The average day of your average police officer doesn’t involve inflicting violence upon people. It involves settling verbal disputes or telling people to turn their music down. It involves dealing with lost children or confused people with mental health problems. It involves chasing criminals who just snatched a wallet, or investigating a night-time burglary with few leads.
And yet, there’s an undeniable fear on many streets of the violence a police officer might inflict upon someone. Why? It could well be attributed to the numerous stories appearing in the news regarding police brutality in recent years. Many “death by cop” stories have created waves of shock and unease as of late. The case of Freddie Gray, a 25-year old man who died of severe spinal injuries while in the hands of police, is still ongoing. The murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, by trigger-happy two police officers, caused international disgust. More recently, the murder of Daniel Shaver just days ago by a Texas police officer caused particular disturbance. Shaver was discovered to have been crying and begging for his life before being shot dead with an AR-15 rifle.
You can see a disturbing and enlightening infographic of police brutality at Graphs.net/police-brutality-statistics.
Media treatment of police brutality
But while we may hear updates about several cases multiple times a week, does that really mean that “death by cop” is a daily occurrence? In and of itself, no. In fact, the stories lead people to believe that these are exceptional occurrences. That violence brought down upon civilians by the police isn’t an everyday thing. But it’s important to understand that these stories hit the news in the way that they do due to particular circumstances. The coverage they receive is all down to how interesting the news outlet believes people will find the story. A twelve-year-old boy murdered by police? The victim begging for their life? Gory video footage? These things aren’t found in police brutality stories every day. There is something particular and exceptional about them.
The fact is that most instances of police brutality don’t have a “juicy catch” to them. They’re far more clear-cut cases of violence that the media doesn’t perceive to have staying power or sharing potential. These more quotidian instances happen with alarming frequency with little substantial media coverage. You can read about the shocking percentage of uninvestigated police brutality at HuffingtonPost.com/2014/01/07/police-brutality-new-jersey-report.
The reality? There are simply too many cases of police brutality for the media to a big deal about every single one. Here is a list of twelve different incidents that occurred one June. Those are twelve recorded examples in just one month. What about those that went unrecorded or unreported? Some of these resulted in deaths, but did you hear about all of them? Probably not.
A culture of impunity?
To many people, it seems that the police are not adequately punished for such actions. Indeed, many famous cases in the media seem to end with officers being pardoned despite clear guilt. This is what many refer to as a culture of impunity amongst police officers. This refers to a given police officer’s perception that they will not be punished for whatever action they are about to perform. It was perhaps what was going through officer Wallace’s head when he shot and killed the unarmed Alan Gomez in his home. And he was right: despite evidence of excessive force, no disciplinary action was taken.
Most action seems to take place through lawyers. Many police departments worry more about their own image, which would be harmed by proper investigation. This is why it is important to get independent legal help if police brutality occurs. Such legal help is something read about at BudgeandHeipt.com/practice-areas/wrongful-death-by-police/police-brutality/.
What a police officer carries and how they can use it
It’s important to understand what a police officer is armed with and how are they allowed to use it. Police in the United States usually carry a handgun; most are required to be visibly armed on-duty and invisibly armed off-duty. A police officer should only pull the gun from its holster if they feel that their life is under some sort of threat. A police officer cannot just pull a gun on you because they feel like it. If you’re refusing to comply with a particular order but still show absolutely no threat, they cannot pull a gun on you. The only time a police officer should use a gun is when it is believed that the suspect is carrying a similarly lethal weapon. If the suspect is not perceived to be carrying a lethal weapon, then police officers have other items at their disposal.
Officers also carry less lethal weapons. The standard item is a baton, also known as a nightstick. Police officers are not allowed to strike a suspect wherever and whenever they please. Back before the seventies, the standard target area was the head. The idea was to smack the suspect around the head with the baton so that they fall unconscious and are quickly subdued. But the baton is a lot tougher than it looks. It turned out that it was easier to fracture a skull with a baton than people first thought. Modern police are not permitted to strike a suspect on the head, neck, spine or groin unless it is unavoidable. The aim with batons is to cause temporary and minor muscle pains, spasms, and paralysis. Stronger injury is only accepted if the suspect threatened a life and other routes were unavoidable.
A police officer may also be carrying something mace or pepper spray. These cause quick and painful inflammation of the eyes, temporarily taking vision away from the suspect. However, though they don’t sound that harmful, they are only permitted for use in a similar way to the baton. Officers should not use them unless they or someone else are under threat of harm by the suspect. There is also the Taser to consider. Tasers incapacitate a suspect via bodily electrical shock, making them lose control of their muscles. Again, these are dangerous weapons and should not be used by officers except in extreme circumstances.
The same rule applies to unarmed force. Many cases of police brutality do not involve the listed weapons. Fists and feet are often employed by violent officers when they engage in excessive force.