Police brutality may be defined as an intentional use of excessive physical force, psychological intimidation and verbal attacks. It is the use of excessive force that is usually unnecessary for the purpose of accomplishing a police duty. Although there are no concrete and reliable ways to measure its existence, police brutality has been existing for an undeniably long time. The definition of police brutality keeps on shifting and changing its forms to encompass changes in demography, politics and economy. Police brutality has many faces depending on who defines it. For example, a black power rally considers death in the hands of the police and with calling someone by their first name as police brutality. In general, police brutality covers a wide range of activities.
However, an average citizen defines police brutality in a more specific manner and more closely to what the police call an alley court. For example, for an average citizen, police brutality is a vicious beating of someone in custody by the police. A person in this case is usually handcuffed and an incident takes place between the time of arrest and the time it takes the police to get a victim to a stationhouse. Police brutality is widespread and occurs in many countries, even in the countries that prosecute any form of police brutality. This act involves surveillance abuse, political repression, sexual abuse, false arrest, racial profiling, intimidation, physical assault, and police corruption.
Police brutality has existed for a long time as it has been mentioned above. For example, its practices can be traced back to the cities in ancient Rome. At that time, the police comprised soldiers who were recruited for the purpose of keeping a city order (Marilynn 23). Brutality started when a small community, that was foreign to an indigenous community, cropped up something that led soldiers to believe that their authority and control was undermined or challenged. For them to feel control and to keep peace, soldiers would violently attack minority groups, who were mainly Christians. Police brutality can also be traced back to the time, when Augustus was in power in Rome. He created extra 14 wards to keep peace and order, since the population in Rome had grown so much. These wards were supposed to ensure better law enforcement by Vigiles. The word “vigilante” was coined from this word (Johnson 78).
In Rome, police brutality existed in various forms, for example, the police would make examples out of specific individuals by using excessive force or by using death penalties to those who broke the Roman law. The political state regulation power, political units governing authorities when the world started becoming more modern, and the need for protection increased the protection force against police brutality. For example, the positions of Marshal and Constable were ranked highly by the military forces at the Byzantine Empire time. These positions were purposely created to manage martial law in Western European states.
Police force was a political force that was different from and separate from soldiering forces and was created by governing units of that time to maintain order and peace. The hierarchy was arranged in such a manner that there was a leader who was in charge of other leaders to form what we now call “bureaucracy”. Today examples of bureaucracy are police forces, courts, corporations, schools and armed forces of a country or a nation (Stetser 45). Police forces started to get paid to keep peace and order, especially during strikes in America and Europe. Sometimes incidents became ugly and violent when the police lost control of crowds resulting in attacks on citizens with night sticks and blackjacks. In addition, sometimes citizens retaliated with weapons of their own. One of the worst incidents of police brutality took place during the strikes at Pullman and Great Railroad. These strikes were so violent that the police had to be assisted by the state militia. By the beginning of the 20th century, new forms of criminalities had emerged and new techniques and technologies were needed by the police to combat crimes.
The term “police brutality” first appeared in The New York Times in 1893 after a policeman had beaten a civilian mercilessly. To some degree, it is considered that the police is spoiled by brutality, which has been not acceptable by civilians. From the late 19th century towards the 20th century, and in some cases even now,, police brutality has been still practiced and it is considered to be an act that has continued harming the society that we live in. During the 20th century, most police officers took advantage of their jobs and oppressed the community for their own benefits (Stetser 42). More and more of abusive treatments considered to be full of terror were experienced by the society that was under the police. The police created all this in the name of controlling populations that were under them efficiently.
