Police brutality against African Americans is a serious societal problem that affects many states across the US. It implies the use of unauthorized, illegal, unfair, unnecessary, and otherwise unwarranted violence or brutality by police officers against civilians, regardless if they are breaking the law or not. The issue has gained special prominence in recent years thanks to the numerous killings of young black people that have been perpetrated by police officers. The issue has gone so far that it has spurred various movements, such as the now infamous ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. One of the main criticisms against the police forces across America has been that they unfairly discriminate against people of color, while being generally more lenient towards white people.
Ongoing movements for social equality such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ are an echo of similar previous movements in American history. For instance, Malcolm X is a personality famous for his advocacy of social equality and justice for African American citizens. In addition, more peaceful movements such as Martin Luther King’s have remained deeply ingrained in the minds of many modern social activists. What is most telling about these movements, however, is that police brutality and social discrimination against black people have been a persisting problem that has failed to disappear, even after many reforms and changes in society. The sad reality is that many African Americans still face the same threats of discrimination and abuse at the hands of police officers as their previous generations did decades ago. The failure of the American government to eradicate this deep-seated problem shows us that there may be large mental barriers in the minds of many individuals that hinder the progress of their respective communities.
One of the main problems with police brutality is that it often goes unaccounted for. There are many reasons for this. For instance, it is not rare for a situation to boil down to the word of a police officer against the word of a potential criminal. It is easy to assume how a judge or jury might bi biased into believing a police officer’s claim of self defense in a hypothetical killing situation, especially when there is no other evidence beyond the statements of those involved. If the possibility of racial prejudice is taken into account, it is also easy to surmise that many black people may face potential wrongful convictions and imprisonments, ultimately thanks to the brutality and discrimination exhibited by the police in the first place.
An even bigger problem with police brutality in the United States is that it seems to be deeply tied to racism. This is based on the fact that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that police officers are more likely to harass and arrest innocent civilians that are black or hispanic rather than white (Owen 2016). Another point of concern is the large number of killings that have taken place, involving young black people and police officers. In a period of less 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 2014).
According to statistics obtained and presented by the Chicago Tribune in 2016, four out of five killings by police were of a young black male (Richards et al. 2016). Such statistics highlight the apparent greater risks that young African American people may be facing in their societies. Although it could be argued that these statistics simply point to a larger crime rate among young non-white people, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest otherwise. For instance, research by the Washington Post has shown that most cases involving the killings of black people have not involved any realistic lethal threats to police officers on the scene (Lowery 2016). A lot of this indicates that there may be a general bias among police officers that non-white people are more likely to be criminals. Even worse, it could even be an indication that some police officers are knowingly abusing their power in order to carry out racist attacks without facing the same dangers of legal prosecution.
One theory of why such brutality and discrimination exists against black people is because of America’s bitter history of slavery, racism, and segregation for the better part of its existence as a nation. Because of the racial tensions that existed well until the later half of the 21st century, many police officers adopted the approach of willfully discriminating against black people when pursuing criminal offenders (Owen 2016). In other cases, individuals are simply given the advantage of exploiting their socially responsible position of being a police officer in order to carry out racially motivated hate crimes that can later be easily justified on the basis of their respectable posts.
Bias and unequal treatment of citizens by police officers is unacceptable in a developed and democratic country that strives to set an example to the rest of the world. Allowing police officers to get away with acts of brutality, especially those based on racial prejudice, are not only illegal but also dangerous for democracy itself. Having people in power that are abusing the law to their own benefit, and at the expense of the lives of innocent citizens, is the first step towards an undemocratic and oppressive society. Police brutality should have all citizens worried, regardless of their ethnic background. The fact that a police force would foster officers that are willing to break the law should be an enormous concern on its own.
The knowledge of police brutality and discrimination towards black people can cause problems for many people, regardless if they are criminals or innocent civilians. It means that millions of Americans are forced to live in fear of being accidental victims in police shootings. The danger is knowingly increased for everyone when both police officers and potential victims are aware of the potential unaccountability of police shootings. The problem has gone so far that many psychologists suggest that it can leave significant psychological and emotional trauma on many people of ethnic origin, even if they don’t participate in such an event but simply read and hear about it on the news (Turner 2016). As a result, many people can develop issues such as anxiety and anti-social behavior, simply by knowing that they are categorized as less worthy by those that have been assigned to protect and serve all citizens equally.
Fortunately, police brutality may be something that will soon be eradicated from modern society through the development of various technological feats. These developments have allowed for many new possibilities, including greater oversight and accountability of police officers in their daily routine and duties. For instance, dash cameras have been in use for quite some time in many police forces across the United States and other developed nations. They are installed in police cars and record everything that happens in front of the vehicle.
This allows not only for police officers to be more accountable, but also to protect them from false claims by citizens. Of course, the only problem with police dashboard cameras is that they have a limited angle of recording, meaning that the potential for abuse is still left open. To counter this problem, body cameras have been rising in popularity across many national police forces. These body cameras allow for cases of potential abuses against black people to be recorded and used against police in criminal court cases. However, it also allows honest police officers to fully escape any wrongful convictions of brutality (Wiley 2017).
More important, however, is the rise of the internet and social media as tools of raising awareness about police brutality and unequal treatment of African Americans. It may very well be the reason why issues of police brutality have been brought to the forefront of public attention in recent years. Social media has allowed for many people and communities to gain voices in the large media circles, something that was virtually impossible for many prior to the internet era. Now that any story can gain a large international audience if it is important enough, many acts of police brutality are much more difficult to conceal and go by unpunished.
In conclusion, police brutality against African Americans is an unfortunate but very real social problem. It results in the unlawful and unethical discrimination, persecution and abuse of millions of black Americans, many of whom live in everyday fear thanks to the knowledge of this prejudice among the police forces. Many police officers are inclined to consider black people as bigger threats than they really are, especially when the statistics are compared to incidents involving white people. This may be either due to some police officers having harmful personal world-views, or to the existence of a deeply ingrained prejudiced mentality in the police force, thanks to America’s history of racial oppression. In either case, the ongoing cases and reports of police brutality against African Americans are a sign that there is still a lot that needs to be done on this matter.
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.
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/.
Owen, Tess. “Black And Hispanic People More Likely To Be Victims Of Police Brutality, Study Says”. VICE News, 2016, https://news.vice.com/article/black-and-hispanic-people-more-likely-to-be-victims-of-police-brutality-study-says.
Richards, Jenniger et al. “92 Deaths, 2,623 Bullets: Tracking Every Chicago Police Shooting Over 6 Years”. Chicago Tribune, 2016, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/ct-chicago-police-shooting-database-met-20160826-story.html.
Turner, Erlanger. “Racial Trauma Is Real: The Impact Of Police Shootings On African Americans”. Psychology Benefits Society, 2016, https://psychologybenefits.org/2016/07/14/racial-trauma-police-shootings-on-african-americans/.
Wiley, Maya. “Body Cameras Help Everyone — Including The Police”. Time, 2017, http://time.com/4771417/jordan-edwards-body-cameras-police/.