Excessive Use Of Force By Police

Ever since Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, was fatally shot by a Caucasian police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, local outrage has been escalating. Protesters are furious at their police department. Several arrests have been made during confrontations with protesters. Police officers and protesters are being injured, stores have been vandalized and looted. The police department is fighting to protect the city of Ferguson and their people, while the protesters are fighting against police brutality and racism. This is a war between citizens and the police department for justice and fair treatment. The problem is that the police are only escalating the situation with the use of excessive force to break up protest groups and try to control the people they are supposed to serve. Across the country police departments abuse and murder the citizens they are supposed to be protecting. There are countless cases of questionable use of force by police and very rarely are the police found to be in the wrong. On the rare occasion an officer is found to be at fault and convicted of a crime their punishment is often much less than what the average citizen would receive for the same crime, as seen with the case of Oscar Grant. The officer that killed Grant, who was handcuffed and on the ground, spent less than 15 months total in jail. Cases like this illustrate the need for change in the way our police forces make decisions and are held accountable for their mistakes. The events taking place in Ferguson, MO show that the subject has reached a point that can no longer be ignored and must be addressed.

News reported that Ferguson police department, like most other US police departments over the last two decades, has been militarized in their weapons and tactics. They are using military style rifles, tear gas grenades, and armored vehicles like those used by US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should the law enforcement be pointing military grade weapons at civilian protesters? Ferguson city, Missouri has a small population of just 21,203. I believe using this kind of force in a small town is unnecessary and ethically wrong. Even the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon was disturbed that such action was taken by local law enforcement and said “I mean, the over-militarization… the guns pointed at kids in the street, all of that I think instead of ratcheting down, brought emotion up”.  Instead of finding a peaceful solution to calm down groups of protesters, the local police have engaged and terrified the residents protesting for justice. How do they honestly think that treating the people like this will help anything? The police should be enforcing the law, stopping the vandalizing and looting, not infringing on the peoples right to peaceful protest. Instead, the police issued a midnight curfew for protesters, a controversial decision that many correctly predicted would lead to further conflict. Despite stating that they would not roll out their armored trucks and fire tear gas to disperse the crowds, that is exactly what the police did to break up the protests after the curfew. While I support the use of force when justified, I do not see a need for the level of force authorized in this situation. When they act like this, the police are no longer upholding the constitution they swore to protect. The way in which police are trained and allowed to use deadly force must be changed or these types of incidence will continue to happen.

The use of excessive force is not limited to these crowd control situations. In fact, it is exactly the opposite, these protests and riots are directly related to the growing despair amongst communities tired of being abused by those who are supposed to protect them. Across the country from California to New York police have been accused of abuse with little to no consequence. For example, a few weeks before the Michael Brown incident, Eric Garner, a 43 year old African American father of six, got into an argument with New York Police Department officers as they accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. A group of Caucasian police officers jumped on him, held him down, and put him in an illegal chokehold in order to arrest him. Garner repeated gasped for air and told the officers that he could not breathe, but they heartlessly ignored his pleas for help. Garner went unconscious and died from cardiac arrest related to the chokehold used by police. Video of the incident between NYPD officers and Garner was taken by a bystander went viral and the NYPD became the target of criticism for police brutality and failure to render aid after Garner lost consciousness and stopped breathing. This incident and several others similar to it have lead to an increasing mistrust and dislike of law enforcement officers by the public. In Ferguson, the people have had enough and are expressing their disapproval, by protesting the actions of the police.

However, there are some people who believe that the police should use whatever force necessary to control the people and keep themselves safe. That is the whole idea behind the militarization of our police forces across our country and the justification for most cases of excessive force, it’s all about officer safety. The people on this side of the argument are understandably most often police officers themselves and their loved ones, as discussed by Stephanie Holmes in an online post, which criticized the militarization of police forces. Holmes lost her husband in the line of duty and supports the improved armament and training of police forces. The call for improved officer safety was the driving force behind the change in how our police forces are armed and trained. The war on drugs, gangs and the threat of terrorism has put officers at increased risk, as mentioned during a congressional meeting to address the militarization of police forces and equipment. When going after these kinds of criminals they need this type of equipment to beat well armed bad guys and to help keep them safe. For these situations I completely agree that the police should have the best training and gear available, especially when you consider that according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, on average a cop is killed every 58 hours. If the police report about the incident with Brown is accurate, that he attacked the officer and went for his gun, then I support his actions. If someone is attacking me and tries to grab my gun I would shoot to protect myself. However, if the eyewitness accounts are true, that the officer shot him as he ran away, then the officer was wrong to use deadly force on a retreating suspect.

Police misconduct and lack of accountability has become a major issue. There is a growing movement in this country to change the way police are investigated. It started in Wisconsin about ten years ago when Michael Bell’s son was killed by police, shot in the back of the head as he lie face down and handcuffed. In less than 48 hours the police department declared the shooting justified and no charges were filed against the officers involved. Mr. Bell has pushed for a law requiring an outside agency to investigate police shootings. You wouldn’t let a criminal investigate their own crime, why would you let the police investigate themselves? I think it is a great idea to have another agency, either state or federal, to investigate each instance in which a police officer must use deadly force. This will help rebuild trust in the community and prevent police from easily covering up their mistakes.

As we have seen with the Eric Garner and Michael Brown incidents, police brutality and excessive use of force is still a problem in many communities. More and more people are questioning the use of force by the police. They are saying something needs to be done to prevent it and when it does happen to make sure that they are punished appropriately. We expect our police department to keep our community safe and protect our people from criminals. We certainly do not need law enforcement using their power to take advantage of us and continuing to hurt the people they are supposed to protect. What we can do to protect ourselves against those who have police powers is limited, so we must make sure their actions are better controlled and that they are held accountable for their mistakes. I understand the police have a dangerous job, I am not advocating their disarmament. What I believe is that there needs to be more regulation and better training as to when and how they are allowed to use the various levels of force. In cases of protest and civil unrest I feel that the use of military tactics and equipment should be reserved as a last resort, not rolled out and used against the people of their community, during the first night of protest. On the everyday street, law enforcement needs to abide by the limitations set upon them by our constitution, which they swore to uphold and protect. If people don’t feel like they are being victimized by police, then they are less likely to resist and everyone can go home safe, not just the police. Watching what is happening in Ferguson, MO and across the rest of the country, the US is looking more and more like a third world police state where freedom of speech and all of the other rights we value are fading. If something doesn’t change soon, the country we know and love will only be a memory.

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