Police Brutality In America

Police Brutality in America: When Does Excessive Become ‘Excessive’?
By: Kay-Ann Henry
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The issue of police brutality has been talked about so much in the past months that when I hear a discussion about it or a new case, I inwardly sigh. Regardless of this, I still find the urge to join the debate and voice my opinion. This epidemic of police brutality has been plaguing America for a while now but recently reached its’ climax with the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. It seems one cannot turn on the television or radio without hearing about another black female or male dying by hands of a police officer. It’s sickening to know that the list of black people that have died by police brutality since 2014 is over fifty. Between now and 2012, there’s Aiyana Jones, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Ramarley Graham, Freddie Gray, John Crawford II, Akai Gurley, Ezell Ford and Trayvon Martin, just to name a few. I am frankly exhausted by it all and it’s fair to say I’m not the only one. These statistics are overwhelming to any black individual, especially teens, and is sure to instill fear and a distrust of the police in them. The glorification of disliking the police and viewing them as an ‘enemy’ did not just arise from out of the blue. It stems from various events that have occurred in our society.

Events such as the murder of Emmett Till and the beating of Rodney King have been etched into the black community’s minds and has definitely influenced the black populous’ view of the police. Social media is a huge factor as well. There is now a viral phrase statistic being used in social media that says a black man is killed every 28 hours by a police officer. Many, if not all teenagers use some form of social media and most likely have seen this statistic trending. Even though we might not respond to it outright, this observation definitely changes us mentally. Black teens see these murders happen ‘every 28 hours’ as they say and some will start to think that maybe black people are targets. We know that not all acts of police brutality are directed towards people of minorities but it seems indefinitely so in this moment.
Within the conversation of police brutality, the issue of race is bound to come up. There’s no doubt that racial tensions in our country have emerged from police officers using excessive force on minority groups. A great amount of police officers automatically regard minority groups, especially Black men, as “suspicious and potentially dangerous” regardless of their behavior or attire, and don’t extend their altruism to minorities. It’s clearly misleading and very wrong to perceive someone as a delinquent or thug based on their music preferences or clothing styles. This perception of racial minority citizens as “trouble” is often what causes police officers to use excessive force. But when does excessive force become excessive? When does it become brutality?
The recent death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland has sparked a national debate over police officers using excessive force. Also last year July, Philadelphia officers were video-taped kicking and beating a suspect who engaged in a shootout with them but had already surrendered. This too sparked enrage over whether the act was really necessary. Excessive force is a slippery term; it’s described as any act that’s seen as beyond necessary to subdue someone. If you ask ten people when they think reasonable and necessary force becomes excessive, their answers may vary. None of them will know exactly what is the right amount of force, but shouldn’t the police know? They’re permitted to use reasonable force if needed but shouldn’t they know when the line is being crossed? If an excessive force lawsuit is filed, a jury or judge will decide if it is indeed excessive force. They will consider the need for application of force, the relationship between the need and amount of force used and the extent of the injury inflicted. But still the word excessive has different meanings in different states. Police officers are encouraged to use a force continuum: first polite requests, then demands, then chemical sprays, then physical force. Some police officers abandon the order and immediately execute physical force. Should that be considered as excessive or should we still base it on what’s necessary? What kind of message are we sending to the citizens of this country with this ambiguity? It’s a very convoluted situation and it should not be so because we’re dealing with people’s lives and futures. Police training has a huge factor in this as well. What exactly is being taught when police officers are being trained? Do these methods need to be updated to suit our modern day situations?
I conclude that excessive is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s reasonability will not be the same as another’s and that scares me. It scares other black teens and minorities too. Wondering if a police officer will have some type of morality when dealing with you should never be the case. Acts of police brutality can either stem from from complete racial discrimination or complete ignorance. The courts and police system should come together and finalize the true legal term of excessive force and apply it every police officer in the United States of America. It will not stop police brutality cases from happening but, at least there will be a little more clarity in handling them.