In most cases, brutality of the police is related to race, ethnicity and culture of an individual. A good example is the one that has taken place in South Africa in the form of apartheid. Even today in some parts of South Africa, racism is practiced. When the Europeans found their way and settled in South Africa, they mistreated most Africans making them slaves on their own land. Violence was experienced at most times and the police attacked them mercilessly. This could be seen by the way they were fiercely beaten and killed without any law protecting them. On the other hand, the police released dogs on the Africans, since they were not of the same ethnicity. Because of these, most Africans from South Africa decided to protest in order to fight for what was rightfully theirs. However, it took a lot of time and blood-shedding before all this could come to an end. The same case can be experienced in most African countries, where the White man has always wanted to take over control and rule what rightfully belongs to the Africans (Johnson 89). They used their guards and police to intimidate the Africans over what they had.
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Most police officers have been always taking an opportunity to harass civilians for their own interests. During the 20th century, most police harassment was done as a way to control labor. However, proponents of police brutality came to the defense of this issue citing that not all the police was brutal. Due to the cruelty that the police exposed to the community, a wide gap was created between the society and the police because of fear, which had impact on the society. The police was considered an abuser rather than a law keeper and protector of their nation. The African American community was also exposed to such cruelty. This resulted in riots of three errors, which were caused by the conflict between the police and the African American community.
Another example of police brutality in the 1930’s can be traced back to New York City, where most people who were in a labor rally were brutally murdered (Skolnick 121). The same case was applied to ten strikers who were killed in Chicago by local police officers. The efforts to change the way, in which police should conduct themselves have been in vain. This is for the reason that police’s brutality has been on rise in most countries rather than being on decline. The only hope that has been laid out by most critics is relaying on legislation. A decision made after civilian boards were disappointed, since they were not able to control some of the departmental policies, which were used by the local police.
The police are allowed to use force only when it is necessarily and not at all times. However, the police have taken minimal precaution to this and started handling things in their way. Most police officers enforce laws in their own way and develop authority over people in the society. This makes them consider themselves as being at a higher position than the law itself (Stetser 76). According to the reports on the conduct of the police, it is quite clear that most police officers use brutality as a way to get something out of people. This might be related to faults of an individual during the past and to some psychological or behavioral factors.
The other reason that might be a cause of police brutality is the pressure, to which the police is exposed to follow rules with reference to the culture employed by the police. To some extent, this can result in a criminal subculture, which will be in favor of the police in case it breaks the law. Another reason is strict control structures and commands that have been laid out in order to guide its work. According to the research that has been previously conducted, the stricter a control structure is, the less number of principles is used in case of decision-making. The other most crucial cause is a lack of internal system that can be used as a liability in cases of police brutality.
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Today, police brutality is considered a non-negotiable coercive force for ensuring public order and controlling citizen’s behavior. Police brutality involves physical force, in particular, beatings, rape, verbal attacks, psychological intimidation, water boarding and bastinado (besting of the soles of the feet). In most cases rape goes unreported because of the fear of stigmatization and shame (Powers 56).
In the United States, police militarization has been increasing for years. A gap between the military and the police has been reduced. To maintain situation in the period of unrest, the American Congress passed the Posse Comitatus act of 1978. The Posse Comitatus is a group of citizens who are supposed to keep order in case of unrest. Though the military was at first prohibited from getting involved in this group, it started participating after sometime. As a result, a lot of brutal forces were unleashed upon the public in the period of political unrest. As a result, another rule was put in place barring the military from joining the Posse Comitatus. However, a distinction between the military and the police has been quickly diminishing again. This can be attributed to the fact that the military has continued to providing training equipment and intelligence. This encouraged the police to shift from their duty to keep peace and order through a minimum use of force to assuming militaristic role in keeping law and order (Coleman 4-6).
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The United States has been encouraging this state of affairs of militarizing the police as a way of dealing with criminals. In September 2009 inPittsburg, a crowd of protesters was dispersed and brutally beaten by the police. Bullets, tear gas and pepper spray canisters pelted their assembly. Prior to the attack, the Pittsburg police chief announced that those who did not disperse could be arrested or be removed physically through the use of lethal ammunition (Coleman 6- 7). This is a clear indication of how militarization of the police has become an avenue of unleashing brutality among innocent citizens. Nonetheless, this activity has been authorized for the main reason that the American police have such special riot control weapons and methods as Taser. It has equipment that enables to contain riots even to the extent of killing rioters as compared to the case, when an average policeman cannot. The SWAT team has this equipment and tactics and it has caused deaths of many civilians. During raids, the U.S. police barges down doors using explosives that cause harm to innocent civilians. They use force to break into people’s houses and at times arrest people at gunpoint. They are said to use non-lethal weapons, which cannot cause any harm, although the use of those weapons leads to confrontation, which results in fatalities or serious injuries.
