Police Brutality By: Anonymous “But they didn’t have to beat me this bad. I don’t know what I did to be beatup.
” Rodney King, March 3, 1991. Police brutality has been a long lastingproblem in the United States since at least 1903 when police Captain Williamsof the New York Police Departmen coined the phrase, “There is more law atthe end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.”In the 1920’s the Wichersham Commission had a number of instances of policebrutality. Many of these included the use of the “third degree” (beating toobtain a confession). This is a very effective way to get a confession out ofsomebody. However, beating the accused could easily elicit a confession froma scared and innocent person. Also, this puts the accused person’s life indanger. Police officers must make snap life and death decisions daily.
Officers’work in an environment where death (theirs, their partners, and an innocent orguilty person) is one decision away. How does that constant fear effect anofficer’s perception? Unfortunately, many that are attracted to lawenforcement are aggressive and prone towards violence as a solution. Policeofficers have a lot of power. With this power comes responsibility. Policebrutality can be defined as the excessive or unreasonable use of force indealing with citizens, suspects and offenders. A nationally known exampleoccurred on the morning of March 3, 1991. Rodney King was pulled out of hisvehicle and beaten by two Los Angeles police officers.
The LAPD hadoriginally given chase to Mr. King’s vehicle due to a failure to yield. Officersfired a 50,000-volt Taser electric dart gun at Mr. King. They also hit King withbatons. Mr. King, according to police officials, was hit approximately 56 times.
Mr. King had 11 broken bones at the base of his skull. Also, the bones holdinghis eye in the right socket were broken (LA Times March 19, 1991 p.
A20).The policemen reported that Mr. King appeared to be on PCP at the time hewas pulled over.
Subsequent tests indicated Mr. King had no drugs or alcoholin his system (Serrano, 1991 p. A1). The Rodney King incident was however,captured by a private citizen on videotape. This videotape has subsequentlybeen broadcast nationally and the ensuing trial against the police officersinvolved captivated our nation.
(LA Times March 19, 1991 p. A20).Twenty-seven uniformed officers witnessed this incident from various lawenforcement agencies. None of the officers (those individuals who aresupposed to protect citizens) made any effort to stop this abuse.(LA TimesMarch 19, 1991 p. A20). The level of escalation even went so far as to call in apolice helicopter! (Ironically, the lights from the helicopter actually improvedthe lighting for the videotape.) The King beating brought complaints from theMayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley and national attention from civil rightsleaders.
Many believed the beating was racially motivated and extended from apattern of abusive behavior by police towards blacks. (McDonald 1991) Thisact of violent behavior from police officers has brought many questions to thenational table, such as: Is police brutality on the rise? Is the police hidingbehind their badges? How does the public view police brutality? How canwe raise public awareness? Is police brutality on the rise? This is an importantquestion to ask ourselves and the police departments. A study in seventeencounties in Northern California indicated that in the past two years excessiveforce and neglect has resulted in at least seven deaths and fatal injury. (Saari,no date) In fact a nine-month period from August 26, 1996 to June 29, 1997seven citizens died as a result of police brutality. Sonoma County Californiacurrently has the highest rate of custody deaths in the bay area (Saari). Inmany cases the situation (according to police accounts) has rapidly escalated toa point where police feel the need to use deadly force.
Many of thosecommitting crimes are mentally ill. The Sonoma County Alliance for theMentally Ill advises that police officers in confrontations with peopleexperiencing psychiatric episodes: Speak calmly and quietly Slow down