Regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, police officers can make people uneasy. But for some, this uneasiness turns to fear based on personal experiences or events in the news. Unfortunately, police brutality and excessive force are real threats in our society. But that doesn’t mean that you are helpless. On this page, I want to equip you with the information that you need to understand and combat police brutality.
What is Police Brutality?
The first step in preventing police brutality is understanding what it is.
Police brutality oftentimes falls under the category of excessive force or unreasonable force. Excessive force occurs in any situation where a government official who is allowed to use force against other people uses too much force. Remember that a police officer is allowed to use force as long as it is reasonably necessary. The issue occurs when there are not grounds for force or the force gets escalated to an inappropriate level.
If a conflict occurs, a police officer should use gradual methods to resolve the situation. Ideally, a police officer won’t need to use force at all. Their mere presence or verbal interactions with a suspect would be enough to resolve any issues. This is oftentimes what happens.
But, if conflict persists, the police officer might escalate to what is known as “empty hand control.” This means that the officer uses their bodily force to resolve a situation, (ex. grabbing or holding a suspect).
In most situations, this is all the force that is needed for the police officer to do their job. However, if a threat persists, the police officer might then use less lethal weapons such as a taser, a club, or a police dog to resolve the situation. Lethal weapons such as firearms are used as a last resort.
Sometimes excessive force is clearcut – for example, if a police officer shoots at a person who is cooperating and who has their hands in the air. Other times, it is harder to determine if the force that a police officer was necessary or excessive.
Why Does Excessive Force Occur?
We often hear about issues of police brutality in the news. Despite these issues, many people still believe that these are unfortunate but rare instances that do not represent the norm. However, there are many reasons why excessive force and police brutality might be systemic problems instead of the case of “a few bad eggs.”
One systemic issue is that most departments do not provide adequate training for their officers. A few weeks of training cannot prepare police officers for the issues that they might face when out in the field. Accidents happen when people do not properly know how to handle a situation.
In addition, consequences for excessive force are oftentimes not significant enough to deter that behavior. Most administrative consequences are minimal. The majority of federal police brutality cases never even make it to trial. Without serious consequences, officers are more likely to display inappropriate behavior.
Police officers themselves admit to excessive force. A study conducted by the Department of Justice found that 84% of police officers surveyed say they have seen colleagues use excessive force. Over 60% also admit that they do not always report police brutality.
Preventing Police Brutality
If we want to stop police brutality, there are a lot of steps that can be taken. First of all, filming officers while they are on the job helps them maintain professionalism. It will also help to better educate and better diversify our police force.
But what are some things that you can do to reduce your risk of being a victim of police brutality? If you have an encounter with the police, here are a few things to do:
- Remain calm and be respectful to the officer. Set the tone early that you will cooperate and that you aren’t a threat.
- Listen carefully to the officer and follow their instructions.
- Show the officer your hands at all times. If you need to reach for something, tell the officer what you are doing and ask for permission (ex. “My car registration is in the glove compartment, is it ok if I reach in there to get it?”)
If you are the victim of police brutality, your Eighth Amendment right has been violated. You have the right to seek justice, which can happen in a few different ways.
You can file a complaint with the United States Department of Justice. Depending on the circumstances, they might investigate your case.
Another option is filing a civil rights complaint. You can do this under Section 1983 of the United States Code. When you do this, you can get compensation for your pain and suffering.
If you want to file a complaint, it is a good idea to contact a lawyer. A lawyer can help you through this process, review your situation, and help you build the strongest case.