In Mexico, police brutality is mostly felt during drug raids, whereby the police attacks victims and torture them even before carrying out any investigation. At times, innocent victims are subjected to these attacks and killed despite their innocence. This is usually considered as miniature domestic terrorist attacks or intrusions because of terror and brutality, to which citizens are subjected by the police.
In 2009, a Sri Lankan man was chased to the sea by police officers beating him with clubs and sticks. As a result, a man drowned. This scene was captured in camera by a man in a nearby building from the 11th floor (Fernando 1). The study of police torture conducted in Sri Lanka shows that cases and forms of police brutality increase every day, although police officers go unprosecuted. The state does not take any actions to prevent police brutality and even ignores information that is publicly available. This resulted in total violation of human rights by the police supposed to protect them. In many countries today, the use of torture by the police is seen as a way of upholding specific constellations of power and governance (Fernando 5).
Torture is used as a normal part of procedure, especially in criminal investigations in developing countries. The police use it to make a victim provide required information. However, ill and degrading treatment through torture has become a common practice by the police during arrests, investigation and interrogation. This practice is widespread throughout the world. The use of torture by the police has become an intentional practice in investigations (Powers 57).
Many states and countries accept police brutality today. It has actually extended to other institutions of justice. Apart from the police, the prosecution and the judiciary system seem to accept the use of torture by the police as a standard procedure. Today in Sri Lanka, there are such acts as extrajudicial killing, torture and forced recruitment, which have become persistent. The government has threatened human rights activists and journalists, who bring out atrocities into the open by categorizing them as traitors. As a result, the use of torture by the police has increased, since the government and the judicial system do not take any measures to stop them and, instead, they seem to support the police. In fact, because of the excessive use of torture by the police and the misuse of power, there is a fear that the state of Sri Lanka may go into a state of lawlessness (Fernando 10-13).
In Philippines, police brutality is also common, whereby the police uses force during arresting and questioning. Citizens are arrested without a warrant of arrest, which is a violation of human rights. The police in Philippines also use psychological abuse to intimidate a victim as a revenge caused by a previous incident involving a victim. Psychological or physical torture in Philippines is commonly unleashed towards journalists, especially if they report any incident done wrongly by the police (Stetser 97).
The Serbian media has recorded numerous instances of police brutality, especially in the period of ruling of Slobodan Milosevic. A recent case was recorded in 2010, when five people were arrested, handcuffed and tortured during a whole hour. However, police officials and the Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs denied that the police had tortured innocent citizens.
Police brutality has been in existence since ancient times. Though the police is meant to maintain peace and order and protect citizens, it is the one who tortures them. The judicial system and the government seem to support actions of the police instead of condemning them. In fact, some governments, in particular the government of the United States, arm the police more instead of disarming it. Governments in countries where the police tortures citizens do not take any actions to prosecute involved officers, even though the public provides enough information and evidence. This has made police brutality more prevalent in modern times and, as a result, the public has lost faith in police officers and does not trust them as far as security is concerned.
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Thus, it is important for human rights to take a central role in the protection of civilians experiencing forms of abuse from those who wield power and control over them, namely the police and the military. Police brutality is one of the most common ways of human rights abuse worldwide and, as a result, challenges met in addressing this problem are wide-ranging and significant. Consequently, it takes a focused approach and sustained efforts to make sure that the police perform optimally in recognition of the great role they play in instilling law and order in the society, and operating within a framework, in which the rights of civilians are upheld.