Police Brutality in the US

Bad Behavior by U.S. Police Particularly Affects the African-American Community

This week Baltimore became the most recent U.S. city to break out into peaceful protest and civil unrest caused by the death of an African-American citizen in police custody. Last year it happened in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri. Other cases that have caused a national scandal include that of a man in New York who died through asphyxiation when grabbed by police officers for illegally selling cigarettes in the street, and the shooting death last month of a South Carolina citizen who presented no threat to police or to others.

The American people are seeing, literally, something that a minority of its population has known and lived for decades: Bad police behavior has been institutionalized in poor neighborhoods of many cities, particularly affecting the African-American community. We are now aware of many of the cases because they are being filmed by citizens. Mobile phone cameras are making the difference. It is becoming more difficult for police departments to deny and ignore accusations against them.

In the Baltimore case, Freddie Gray was arrested for running away in a poor neighborhood and, according to the police, carrying a knife. In the video of his arrest, it appears he was already injured and suffering pain. Fractures in his spinal column, suffered when he was transported in the police van, caused his death. Yesterday the prosecutor in Maryland presented murder charges against the police who arrested him, and declared that Gray did not commit a crime.

The official response is welcome. It is not typical, however, either in its speed or in its severity. Police brutality, unfortunately, is not an isolated fact. The Baltimore Sun documented that, with settlements and legal judgements, the city’s police department has paid out $5.7 million to victims of police brutality between 2011 and 2014. In several of these cases, the police officers were not sanctioned by their department, and it is rare that a sanction results in a dismissal. Such impunity exists elsewhere in the country. In Los Angeles County, for example, police have shot and killed hundreds of people without a single police officer being charged since 2001.

The lack of accountability goes a long way to explaining the power of the police unions and other political factors. But for David Simon, what guarantees that the relationship between poor African-American citizens and the police is one of lack of confidence is the war against drugs. Simon, who worked as a crime reporter in Baltimore (and created the television series “The Wire”), says that decades ago the war against drugs destroyed the need to have probable cause that a crime has been committed. In the name of this campaign, supported by the politicians, the police started to abuse basic constitutional rights and became enemies to the community.

This narrative accords with that of John McWhorter, an African-American professor at the University of Columbia. He blames the war against drugs for having created the great evils of the impoverished African-American community: urban violence; the absence of fathers in families because they are imprisoned; the attraction to young people of illegal employment due to its high earnings; and the terrible relationship with the police that promotes the idea that societal rules do not apply to certain people. Why respect the law if the police themselves do not?

What happened in Baltimore shows a total failure of public policy. It is to be hoped that it also serves to reform it.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply