What Is Police Brutality?

Written by S. Danilina and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Police brutality is the use of excessive and/or unnecessary force by police when dealing with civilians. The controversy surrounding police brutality isn’t a new idea, dating back to the 1800s. However, it has been a topic of conversation in recent years, with related cases popping up in the news regularly. Let’s take a look at the factors behind the social issue that further answer the question – what is police brutality?

Forms of Police Brutality

The most obvious form of police brutality is a physical form. Police officers can use nerve gas, batons, pepper spray, and guns in order to physically intimidate or even intentionally hurt civilians. Police brutality can also take the form of false arrests, verbal abuse, psychological intimidation, sexual abuse, police corruption, racial profiling, political repression, and the improper use of tasers.

History of Police Brutality

Police brutality as a societal issue dates all the way back to the Industrial Revolution in the 1870s when law enforcement would physically harm workers that went on strike. In more recent history, some of the most famous reporting of police brutality happened during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, where officers used high-power water hoses to knock civilians to the ground, as well as police dogs to attack protestors.

Within the last ten years, several cases of police brutality made national news, covering civilians like Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, and Walter L. Scott.

Media and Police Brutality

Cases surrounding police brutality have been covered in the media for more than a century, but the increase of media coverage and technology has called law enforcement to protect their officers and civilians more than ever before. Now, police have increased video surveillance of crime scenes by way of dashcams, and more and more streets have cameras surveying the area.

With the increase in crime scene surveillance, law enforcement and the public have first-hand access to the events that take place in the case of police misconduct.

Racial Profiling and Police Brutality

Even though racial profiling still exists, anyone regardless of race, gender or age can become a victim of police brutality. According to Mapping Police Violence, “Police killed 1,147 people in 2017. Black people were 25% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.”

Laws Against Police Brutality

Nowadays, many countries have laws addressing police brutality. Under these laws, police brutality is seen as a very serious offense and is investigated by a commission of district attorneys. Unfortunately, even with the law covering police brutality, many complaints made by civilians about excessive use of force are not investigated. Researchers suggest that it happens because the police have the authority to use force when necessary, and it is often difficult to prove that police brutality has taken place. To find justice in these cases, police officers are now constantly recording all interactions with civilians. Later on, the recorded conversations can be reviewed in the case of an investigation.

However, not all countries have laws in place to protect civilians from police misconduct. In nations where no laws about the use of excessive force exist, complaints about police brutality are very common.

How To Report Police Brutality

If a person experienced police misconduct, he or she needs to write down the names of all witnesses of the accident, take pictures of his or her injuries and get a medical conclusion on the injuries from a medical professional. Also, it is a good idea to hire a police brutality attorney to help with the case. If a complaint was filed with the court, a person who was a victim of police brutality may be able to receive reimbursement for doctor’s fees, medical tests, lost wages, and emotional distress.

Recent Cases of Police Brutality

In October of 2014, a police officer named Jason Van Dyke shot and killed a 17-year-old man, Laquan McDonald, but not until October of 2018 was the officer found guilty of second-degree murder, as well as aggravated battery. In this case of brutality, the police were called after a witness saw an armed suspect breaking into cars and stealing radios. Upon arrival of the police, former officer Van Dyke opened fire at McDonald 16 times. Reports first said that McDonald was “lunging” at the officer, which later was determined to be untrue in a video of the incident.

 

For more information on how to handle police brutality, here’s a look at How to File a Complaint Against a Police Officer.

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