‘The land of the free and home of the brave.’ Bravery, or due process of law, is not enough to protect citizens from police brutality in the USA. In a country where people are shot without trial or cause, are they truly free?
Where In The World?
By Akshay Narayan
|Police officers in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo: Jeff Roberson)
Between August 9th 2014 (when unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot) and September 1st 2014, it is estimated that 83 other people were killed by police officers in the United States. The FBI has estimated that there are about 400 “justifiable homicides” by police each year. In 2011, 1,146 people were shot by police officers in the USA, 607 of them fatally. There are weekly, if not daily reports of somebody somewhere in the US being killed by the people employed to protect them. There is something evidently wrong here.
Police brutality in the United States is not a new issue. It came to prominence during the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and has been making headlines since. However, there appears to have been no change in police departments across the country. Day in, day out, pistols are pulled out of their holsters and 9mm rounds are fired, at members of society who the police are there to protect.
The main issue here is that firearms are even being pulled out of their holsters, let alone being fired. I staunchly believe that there are not around 400 situations a year in which a police officer is being immediately threatened by a citizen. Police officers appear to be far too trigger-happy and are willing to pull out their weapons at the drop of a hat.
In early March 2015, a video surfaced on the internet, showing four police officers subduing an unarmed, mentally ill, homeless black man in Los Angeles, before five shots were fired in quick succession by three of the officers, killing him. While subduing him, one of the officers seems to shout “Get off my gun!” or “Drop the gun!” It is still unclear as to what the officer said, but I don’t believe that a mentally ill homeless man would have the physical capability to resist being subdued by four professionally trained police officers at the same time. Some witnesses claimed that the man had already been restrained when he was shot.
My question here is: was shooting the man five times the most appropriate response? I’m sure that police would first arrest a man by handcuffing him – if he resisted, then physical subjugation and (if the resistance continued) a Taser would be used. Apparently a Taser was used, but it didn’t affect the homeless man. Nevertheless, the man was already being subdued by four police officers before he was shot. And instead of arresting him, the officers chose to shoot him immediately. Was this really the first option that came to mind when he resisted arrest?
Let’s assume that the homeless man had actually managed to take a police officer’s weapon out of its holster and therefore, due to his mental situation, posed a direct threat to the officers. In that case, shooting him may have been the only option that the officers had. However, the idea that a mentally unstable homeless man even managed to get his hands on a police handgun while being subdued by four officers is ridiculous. That just demonstrates a lack of proper training in physical subjugation for the officers involved.
Another example of where police have immediately resorted to the use of firearms was in December 2014, when police officers shot Jerame Reid in New Jersey after stopping the car he was in for allegedly running a stop sign. The video, which can again be seen online, depicts officers approaching the car after they stopped it. Soon after, one of the officers pulls out his weapon and points it at the man in the passenger seat (Reid), shouting “Don’t you ****ing move!” He proceeds to tell his partner that the passenger has a “gun in his glove compartment.” The driver has his hands visible outside the window, whereas Reid doesn’t seem to be as complient. Reid then gets out of car, and is shot by the officers. Admittedly, he didn’t appear to be complying with the officers. It is still unclear as to whether he had a firearm in his glove compartment. In any case, he got out of the car and was not holding a weapon, but was still shot. Again, I ask: could the officers not have handcuffed him or subjected him to physical subjugation if he resisted? If he was strongly resisting arrest, could they not have used a Taser? Why were the officers so quick to pull the trigger?
|Source: Joe Hellor
The increasing level of police brutality and shootings in general in the United States is making its way into popular culture. The city of Chicago, Illinois has been rebranded “Chiraq” as a reference to the Iraq War and the level of gun violence within the city. Kanye West mentions “Chiraq” in his song Black Skinhead and Kendrick Lamar also makes references to gun violence in his song The Blacker The Berry.
One particularly shocking case of police violence that garnered attention was the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12 year-old boy, on 22 November 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. In the incident, a 911 call was received from an unidentified caller in a park, who talked about a male pointing “a pistol” at random people in the park. The caller stated twice that the gun was “probably fake” (it was in fact an airsoft replica with the orange tip removed).
Nevertheless, police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback arrived on the scene in their patrol car. In the CCTV footage of the incident, Rice appears to move his right hand towards his waistband, prompting Loehmann to get out of the patrol car and shoot him twice in the torso at a range of under 3 metres. Neither police officer administered first aid to Rice, and it was 4 minutes until a police detective and an FBI agent who were working on a different case arrived and administered first aid. Additionally, Loehmann and Garmback tackled Rice’s 14 year-old sister after she ran towards Rice after the shooting. She was handcuffed, forced into the patrol car and threatened with arrest if she did not calm down. And if that wasn’t enough, then Loehmann, in his previous job as a policeman in Independence, Ohio, was reported as being an “emotionally unstable recruit” and “unfit for duty”.
So why on Earth was he in the Cleveland Police Department? You can’t simply place a pistol in the hands of an emotionally unstable man who is unfit for duty as a police officer and tell him to go and maintain order on the streets, because it leads to events like this. Rice did not take out his airsoft gun, nor did he threaten the officers with it. Regardless, Loehmann decided to shoot him. If that is not the definition of overreaction, then I do not know what is.
Quite frankly, the situation is pathetic. Police officers do not act like protectors of the community – in fact, they seem quite the opposite. The average American is 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. People now feel scared whenever they see a police car or hear a police siren. A greater emphasis needs to be put on other methods of restraint and subjugation within a police officer’s training – they must be extremely well-trained in physical subjugation, or they will immediately resort to firearms. Officers themselves also need to be thoroughly scrutinised as to whether they are actually fit to “protect and serve”.
Compared to the United Kingdom, police brutality in the United States is at ridiculously high levels. The last British citizen who was killed by British police was Dean Joseph, who died in Islington on 5th September 2014. Before that, Anthony Grainger was killed on 3rd March 2012 and before him, Mark Duggan on 4th August 2011. In comparison, police in the USA have killed 21 people this month alone. This is because British police are unarmed, and only 5% of them are authorised to carry weapons, whereas all American police officers are armed with 9mm semi-automatic pistols. Subsequently, there are far fewer people killed by police in the UK than in the USA.
Increasing police brutality has seen a number of debates both discussing police armament alongside gun laws in general in the country. The main issue here appears to be the fact that police very quickly resort to fatal weapons. Their doctrine states that firearms are only to be used when the officer’s (or other citizens around the officers’) lives are directly and immediately at risk. With what we have seen recently, such as the shooting of the homeless man in LA, the shooting of Jeremy Reid in New Jersey and the shooting of 12 year-old Tamir Rice, it appears that policemen in the United States too easily pull their triggers.
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