Are American Police Also Heavy-Handed?

At the center of the discussion surrounding the sunflower student movement and state violence, you often hear people bring up the United States. They say that American police are often fairly heavy-handed when it comes to enforcing the law. So it seems strange that they can oppose the legitimacy of state violence and what the police did when it shed blood while forcefully evicting demonstrators from the Executive Yuan. Even though it was all under the guise of defense, such a discourse is full of holes.

First of all, no one is saying that the United States is the model of moral standards and behavior. The United States is a country. From the perspective of an advocate of diversity and multi-ethnic integration, there are a lot of institutional systems and “politically correct” social values that could be worth taking a look at; however, it is a country of vast lands and of self-governance. These kinds of unbelievable phenomena can also be found all over the U.S. The United States is not a utopia; it is possible that police violence exists even there. Still, just because police violence also exists in the U.S. does not mean that police violence can ever be justified. We all learn from each other, so why not learn good things? Why do we pick up the bad things too?

Secondly, in the United States it is easy to see when there are cases of police violence because of all the reports of abuse that come after, but we can also see that the police tend to enforce the rule of law quite strictly.

According to reports from the United States, it has become commonplace for law enforcement officers to stand trial and to be prosecuted for carrying out official orders. If we can’t lay the blame on the individual police officer, then maybe the police station is at fault. Even the police academy training the officers could likely have to bear the necessary liability. Confronted with this kind of situation the police don’t usually have much of a chance of winning. Not only do the implicated parties not give up, but the lawyers are always adding fuel to the fire. According to the police, police union officials have the authority to help the police legally. In addition, not having an incentive system for the police not to use violence is at the heart of the problem — except this problem goes much deeper than that. There is no leeway in implementing law that encourages the police to do what they feel like they must do to enforce that law. Also, prosecution is not limited to those involved in the case itself, but even the police recruitment or training programs may be pulled in, and then these programs may be sued before training even starts.

For example, if an officer is being sued for use of excessive force, the court could comply with a lawyer’s request to review the police training courses. If the court rules that the use of force was in fact excessive and that the police had followed the training program to the letter, then the liability would fall on the police department. If the officer hadn’t strictly followed the training requirements, then it would a matter of personal behavior and then all the legal consequences would fall on the officer himself.

Many people on the Internet have mentioned this one case in particular: the aftermath of the 2011 UC Davis students’ on-campus demonstrations, where Lt. John Pike had used military-grade pepper spray against the peaceful student demonstrators. After all was said and done, the police officer was fired and investigated, the president of the university resigned, the 21 students who were sprayed each received $30,000 in compensation, and the school was responsible for all legal fees. When this incident happened I had just moved to California, and I followed the whole thing from start to finish. In addition to the final rulings, I would also like to note the public’s overwhelming criticism. From the national New York Times to the local Los Angeles Times, this matter was circulated for days and days, with people of all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life sharing their opinions, which put a lot of public pressure on the whole situation.

More important is the responsibility of the university president. As the chief executive of the university, when you need police assistance, you should take into account the risk of excessive force. Therefore, bringing the police onto the campus is not a decision that should be made lightly. Once the use of force crosses that line, the president also has to bear the responsibility.

In short, certainly police brutality exists even in the United States. But even just saying this sentence is a deception because there is another side to things. Police brutality in the United States is always under great attention and supervision, and it is also subject to strict legal restrictions. Because of this, many of the violent acts have been harshly punished.

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