Police Brutality When one thinks of police misconduct many not too distant stories might go through our heads. Most adults will remember how they felt when they saw the brutal beating of Rodney King on their local news station; or the outrage they experienced when they heard that the evidence in the OJ Simpson trial had been tampered with. But thanks to new guidelines, procedures and even civilian groups who now "police" the police, instances of police misconduct may soon start seeing a decline. In the past police misconduct was loosely defined, if at all. But with recent cases receiving so much news coverage legal definitions have been worked out. The term "police deviance" includes brutality, discrimination, sexual harassment, intimidation and illicit use of weapons (Barker and Carter, 1986).
Another definition of police misconduct is when police officers violate: 1. formally written normative rules 2. traditional operating procedures 3. regulations and procedures of police and other public service agencies 4. criminal and civil laws (Linch and Diamond, 1983) Recently, an Inglewood police officer was captured on videotape slamming a sixteen-year old boy on the trunk of a squad car and punching him in the face even though the youngster was handcuffed. A year after the King atrocity, two white Detroit police officers bludgeoned Malice Green to death with their flashlights tearing off part of his scalp.
Three years later, five foot five inch-one hundred forty five pound Johnny Gamma ge was pulled over while driving through a predominantly white Pittsburgh suburb, only to be choked and beaten to death after allegedly attacking five white police officers. In 1997, a New York City police officer rammed a stick from a toilet plunger six inches into the rectum of Abner Louisa rupturing his intestines (Troutt 6). To make matters worse the officer stuck the soiled stick into the victim's mouth. Two years later, Amadou Diallo and former pro football player Demetrius DuBose were murdered by New York City and San Diego police respectively. Diallo was shot by four white plain-clothes officers while standing in the vestibule of his own Bronx apartment building. According to the officers upon approaching the building Diallo stepped back inside as if to hide.
When Diallo reached into his pocket the officers fired a total of 41 shots, striking him 19 times. What the police thought was a gun turned out to be a wallet (Jeffries, 2001) That summer, DuBose, previously of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets was shot by two white San Diego police officers. The officers were investigating a burglary when they happened upon the multi-millionaire and Notre Dame graduate. An investigation by the family's attorney revealed that DuBose cooperated with the officers' investigation until they began to 'harass and intimidate' him (Amnesty International 1999 a). The officers claimed that DuBose charged at them with a pair of sticks, a martial arts weapon that he allegedly wrestled away from one of them. Several onlookers said DuBose was shot in the back (Perry A 3).
To add insult to injury after shooting DuBose the officers stood over his body for more than ten minutes before calling an ambulance (Amnesty International 1999 c). An autopsy report revealed that DuBose was shot twelve times, six in the back (Perry A 3). When asked to explain how a young man of DuBose's stature could end up being killed in this manner San Diego's police chief called it an isolated incident -- an aberration (Jeffries, 2001) Ms. Cheng, a member of the Oct 22 Coalition say that as of 1990 more than 2000 deaths have resulted because of police brutality. In more than 30 cases suspects have been shot, killed or injured by NYC police officers in questionable circumstances in recent years. There are serious doubts about whether the suspects had posed an immediate threat to life when they were shot, even though NYPD officers may fire their guns only as a last resort to protect life.
Most of the victims -- including several teenagers -- were unarmed at the time they were shot. On 24 March 1995, Yong Xin Huang, a 16-year-old Chinese boy and some friends were spotted playing in a garden with an air rifle in Brooklyn. Alerted by a neighbor, a police officer arrived and fatally shot the young boy in the back of his head. In March 1996 the city agreed to pay $400, 000 in damages to the family; the officer was not disciplined or charged with an offence. On 12 January 1996, Frankie Arzuega, an unarmed 15-year old Puerto Rican boy, was a passenger in the back seat of a reportedly stolen car.
He was shot dead by a police officer after the driver tried to drive off while being questioned (Amnesty International, 1996) Amnesty International reviewed 15 cases of deaths in police custody between 1988 and 1995 -- most of which took place on the streets. The cases included people who had died of asphyxia from pressure on the neck or chest, those who had signs of being hit or prisoners who died after violent struggles with police officers. Two of the prisoners who died in custody in 1995 had been sprayed with the pepper-spray, an agent used to temporarily disable a target subject. According to police statistics, 89% of those who died in New York Police Department custody between 1990 and 1994 were African American or Hispanic.
These figures alone are disturbing and warrant an independent inquiry, Amnesty International said. In 1996 the New York City Police Dept. paid out 27. 3 million dollars for damages inflicted upon citizens in claims of misconduct, a rise from 19.
5 million in the previous year. All though this is not an admission of guilt, most experts agree that it is a civil acceptance of some wrong doing (Sotang and Barry, 1997). Statistical material has been hard to gather and validate given that often times reports of disciplinary action are not public records. A many times citizens are hesitant to come forward and report police misconduct because of fear of retaliation from fellow officers. In a 1991 Gallup Poll participants were asked " Have you ever been mistreated or abused by the police?" . 5% of respondents said they had, 9% of non-whites said they had been victims, and 20 % said they knew someone who was a victim of police abuse.
In a study done in Chicago of 861 officers these facts were gathered: With regard to the questions about use of force, 21. 1% said that in the last year they had seen an officer use more force than was necessary to apprehend a suspect, 5. 7% said they had seen an officer cover up excessive force, and 8. 5% reported knowledge of an officer failing to report excessive force. It should be noted that these statistics do not translate into the rate of abuses per officer or the incidence of excessive force per arrest (Martin, Bes singer, Baker, 1994). With new programs such as the Christopher Commission Report (an inter departmental statistics gathering project) and the Miami-Dade Early Identification System (initiative to weed out problematic police officers) and the Civilian Complaint Review Board hopefully there will soon be an end to all the countless deaths that are attributed to police brutality.
WORKS CITED Judson L. Jeffries Police Use of Excessive Force against Black Males: Aberrations or Everyday Occurrences web International. California: Update on Police Brutality, 1999 a. Amnesty International. Police Brutality and Excessive Force in the New York City Police Department, 1999 b. Amnesty International.
USA: Death by discrimination: Skin colour influences who lives. May 18, 1999 c. Perry, Tony. 'Police Shooting Was Justified, D. A. Finds.' Los Angeles Times.
2 November 1999, p. A 3. Troutt, David D. 'Unreasonable and the Black Profile.' Los Angeles Times. 5 March 2000, p. m 6 Amnesty International.
USA: POLICE BRUTALITY WIDESPREAD PROBLEM IN NEW YORK CITY, 1996 Sotang and Barry. "Using settlements to measure police abuse." The New York Times. Sept. 17, 1997 Martin, Christine, Peter B.
Ben singer, and Thomas F. Baker. Illinois Municipal Officers' Perceptions of Police Ethics. Chicago, Illinois: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, 1994 Linch G.
, & Diamond, E. (1983) Police Misconduct. In Kad is, S. Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice. New York: The Free Press Barker, T. & Carter, D.
(1986) Police Deviance. Cincinnati: Pilgrimage. Hale, D. C.