions with cops on numerous occasions. Sometimes, I would just be walking down the street.” Bolden continued.
Stanley Tull, 25, from Philadelphia, said, “I’ve never had a positive experience with a cop. No matter what I was always suspected of something.”
Bernard Jenkins, 38, from Pennlyn, said, “I’ve had several negative experiences. But ultimately I know it varies from person to person.”
Three black students here at Bucks were willing to discuss their separate experiences, though strikingly similar outcomes of the treatment they receive from police officers.
Bolden, Tull, and Jenkins all agreed that police brutality has always been an issue and in their experiences, growing up in Philly as black men, they were always being watched.
While Tull believes, “We’ve taken a step in the right direction to end the stigmas against the black community, but no significant change has been made.”
Jenkins concluded, “Something needs to happen. But no one wants to be the one to take a chance.
In these cases is it safe to assume that just because they were black men this is why they received this treatment? In the past 2 years, the U.S has seen, that isn’t as simple as yes or no.
It’s more then just a race issue or just a cultural issue, it’s the power struggle between civilian and the bruit force being used by law enforcement. Wisdom says that if someone has a higher power they are bound to abuse that power.
So is police brutality on the rise and if so what steps are being taken to track, monitor, and curb this brutality?
In the beginning months of 2016 it was normal to recap the top songs that were released, vote for the award-winning movies and reminiscence about the biggest scandals that happened in Hollywood. But some tallied how many people were killed by police officers in 2015.
The Guardian, a reputable British news source, has a web page titled “The
Counted,” this site keeps track of how many people in the U.S the police killed.
The Guardian said it decided to create this project in order “to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.”
They obtain this information from mass media, crowd-sourced information, police records, Guardian reporters and other journalists in the U.S., and even anonymous tips investigated by Guardian staff.
According to Guardian reporter Johnathan Swaine, “The U.S. government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. This lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson,
Missouri, in August 2014.”
At the end of 2015 at least 222 unarmed individuals were killed, while 1,134 individuals were killed in shootings that were deemed “justified.” CopBlock, a webpage dedicated to posting videos and articles exposing certain police officers of breaking laws,
also attempts to teach American citizens about their unalienable rights.
The Counted website does not include mass shootout incidents, such as the shooting in
Waco, Texas, where police officers failed to identify who was killed by law enforcement. It also does not include situations such as when someone is killed in a car accident while trying to escape police.
In total, 578 whites, 302 blacks, 194 Hispanic/Latinos, 28 Unknown, 24
Asian/Pacific Islander were killed in the U.S in 2015, reported by The Counted.
In the past two years there have been controversial encounters between police officers and citizens such as; Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, John Crawford and Levar Jones, These cases caused significant uproar in the states and cities where the shootings occurred.
In February 2015, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black male , was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department. Gray was arrested for allegedly possessing an illegal switchblade. While being transported in a police van, Gray underwent serious trauma, forcing him into a coma, where he died a week later from a fatal spine injury.
The events that followed caused a catastrophic uproar in Baltimore that the rest of the country viewed in horror.
Reginald Thomas, a Baltimore resident and student at Norfolk State University wrote about being from Baltimore and his perspective as a black male. “It seems when an issue comes to a head in the black community, we derive
resolutions based on historical figures and the dialogical self.”
When protests began in Baltimore, in Thomas’s college dorm, CNN was the only thing on in the lobby, “They’re burning down their own communities,” “What does this solve?” “This is not how you get justice,” and “they look like savages,” rhetoric flowed through the lobby.
This is too broad, too generalized. From the perspective of the white community, they were afraid of Baltimore and, they undermined the protest by chalking it up to “black rage.”
“People gave me looks of disapproval after learning I was from Baltimore. People didn’t understand that a community is characterized in part by economic proprietorship. People thought the boarded-up homes happened in one week. People were posting “funny” memes on Instagram, and making a mockery of black rage in response to a history of oppression that is as American as baseball and apple pie.” Thomas wrote.
Ultimately, American society chalked up the Baltimore uprising to be misdirected anger, a poor city that had no other outlet to let their frustration and voice be heard.
Which, in a way, is true, Thomas concluded, “This is as much about Freddie as it is about those who could have been Freddie. This is how the forsaken school-to-state-of-the-art-prison industrial complex looks. This is how the lack of job opportunities looks. This is how discriminatory housing and policing looks. Baltimore’s neglected children saw to it that they were heard one way or another.”
