Police Brutality Against African Americans Essay
To understand why there is such racism and police brutality regarding African Americans, first one must understand the origin of the Africans in the United States. The roots of the racism, thus, the ongoing cases of police brutality, it is first imperative to understand the beginnings. There were 20 million people kidnapped from Africa, by various countries, including the Dutch, French, and other Europeans. Often, though, this wasn’t accomplished without the aid and, indeed the willingness of some of their own countrymen.
For the wealthy Africans along the coast, this trade was a means of proving wealth. The trading of their countrymen pre-dated the slave trade with Europeans in the 15th century. (Antrim, 2005) The slave trade to the United States is thought to have begun in the 1600’s. Earliest documentation of slavery in the United States predates our even becoming a country. A trade ship of Dutch traded a cargo of enslaved Africans for food in 1619 in Virginia. This, of course, was only the beginnings of slavery in the United States.
Soon, there were slavers from the colonies that brought back slaves to the United States to Virginia, between 1727 and 1769. (Curtain and Herbert, 1973, 1997) Prior to Great Britain banning slave trade, the Colonies had transported between 600 and 650,000 Africans to North America. (Becker, 1999) The Quakers were the first group to actively attack slavery. In 1775, Quakers played a major role in the forming of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. This was the first anti-slavery movement in the United States, officially.
The United States didn’t formally stop the importation of slaves until 1806. (Coombs, 1972, chap 4) The Constitution didn’t originally mention slavery, but it did add articles that related to them. Article I1, Section 2 allowed that a slave was considered 3/5 a man. It is ironic, in light of the war for freedom from England, that neither the North or the South considered the insurrections of slaves as similar to their own war for feedom. (Coombs, 1972, chap 4) The racism against blacks began long before the infamous race riots of the 1960’s.
Many states passed laws disallowing black men from moving into their territories. Others banned them from holding office or serving on juries. Even after the Civil War, little was changed in the real status of African Americans. They had few rights, were not allowed to vote or hold office. Many restaurants and hotels refused to serve them. There were ‘black only’ entrances to buildings. (Coombs, 1972, chap 4) Between 1900 and 1925, there were many racial riots. States started segregating neighborhoods.
Blacks were considered ‘equal but separate’ and laws had been passed previously to keep the status quo. Then 1925, the NAACP was formed to help regain the rights of blacks in America. (Murry, 1926) As early as the 1800’s, Southern states began to enact the Jim Crow aws. These laws were to perpetuate segregation. They included separate seating on buses, separate water fountains and schools. They were particularly common in the South. These were enacted to counteract the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, initiated during and after Reconstruction after the Civil War.
The Civil Rights movement began in earnest in the 50’s and 60’s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was aimed to end discrimination, and in part, is as follows: 42 U. S. C. § 2000a et seq. (1964), comprehensive legislation intended to end discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin. It is often called the most important U. S. law on civil rights since Reconstruction (1865—77) (Answers. com, 2005) It’s interesting to note that in an attempt to kill the bill, it added women. (Wikipedia, 2005)
Nearly 100 years after the end of the Civil War, and slavery, the country was still in the throes of racism, at times direct, and other times overt. There were multitudes of hangings, the Ku-Klux-Klan developed, and blacks were still separate, even if they were free. The cases of brutality of the police are numerous. Below is a brief description of just one sample. On the night of April 27, 1962, scores of policeman ransacked the Nation of Islam Mosque in Los Angeles and wounded seven unarmed Muslims, leaving William Rogers paralyzed and Ronald Stokes dead.
To many white political leaders, the conflict substantiated their worst fears about the violent nature of the Nation of Islam. On the other hand, many black leaders dared to condemn the police for what they considered to be a racially motivated assault (Knight, 1994) In the last twenty years, police have adopted the ‘broken window’ philosophy. This philosophy, in brief, is one which allows for police to apply a zero tolerance policy, which, they say, prevents larger crimes. In Harcourt’s view, the broken-windows-zero-tolerance approach to policing causes harm, rather than the benefit it promises.
