It is shameful that the Western World, or any nation on the face of the planet, which prides itself on providing equality, opportunity and high levels of socio-economic welfare to its citizens, should still suffer at the hands of Racism – the nemesis of Egalitarianism, and the tool which has incited some of the most demonic violations of human rights, in the history of mankind. It is shameful that we have borne witness to many monstrous acts of mass incarceration, genocide and dehumanisation, such as the Triangular Slave Trade (16th-19th century) and the Holocaust (1941-1945); events ingrained in our minds and into the fabric of educational curriculums around the world, so as to serve as a reminder of the dark paths down which many have tread in the past. And it is even more saddening to see the disregard of human lives, displayed by the group of people who are responsible for upholding the peace, and protecting the innocent, as a result of their prejudice against members of certain races. Police Brutality is the legal term for a civil rights violation, where officers use unwarranted and excessive force against the common man, and it has become more prevalent throughout the years. The American police were responsible for the deaths of 1,099 people in 2019, of which 24% were black (who are three times more likely to be killed than any other ethnicity). Shockingly, there were only 27 days last year, on which no lives were taken. The death of George Floyd at the hands of the police officer, Derek Chauvin, has ignited a wave of rallies and protests across America, where Floyd’s pained last words, ‘I can’t breathe’, have become an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other activist groups.
“What the world has witnessed since the killing of George Floyd on Monday has been a visceral pain, a community trying to understand who we are and where we go from here,” are the words of the Minnesotan Governor, Tim Walz, following the terrible ordeal in which a handcuffed Floyd was choked to death, by the officer who knelt on his neck for eight minutes. Riots broke out across the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, which resulted in much looting and widespread damage, including the arson of a police station, symbolic of the release of “decades and generations of pain, of anguish,” felt by black communities across the nation. This incident served as a catalyst to mobilise the numerous movements who have fought against the police brutality inflicted upon African-American communities.
Policing in USA originates from slave patrols, which involved bands of white vigilantes who maintained the country’s laws on slavery. It also stems from the old societal mechanism which attempted to control the “dangerous underclass”, that included minority groups such as African and Native Americans. “Policing’s institutional racism of decades and centuries ago still matters because policing culture has not changed as much as it could,” comments Connie Hassett-Walker, a professor of Criminal Justice. “The roots of racism in American policing — first planted centuries ago — have not yet been fully purged.” This has become increasingly widespread in recent times, with the deaths of many black people at the hands of officers, and uncalled for circumstances initiated by the police, who have been statistically shown to implement more forceful methods on people of colour. Breonna Taylor was another victim of police brutality, who was shot eight times by officers who forcibly entered her apartment to serve up a warrant, as part of their narcotics investigation. Taylor’s mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and states that the police did not knock at all, and should not have proceeded with their search, when the main culprit had already been caught. Another prime example, is that of Eric Garner’s wrongful death, who issued the very same last words as George Floyd, when he was placed in a choke-hold (a method banned by the NYPD) which essentially led to his fatality.
It is essential to note that it is only a small section of the American police that are guilty of murder as a result of their actions and potential prejudice, and as reported by The Guardian, “Police nationwide, in unequivocal and unprecedented language, have condemned the actions of Minneapolis police in the custody death of George Floyd”. However, it is all the more important to act now, as the issue may only be resolved through universally and irrevocably eradicating racism and the unjust approval of the use of excessive violence, from the ranks of governance. This may be achieved through placing greater legal restrictions upon police power, and the ways in which they may use physical means in order to restrain a member of the public. The use of restrictive policies as outlined in the image below, leads to a significant decrease in the use of force by the police, as a result of which an “average police department would have 54% fewer killings and a police department with none of these policies currently in place would have 72% fewer killings by implementing all eight of these policies,” as suggested by the results produced by the Police Use of Force Project.
The OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) orders that the police:
Shall be an independent organ of the Executive and shall be subject to the direction of the courts and bound by their orders. Every law enforcement agency shall be representative of and responsive and accountable to the community as a whole.
Carry out all duties impartially and without discrimination on such grounds as race, colour, sex, language, religion or politics.
No detainee shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or to any form of violence or threats.
The promotion of these statutes, through police training, can serve to educate and inform our ‘peacekeepers’ of their roles, as well as their limitations, so as to prevent them from becoming the country’s ‘stormtroopers’. The Federal courts have put in place legal ramifications for any form of constitutional breach in policing, but it has come to the point that they do not ‘discourage police misconduct to the satisfaction of many communities’. The law allows the police certain freedoms to carry out some ‘harms under limited circumstances’, but when they pervert the legal processes and the liberties afforded to people, they destroy the trust that is established between us and the government, as well as inflicting irreparable damage. Certain legal remedies are in place for “constitutional violations by police officers, including the exclusionary rule, civil suits for damages or reform, and criminal prosecution,” to ensure that the law is upheld. However, through the decades, these legal corrective measures have been diminished, as they often fail in achieving their purpose of holding police officers accountable. Legal actions that may be effective are: the withholding of funds from departments that have had a history of discrimination; the enforcement of internal reforms through the provision of grants and the increase in the sharing of data/information with the public, as well as furthering research into the best methods to promote civil rights, whilst decreasing any harm caused to society. The 1961, Mapp v. Ohio case, is a prime example of an effective counter-measure against the crimes of the police, as “the U.S. Supreme Court forbade state courts from allowing evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment to be admitted in criminal cases”, which meant that no evidence acquired illegally could be submitted.
It is of the utmost importance that we, as a people, from any background, race or religion, should act in a manner which corrects the flaws in society, starting with the reformation of the police. The former president, Barack Obama, has stated that, “This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America”, while Donald Trump has taken to Twitter, condemning the “thugs dishonouring the memory of George Floyd,” and controversially threatening that when “the looting starts, the shooting (will) start,” in his Tweet, flagged for promoting violence. The two prominent leaders have provided two very different statements, with one being much more subtle and appropriate for these troubled times, and the other being much more inconsiderate, and almost foolish. More than anything, it is important to ensure that the horrifying image of the man crushing the life out of his fellow human, with his knee, is not used as a tool to instigate even more excessive violence, but instead utilised as a symbol to breakdown this metaphor for the restraint of people of colour. There should be no reason for members of African-American communities to be afraid of walking the streets of their neighbourhoods. There should be no reason for the ‘Land of the Free’, to be anything but that.
- Cover Photo: https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/gsiu0y/i_cant_breatheplease_stop_rip_george_floyd/