Protests, mobs, the burning of buildings, uprisings such as Baltimore will continue if the deaths of civilians at the hands of police officers continue, many social and political leaders agree.
This is about more then just Freddie Gray, isn’t it? This is about every race and
gender feeling protected by law enforcement and not living in fear of these forces. Some of the most frequently debated questions since these killings are questions such as; is the police brutality a cultural issue or a race issue? Is there actually a recent rise in police brutality or has this been ongoing, and how has new technology effected catching these acts on camera?
Brian Creech, a journalism professor at Temple University gives his opinion, “I do not think that there has been an rise In police brutality, but a rise in citizen witnessing. New technologies and their ubiquity allow citizens to see, record, and upload a broader variety of police interactions than ever before.”
Sites like Copblock, The Counted and Fatal Encounter that were mentioned before, have given citizens a whole new advantage in knowing how law enforcement is treating the citizens they are supposed to protect.
But, what about the new world of social media? Is this causing positive or negative effects in getting new information out there? Creech thinks, “A lot of the research has shown that social media posts tend to have a polarizing effect, in that when individual’s encounter a story on social media, or really any media outlet, they tend to interpret it and respond to it in a way that already conforms to their worldview.”
If a person on social media is already inclined to not trust the police and they see a few videos on social media, this gives them the incentive they needed to confirm their distrust with the police. If a person who does trust the police sees these videos online they question why the person was videotaping them at all and not giving the police officer the benefit of the doubt.
“Arguments about police taping and police abuse tie into larger political and
racial conflicts that have a long and complicated history. Ultimately, the government and police have absolute power over the use of violence in American society, and so, for some citizens, the question of whether or not that power is being used appropriately is literally a matter of life or death,” Creech said.
With cases such as Freddie Gray and Michael Brown a common conception is that law enforcement agencies are targeting the black community.
Creech explains that, “It depends on the history, culture, and politics of certain jurisdictions. As we have seen in the year since Ferguson, some departments have specifically targeted minority populations as both a perceived threat and a source for municipal income from fees and fines paid after an arrest. However, there are other departments, captains, and officers that are aware of the potential for abuse and work hard use their power without abuse.”
So, is this as black and white as calling it a racial issue or cultural issue? No. This is a power issue.
Creech dives into the position and power police officers are given. “The police are the only institution given the ability to use force against citizens. This has huge potential for abuse, and so a lot of the current attention around protest movements are ultimately about keeping that power in check by drawing attention to not just the possibility of abuse, but the ways in which an individual officer can be tempted to exploit or violate a citizen’s rights in the heat of the movement, whether driven by fear, confusion, or actual malice.”
Certain police departments in low-income areas, or impoverished cities, are being
looked at under a microscope by citizens questioning if these law enforcement agencies are abusing their power. But what about Bucks County, a largely wealthy suburban area. Are there any acts of police brutality in this area?
In the grand scheme of these acts nationwide, not particularly. White suburban areas tend to have acts of mass shootings carried out by white males with mental health issues, including such cases as, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and Seung-Hui Cho. These three men were cases of mass shootings committed by white males. In these cases it was almost instinctual to say these were mental health induced shootings. Where in the case of Freddie Gray or Mike Brown, when they were the victims of attacks, they were viewed as criminals.
“When police are accused of committing an act of violence, there is an almost instinctual desire to trust authority and their version of events, which leads some journalists and commentators to lean toward presenting folks like Michael Brown or Freddie Gray as criminals deserving the punishment they received. In the case of white mass shooters, I think any mass killing is vexing on its face, so mental health issues tend to be a more common explanation,” Creech commented.
It’s hard to grasp the concept of being viewed as a criminal by police officers when as a citizen you’ve done nothing wrong. It can be difficult to understand racial profiling if you’ve personally never been subjected to it.
It’s become increasingly common nation wide to categorize all police officers as racist, ignorant, killers. This is part of the problem. It seems detrimental to make a point in saying that all black people are not criminals, and all police officers are not killers. When a nation starts to generalize an entire race, or job title, we take a step back from progress.
It is all our own personal and moral duty as citizens of the U.S. to speak up when you witness something unlawful, and to know our rights as citizens of this country, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Collectively, we share one voice, powerful enough to end police brutality, to end racism and prejudice.