• Ishani Sharma

LAW ENFORCEMENT BRUTALITY AGAINST PEOPLE OF COLOUR IN THE UNITED STATES

A citizen of a country would think the police force is there to protect us from crime in the neighbourhood. But what if it’s the police that we’re scared of? Whom are we supposed to run to for help then? If you’re a Latino, African American, Native American, or anyone who is a person of colour living in the USA, the police force automatically sees you as a threat to society. Anyone who still believes that white supremacy is not real either chooses to ignore it or is not aware of the difficulties that a person of colour faces almost every day just for not being a white man or woman. Police Brutality in general can be defined as the repression by law enforcement officers when suspects and civilians are dealt with. This term is also used to refer to abuses by corrections personnel in prisons. There are several forms of police brutality, such as assault, battery, torture, and murder. In a broader sense, harassment, intimidation, and verbal abuse, among others, are also forms of mistreatment used by the force. The risk of being killed by police largely depends upon that person’s race, gender, class, ethnicity, and age. A young black man, however, stands at a higher risk of becoming a victim of police brutality than a black woman or a Latino. The average lifetime odds of being killed by police are about 1 in 2000 for men and about 1 in 33,000 for women.


It is shocking to hear that there are hundreds of civilians that are killed each year by law enforcement officers alone. During the 2000s, the government did try to track the number of people killed by the US police and required them to report the homicides, but most of the departments blatantly ignored it. Black people have been subjected to violence by police enforcement for far too many years now. I could give examples of several incidents where unarmed black men have been killed by white police officers while many of them are still walking free. In 2014,Eric Garner was in the chokehold of a New York police officer, which eventually led to his death. The police officer, even though he was later fired, never had to face a proper trial for his crime. On August 9, 2014, an 18-year-old was shot dead by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, who was later not even charged for the wrongdoing. Some of the police killings that happened recently that led to worldwide protests are:


1) Philando Castile was shot while reaching for his licence in 2016.

2) Stephen Clark was shot at least seven times while unarmed in March 2018.

3) Breonna Taylor was shot eight times while officers raided her apartment in Kentucky on March 13th, 2020.

4) George Floyd died on May 25th, 2020, after being held down by officers, one of whom had his knee on Floyd’s neck until he could not breathe.


These incidents shed light on police brutality and racism across the country and have received recognition from around the world. The Black Lives Matter movement played an extremely prominent role against police brutality and racism and continues to educate people on the problem of entrenched racism in American society. Certain law enforcement officers are shielded from investigations into misconduct owing to certain state laws and union contracts that make it difficult for them to be held liable a lot of the time. Even the officers who get fired for misconduct get hired back frequently. For example, the police officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old, Tamir Rice, was hired again by a police department and did not face federal criminal charges.


African Americans and the police department initially interfaced during the Great Migration. White communities, including the white police force, saw black people with fear and hostility aggravated by racist stereotypes. They segregated African Americans from whites by beating them and using excessive force, along with passing racial slurs, committing sexual assaults against black women, homicide, etc. Police brutality was further incited during the 1960s race riots such as the Watts Riots (1965), Newark Riots (1967), and Detroit Riots (1967). Peaceful protests were responded to violently by the police force, to which the African Americans responded by burning and looting stores, facing violent punishment from the police force.


Various solutions have been suggested by activists, advocates, and researchers to eliminate racial bias in police departments including body cameras to clarify during demanding situations, encouraging officers to be better listeners to citizens’ views, better police training, and legislation concerning police brutality, among others. There are also others who want the police department to be dismantled and defunded so that it can be redirected towards the community, which, however, could turn out to be counterproductive. The police department should be expected instead to not discriminate based on sex, race, and ethnicity and to hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and reduce the use of unnecessary force.


As mentioned in the 13th documentary on Netflix, the common misconception is that if you are against the police or the ruling government, you are automatically against law and order since they are hardworking citizens working for the country’s betterment. However, people sometimes fail to realise the fact that the government and the police can be wrong too, and it is the citizens of the country who are meant to speak up for their constitutional rights and hold them responsible. The black community should not be afraid of being mistreated by the police and shot dead just for seeming like a “threat,” but they constantly are, and we should be willing to change that.


Cover Image: Life Matters / Unsplash


About the author: Ishani Sharma prefers she/her pronouns and is currently pursuing BALLB Honours. She has an extensive interest in History and Political Science and prefers to read both fiction and non-fiction books during her free time. Her hobbies include cooking, reading, singing, and swimming

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