Harms include: the subjection of thousands of people to the ordeal of the criminal justice system; the consequent vast increase of complaints against the police; the delegitimating impression of targeting minorities because aggressive misdemeanor arrests disproportionately affect minority communities; the concomitant reinforcement of the stereotype of black criminality; and, most important, delegating the authority to police to define what constitutes order and disorder (Jackall, 2003) So, are the police targeting minorities? One place that seems to help bolster this idea are some of the reality police shows.
For instance, it is apparent that racial profiling does indeed take effect throughout the television shows seen. In shows like “Cops”, the officer is more often than not white, and the suspects are African American or Hispanic. This would appear to influence the public into thinking that the majority of crimes are indeed conducted by minorities. (Prosise, and Johnson, 2004) According to Massaquoi, for an article in Ebony magazine, it took an umimpeachable eyewitness- a video tape, to prove the case of the brutality of Rodney King. (Massaquoi, 1991) King is one of the most famous recent cases of police brutality in the United States.
In the infamous case, LA officers ganging up and beating King, He further summarizes that it might be a case of officers seeing it as ‘us’ against ‘them’. He also states that officers perhaps think that police have a very negative perception of the world. Massaquoi, citing Alvin F. Poussaint, M. D. , associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that it is perhaps also due to them viewing people as almost sub-human. One Chicago Police Superintendent, LeRoy Martin, believes that the way to stop the brutality is to have better educated officers, requiring at least a two-year college degree.
He feels that departments may be recruiting people from troubled pasts themselves. A Washington Post article cites still more cases of police brutality, and unreasonable detainment. One is the case of a handcuffed prisoner, in the back of a cruiser, that was shot 14 times. (Washington, 1999) The article puts it very simply. Washington states when black men talk, they don’t ask ‘if’ you’ve been stopped, they ask ‘when’ (1999) The cases are often chilling. Below are some of the more recent cases: March, 1991: Rodney King is beaten with 56 baton strokes, is kicked in the head, torso, and groin, and is tunned with a Taser gun by at least 4 white officers after a high speed chase. The incident is captured on video.
The Christopher Commission report quotes an officer saying “[H]e pissed us off, so I guess he needs an ambulance now…. ” over his squad car radio after the beating. The State of California acquits the four white officers. November, 1992: Undercover African-American officer Derwin Pannel is shot by three white police officers in New York City. Pannel was making an arrest in plain clothes but was thought to be assaulting someone. August, 1994: Undercover officer Desmond Robinson s shot five times by white off-duty officer Peter Del Debbio in New York City.
Robinson is African-American and is in plain clothes at the time. Del Debbio said he thought Robinson was involved in a crime since he was carrying a gun. October, 1995: Jonny Gammage, cousin of pro football player Ray Seals, is killed by New Jersey police officer John Vojtas during a “routine” traffic stop. Gammage is ordered out of his car, when a police officer subdues him after suspecting the Jaguar Gammage is driving is stolen (the Jaguar was Gammage’s). The officer crushes Gammage’s trachea, killing him.
Officer Vojtas is promoted to Sergeant and is acquitted of murder June, 1996: African-American Aswan Watson is shot 18 times while sitting unarmed in a stolen car in Brooklyn. Watson is killed. Officers are acquitted of charges in 1997. July, 1996: 26 year-old African-American Nathaniel Levi Gaines, Jr. , a Navy Gulf War veteran, is shot in the back by a New York City police officer. He is unarmed. This same month, 29 year-old Anthony Baez, a man of Puerto Rican descent, is put in a chokehold and strangled to death by another New York City police officer after Baez allegedly threw a football that hit a patrol car.
