In this letter I wanted to discuss an epidemic that has occured in America these past few years, which would be police brutality towards African Americans. Police brutality dates as far back as the 1960’s but recently there have been many cases towards black people where they do not pose a threat but are still beaten or even killed. Statistics show that police killed 1,147 people in 2017 and 25% of those killed were black people even though the population of blacks is 13%. This means blacks are victims of brutality more than twice their rate in general population. There has to be a solution to ending police brutality.
On August 9, 2014 a black 18-year-old named Michael Brown was shot by a white officer, Darren Wilson. This incident received a lot of attention because before Brown was shot fatally six times he had raised his hands to surrender. Even though Wilson states there was some altercation between the two, if Brown didn’t have a weapon, was it really necessary to shoot him so many times? One of my articles that I will be referencing by Themal Ellawala, he talks about a study “ in which civilian participants are presented with scenes and instructed to shoot only at armed targets both quickly and accurately.
A majority of these studies found that participants tended to shoot faster and more accurately at an armed Black man than an armed White man, while being slower and less accurate in responding to the “don’t shoot” command when presented with an unarmed Black target compared to an unarmed White target.” This just proves that people are more likely to react to a shoot/don’t shoot situation with a racial bias. This case is a prime example of a police officer abusing their power and using a lethal weapon just cause he can. Wilson exaggerated that Brown was demon like and a dead-eyed giant that could kill him in one punch, yet he was shot 150 feet from Wilson’s vehicle. It just makes me wonder how things would have turned out differently if Michael Brown was white.
Another example would be on New Year’s Day, 2009, a 22-year-old unarmed black man named Oscar Grant was shot and killed. His unjust story caused a big impact to the community. That night when riding BART, officers had responded to a fight that had broken out on the transit which Grant was not apart of but 20 people were detained, including him. Witnesses stated that he was kneeling and pleading for the officers not to shoot him.
Two police officers had pinned him down to the pavement when a third, Joe Mehserle, came from behind and shot Grant in the back. Mehserle’s excuse was he had mistaken his gun for a taser. But that wouldn’t make sense because a taser and a revolver have no resemblance. In another article “Black and Blue: Exploring Racial Bias and Law Enforcement in the Killings of Unarmed Black Male Civilians,” by Alison Hall et. al, they say: “A common sentiment expressed in the aftermath of police shootings is that the officers are “just doing their jobs”.” An officer can still do their job without killing unarmed or non-threatening people.
I have given two examples from the African American point of view but now I want to discuss a police officers point of view. I read an article by Geoffrey Alpert and William Smith, “How Reasonable Is the Reasonable Man: Police and Excessive Force,” and it talks about the guidelines and standards the police go by. They say, “-the police claim that excessive force is employed less often than observers or citizens report. The targets of police abuse are almost always lower class males, and the most common factor associated with abuse is disrespect shown to the police by these suspects.” I can see how in that particular situation where someone is being non compliant or trying to purposefully disrespect the law, then physical force would be necessary. Another fact these authors stated, “of course, if the perceived threat is an aimed firearm, regardless of its authenticity, an immediate and aggressive response may be necessary.”
I agree that if an officer feels his life is in danger than he should protect himself, if a gun is being pointed at him then it is in his right that he acts accordingly. And most cops do follow that rule and only pull out their gun if they have to or use force when necessary, but there are many other cops that abuse that power because they can. Like the two cases I have provided, people have protested and started riots because they felt the same way I did, that racial bias gets in the way of doing the right thing. Being a police officer, they have to make their own judgement and choices in all situations they come across. It is up to them to make good decisions and overall make the people feel safe.
In conclusion I would like to see an end to police brutality. All over social media and news headlines these days there is always something about police brutality, or police killings and it is heartbreaking to see. A solution to making people feel less afraid of cops or to end brutality, is if a cop really feels they are in danger and the suspect isn’t armed, the officer should reach for a taser or pepper spray. Not something lethal like a gun, so no one gets killed.
Of course this is in regards to cases such as Michael Brown and Oscar Grant where they were unarmed, an officer needs to be better trained so situations like these don’t happen. And putting killing aside, even unnecessary punching or using excessive force to pin someone down that isn’t resisisting should be stopped. Sworn officers of the law are meant to protect people and make them feel safe, no matter what color of their skin.