Police brutality is an ugly term we don't want to hear. Unfortunately, it's part of the necessary and sometimes nasty business called policing. Fortunately, it rarely occurs. But when it does -- it's big news.
What triggered this post is an email to my personal blog site at DyingWords.net from a follower who wrote:
I'm a sophomore in high school and we are in the process of writing a research paper. My topic is about the use of force by police and I was wondering if you could give some pros and cons about police brutality. What you consider as police brutality would help me out tremendously.
Okay. I was a cop for many years and I'm not going to pretend cases of police brutality don't occur. I can truthfully say I never, personally, saw a case of truly excessive force -- although I've seen wickedly violent struggles during arrests.
Occasionally, officers might have gone a little overboard (myself included) during the heat of the moment, but I never saw a case where someone got thumped-out where they didn't instigate it themselves.
First the question: "What's considered police brutality?"
I did a little Google-ing and got this definition from good ol' Wikipedia:
Police brutality is the wanton use of excessive force, usually physical, but can also occur in forms of verbal attacks and psychological intimidation by a police officer. It is one of several forms of police misconduct which include: false arrest, intimidation, racial profiling, political repression, surveillance abuse, sexual abuse, and police corruption.
There's a fine line separating the justified use of force in effecting a lawful arrest and what's deemed excessive.
Virtually all jurisdictions allow police officers to use as much force as is necessary in their powers of arrest.
Any force beyond what's necessary can be considered an assault and officers can be held criminally responsible for applying excessive force.
What's considered excessive to the point of being brutal, cruel, or savage must be weighed on a case-by-case base. A close look needs to be taken at the particular circumstances.
I'd say real police brutality is more than just mere excessive force where an individual officer got a little carried away. Probably the best definition would be an unacceptable act of violence used by agent(s) of the state on civilized citizen(s).
Over the years, the majority of police brutality claims came from riot, protest, or strike incidents where police weighed in with clubs and beat defenseless citizens.
Some of these clearly had racial overtones.
Unfortunately, there are many incidents where a single individual was brutalized at the hands of police officers.
The Rodney King case from Los Angeles in 1991 is one of the highest profile cases of true police brutality.
King was a construction worker who became nationally known after being beaten by LAPD officers following a high-speed chase. A witness videotaped the takedown which showed four officers surrounding King -- several of them striking him repeatedly with fists and batons while other officers stood by.
The footage aired around the world, inflaming outrage in cities where racial tensions were high and heating public outrage about police treatment of minorities.
Four officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force.
They were acquitted at the state level which triggered the 1992 Los Angeles Riots where 53 people were killed and over 2,000 were injured. The acquittals led to the federal government's obtaining grand jury indictments for violations of King's civil rights.
The four officers were tried in federal court with two being found guilty and imprisoned. The other two were again acquitted.
Vancouver, in Canada where I live, has a black eye from police brutality.
Robert Dziekanski was a Polish citizen who was Tasered five times by four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers during an arrest at Vancouver International Airport in 2007.
Dziekanski died at the scene.
This, too, was captured on video by a bystander and showed several of the Taser hits happened while Dziekanski was handcuffed on the floor.
A massive investigation took place. It recommended the officers not be criminally charged for using excessive force.
The public was outraged. They demanded an independent review.
A commission of inquiry took place over two years and ended with the judge severely chastising the officers for not only their brutality but their deceit during the legal process.
After nearly nine years, these officers are still in perjury trials and may end up in jail -- not for assault -- but for lying.
One of the biggest criticisms in police brutality accusations is the lack of impartiality when police investigate themselves.
Most jurisdictions now have agencies of independent oversight. Those aren't without flaw as they often rely on investigative expertise by hiring ex-cops.
The Independent Investigations Office in British Columbia>, for instance, is an example of a horribly dysfunctional agency. Recently, half the staff have been fired or quit.
There's also a number of citizen-based watchdogs.
Some are simply anti-authority cop-haters with an ax to grind and some are well-intentioned but misguided left-wing, bleeding heart, civil rights groupies with no experience in law enforcement and little grip on life on the street.
One of the seemingly credible groups is Copwatch. It's been around since 1990 and is a network of activist organizations in the United States and Canada that observe and document police activity while looking for signs of police misconduct and brutality.
My experience is the vast majority of police officers are sensible, controlled professionals who have a difficult job.
Once in a while -- yes -- there's a real sour lemon.
The sad reality is that individual cases of police excessive force will always occur -- most being incidents where tempers flare and things get carried away.
And, knowing some of the idiots that cops have to deal with on a daily basis, I'm surprised there aren't more brutal incidents.