Their Stories: With Raymon DeLaVega

We’re standing in the hallway of the first building of our school and he begins pacing up and down. It occurs to me that Raymon DeLaVega is nervous to tell me his story. This caught me off-guard as he never seemed to be that type of person. He chats me up about the upcoming Biology test and that he thinks he’s going to fail. Raymon is in the 10th grade with 3.5 GPA and is also the President of our school’s Key Club. He is wildly smart.  I tell him that I know that he will pass and he gives me a throaty chuckle. “Are you ready to hear my infamous story now?” he announced. I nod and we both walk into a classroom to sit.
Kay-Ann: Firstly did you ever think you would be the target of police brutality?
Raymon: Realistically, no. I think of myself as a good kid. You know I stay out of trouble, I try not to look threatening.
K: How do you try not to look threatening?
R: Basically I just keep my head down. I’ve seen my black friends being called that by parents and police officers so I try not to be that
K: I see. Before we get into the details of the incident, do you think they specifically targeted you or it was just a “barge in” type of situation?
R: No I don’t think so. I just know the way they handled the situation wasn’t necessary
K: Okay so tell me what happened that day.
R: Well it was a Sunday morning and it was 6 o clock. My parents weren’t home so it was just my sister and I. I heard some huge banging on the door then a crash
K: Did they kick down your door?
R: Yes they did.  That instantly woke me up and I went into the living room to see a dozen police officers. I tried to ask them what was the problem but they just keep looking around and walking towards the bedrooms.
K: They never told you why they were in your house or any explanation?
R: I asked them but they told me to shut up. I asked them if they could wait before they went into the bedroom because my sister was changing her clothes. They ignored me so I tried to block them from going there and they just hauled me to the ground
K: That must have been a little scary for you
R: Yes, having a gun waved at you and huge boots in your face is scary
K: What was going through your head?
R: Just that I didn’t migrate here for this (laughs)
K: What happened with your sister?
R: Well she got to put on some clothes before they came in. They patted her down and trashed her room as well and tore up her graduation speech
K: Oh, she was a senior?
R: Yes, she got accepted to University of Miami
K: That’s great, congratulations to her
R: Thanks she worked really hard for it. And on that speech too
K: She was pretty upset about that, wasn’t she?
R: She got really angry and started shouting. That really got the officers mad because they slapped her and handcuffed her. They threatened to arrest for her misconduct. She didn’t want a record so she calmed down
K: It must have been hard for you to see that happening to her
R: It was. I was still on the ground but I saw everything. I really wanted to help her but I know it would only make things worse
K: Did they trash the whole house?
R: Basically yes. Then they just left without saying anything
K: Did they get into a car or did they go somewhere else
R: I saw that they went over to my neighbor’s house probably to do the same thing
K: Did you ever find out what they were looking for?
R: I heard they were looking for a stolen police dispatcher or phone. I don’t think they ever found it
K: And this all happened two weeks ago?
R: Yep, doesn’t even feel like it though.
K: Do you feel angry that they abused you and your sister so savagely for nothing?
R: Absolutely. My parents were even more angry when they came home. They tried to file a suit against them but it didn’t work. It never does
K: Does this change your perception of the police and your trust in them?
R: I know there are good cops out there. But it’s not about them right now. It’s about these bad, unfit cops. I don’t know what drove them to think what they did was necessary. I don’t see the point in it all. What are they teaching in police training anyways?
K: So you think that’s apart of the problem?
R: Definitely and just the absence of morals. They must have known what they did wasn’t right. I can’t put my trust in an officer that has no sense of what’s right or wrong or regard for humanity. My life and trust can’t be in the hands of a police officer with no basic principles such as compassion or respect. I’m sorry but the bad cops will always overshadow the good ones. Just look at what’s going on in our country right now. They are too many racist cops and it’s just insane.
K: Do you still have faith in America’s police system?
R: Normally I would say yes but now I’m not so sure. There’s so much institutionalized racism in the system and this is not even about me anymore. It’s what I’ve been observing for a time now. It feels like the 60’s and 70’s sometimes with all these protests and riots. America has got to do better.

CONVERSATION

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