It is an uncomfortable and sad thing to consider the rise in police brutality in the USA in recent years. This phrase refers to the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers and can extend to abuse in penal facilities.
There is an increasing awareness about police brutality, and an increased tension between citizens and law enforcement officers. Questions about acceptable levels of force, armed police, and abuse of power have been batted back and forth across the media and social networking for some time. The duty of police to keep order is at times bound to clash with the safety of citizens, but many would agree that this should be minimised as much as possible, and the police ought to do everything they can to avoid brutality and violence while combatting crime.
There have been many documented cases of police brutality and the use of dangerous, even lethal force in recent years. The increase of phones with video capabilities, of police cameras, and surveillance footage has meant that incidents are more likely to be caught on camera, but this does not always lead to the repercussions which it should do for law enforcement, and it appears that the problem is not decreasing. The justice system in the USA seems to positively discourage the punishment of officers caught abusing their positions, and the power which police have over ordinary citizens also means that police brutality may be followed by further power abuses to cover up the initial misconduct or to silence witnesses.
The current environment of fear which has evolved from terrorist attacks has also contributed to police brutality, and to the complicity with which it seems to have been met; there is a belief that police need to use force to keep themselves safe, and that due process can be circumnavigated in order to come down hard on criminal activity and keep citizens safe.
There is certainly a racial element to police brutality which has been called out particularly strongly in recent years, and can be connected to the prejudices and fear surrounding terrorist attacks. The case of Michael Brown, who was choked to death on camera while saying he couldn’t breathe, became well-known throughout the media and the online community, but there have been many other incidents, some garnering far less attention. The activist group Black Lives Matter talks about the problems of racism and racial profiling amongst law enforcement, and the dangerous consequences which it can have.
Fear between law enforcement and citizens is a bad environment to breed, leading to a lack of trust on both sides, a loss of respect, and heightened tensions which may lead to an escalation in violence. It is important that police departments do what they can to combat prejudices in their force, to train their officers on how to deal with minorities fairly, and to listen to citizens. Officers who do abuse their power need to be removed from the system, and the divide which is being created between the law and the people it is designed to protect needs to be repaired.