April, 1997: An African-American woman, Caroline Sue Botticher, is shot and killed after police fire 22 rounds into her vehicle in West Charlotte, North Carolina. She had failed to stop at a police checkpoint. She is unarmed. June, 1997: geronimo ji Jaga (preferred capitalization), aka Geronimo Pratt, is released from jail after serving 27 years on a murder conviction that is later overturned. New evidence is found that exonerates him. He is an ex-Black Panther leader and was sentenced to life in 1972. August, 1997: At least 4 officers are charged with beating and sexually assaulting Haitian immigrant Abner
Louima in the Bronx of New York. Officer Justin Volpe is charged with forcing a wooden stick into Louima’s rectum. December, 1997: New York police officers shoot and kill William J. Whitfield III, an African-American man, in a supermarket. He is unarmed. Police say that they thought he was reaching for a gun. Later it is determined that he was reaching for his keys. December, 1998: Tyisha Shenee Miller, a 19 year old African-American woman, is killed by Riverside, California, police in a fusillade of 27 bullets as she sits in a state of near unconsciousness in her stranded vehicle.
She had had a seizure and the police were called to assist her. February, 1999: Immigrant Amadou Diallo is killed in a hail of 41 bullets fired by police outside his Bronx apartment. Diallo is unarmed and is reaching for his wallet when the firing begins. Later, all four officers are acquitted by the state of charges against them. March, 2000: Unarmed security guard Patrick Dorismond is shot to death by an undercover New York City police officer. The officer, in plain clothes, approached Dorismond, wanting to buy drugs. All of the above instances were found within one article. (Thelon, 2000) So, what is the solution?
Is there a solution? Both the Constitution of the United and International Law are supposed to protect against this type of abuse of power, but it doesn’t appear to be working. Does the problem go past the police, to the courts? According to Hitchens, of The Nation, the answer is yes. According to evidence accepted by the Supreme Court, a black male who murders a white is three times more likely to be given the death penalty than a white man who kills a white. A black man who kills a white is eleven times more likely to be killed.
Now, the Supreme Court claims that it is “a discrepancy that appears to correlate with race. However, as the Justices went on to say, such “apparent disparities in sentencing are an inevitable part of our criminal justice system. ” (1987) A report done by Human Rights Watch stated the following, based on a Boston investigation: Our review of IAD files revealed a disturbing pattern of allegations of violence toward citizens by a small number of officers. The failure to monitor and evaluate the performance of police officers – particularly those with established patterns of alleged misconduct – is a major deficiency in the management of the department and results in an unnecessarily dangerous situation….
No police department and no community should tolerate a situation where officers with a long record of alleged misconduct, including some with histories of alleged physical abuse of citizens, remain on the street largely unidentified and unsupervised. (1998) According to the Christopher Commission: “There is a significant number of officers in the LAPD who repetitively use excessive force against the public and persistently ignore the written guidelines of the Department regarding force. ” The Los Angeles police failed to deal with these; and even rewarded them with good evaluations and promotions.
Former LAPD Assistant Chief Jesse Brewer testified: “We know who the bad guys are. Reputations become well known, especially to the sergeants and then of course to lieutenants and captains in the areas. But I don’t see anyone bring these people up…. ” (Human Rights Watch, 1998) Even if the police did a better job of policing themselves, which at this time appears unlikely, it wouldn’t solve the basic problem, which is racism. Statistically, there are more blacks in the prison system in the United States than there are whites.
Is this because they are more often stopped and searched, or because they are doing more of the crimes in our country? Perhaps it is a combination of both. Racism bars many from seeking well-paying jobs. This makes it more difficult for some families to support themselves, which may lead to an increase in crime. Other issues are that as a nation, we seem to ignore laws and amendments that have been in place for years regarding racism, discrimination and unjust police activities. Internationally, the United Nations has had articles and regulations on the books since 1965.
This Article, titled International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in part, stated that “In this Convention, the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. Human Rights Watch, 1965) Forty years later, we are still struggling to do something that International Law has required all this time. The Catch-22 is that the more embittered the youth of today become with the system, the more embittered adults they will be in years to come. This applies to both sides of the racism issue. We, as a culture must learn to be tolerant.
The entire United States is a melting pot of different peoples, yet few suffer the kind of discrimination that blacks suffer. In many areas, they are not expected to excel as whites are. Schools, to this day, in many areas, are mostly black or mostly white. People are trained from youth to stick with their ‘own kind’ by parents and often, society at large.