Police brutality is one of the most abject, persistent, and serious problems currently plaguing our nation. It is institutionalized in nature and the human rights violations that occur as a result of it have widespread ramifications throughout the country, particularly for minority individuals. The United States government needs to take a more aggressive stance to prevent the pattern of cyclical violence that is so deeply embedded in our police departments.
Although the physical violence usually predominates any dialogue regarding police brutality, it can actually occur in many more, less obvious forms as well. The legal definition of police brutality is “the use of excessive or unnecessary force by police when dealing with civilians.” So while tear gas, physical beatings, and murders are the typical metric that cases of police brutality are measured against, the term also applies to psychological intimidation, verbal abuse, false arrests, police corruption, and racial profiling as well.
The devastating nature of the issue also stems from the paucity of effective retaliatory options that victims of police brutality have. Citizen review agencies are often overworked and overwhelmed, and it is rare for such an organization to actually take appreciable action beyond an initial investigation. Attempting to file a direct complaint within the offending police department is intimidating for the victim, and met with extreme confidentiality on the behalf of the department and at the expense of the victim, and finally, fosters a breeding ground for conflicts of interest to impede the pursuit of equity. Attempting to take legal action against violent officers through a civil lawsuit is also a largely unsuccessful route, unless it is a heavily publicized case.
This lack of accountability allows cruelty to slip through cracks in the justice system every day, particularly in areas where police departments have an inherently adversarial relationship with the general public (often in minority-dense locations) that they vowed to protect. This makes it significantly harder to remove abusive officers from their posts, and subsequently even more difficult to prevent their behavior from leading to a department wide attitude of acceptance towards the use of excessive force.
If America is serious about dismantling a system that enables inhumane treatment, one of the first steps that we as country must take is to fix the broken reporting system. A few small changes that could have long-lasting and transformative impacts are as follows:
- Establishment of multiple in-person and online methods to submit and review complaints from potential brutality victims
- Officers should be required to write statements regarding questionable interactions within 48 hours of occurrence
- A time limitation of between 90-120 days to investigate and resolve complaints against officers should be enforced in all civilian review agencies
- Law-abiding officers must speak out against the actions of abusive members of their office
- Increased funding for civilian review agencies must be a primary concern
With such a widespread and complex problem, there are obviously hundreds of other alterations that could be enacted to help address the issue, and the quest for justice should not stop here.