Sample Sociology Research Paper on Police Brutality

The systematic misuse of authority and application of excessive force by law enforcement officers against civilians is a recurring issue in the United States. The recent killings of young, unarmed individuals, particularly African Americans, have led to heated discussions about police-instigated violence. It should be noted that the phenomenon of police brutality is not only based on race but is a multifaceted issue that seems to be gaining significant complexities by different societies. However, its constant occurrence against individuals of color have made it a sectorial vice that is racially triggered. The police forces across the U.S have also been known to be largely lenient towards white people and at the same time victimize the black people, which explains the high number of incarcerated black people compared to the white ones. Over the years, the appointment of minority community individuals to the police force, the change of training programs, as well as introduction of new technology have been efforts made by the state and federal governments in curbing police brutality; however, the vice continues to be part of the American way of life to some citizens.

Police officers are allowed to use violence against armed and dangerous criminals but they misuse this power at times. An example of three decades ago an instance where police pointed a gun at a person and ordered him to prone-out on the ground then individual was considered “under arrest” and not being detained. Currently, pointing a firearm at persons head or even kneeing them in their backs handcuffing them and placing them in the back of the police patrol vehicle is considered a measure for “Officer’s Safety” thus is lawful. From the above example, it can be argued that what is considered as police brutality has evolved over time.

History of Police Brutality

The use of unauthorized, illegal, unfair, unnecessary, or otherwise unwarranted violence by law enforcement officers against civilians, whether they are breaking the law or not, was used as a means of limiting some individuals’ civil liberties during the Jim Crow era. According to Harris the roots of police brutality seen today can be traced back to the time when white supremacy was at its highest in the United States, at the time, the police force was used as a legalized deterrent to fair racial practice (37). With such a premise in mind, it becomes clear o seen why Chaney and Ray stated that the ongoing movements fighting for social equality echo the provisions fought for by previous movements in the U.S history (480). While such acts are illegal today, they are still perpetrated thus spurring the development of various movements, such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ to agitate against them.

Black leaders began the fight against racial discrimination, including race-motivated police brutality. Malcolm X became famous for his activism of social equality as well as justice for African American citizens in an aggressive manner. Dr. Martin Luther King also fought against police brutality among other social issues that affected African Americans. These two civil rights leaders’ actions remain engrained in the minds of many modern social activists serving as encouragement for an equal America. However, police brutality and social discrimination against black people have continued to be serious issue that has failed to be resolved, even after numerous reforms and changes in society have taken place. Indeed, many African Americans continue to be victims of discrimination and abuse at the hands of law enforcement officers as those who came before them did decades ago. The American government’s failure to curb this deep-seated issue is an indication of complicated and large mental barriers in the minds of individuals that slow down the progress of equality in their respective communities.

The facilitators of Police Brutality

In recent cases, it seems one of the most significant issues when it comes to police brutality is that the vice commonly goes unpunished. As indicated by Boyd, often, when a case of police brutality is brought to the public’s attention, the matter boils down to the statements of the accused police officers against the recounts of an individual painted as a potential criminal (258). It is easy for a judge or jury to have confidence in a police officer’s statements of self-defense in a supposed life-threatening situation, particularly when there is a lack of evidence supporting any other party involved. As such, cases of police brutality end up being dismissed. Some of this police aggression and run-away use of unreasonable force is a consequence of civil as well as criminal juries constantly siding with an officer. As explained by Lacoe and Jillian, Law Enforcement Agencies seldom admit fault. Cases of blatant murder of African American youths have been examples where the police agency refuse to admit that an officer wrongfully shot someone. Additionally, when juries excuse police brutality, they encourage the behavior. If the police know that the justice system will protect them from prosecution, then they will continue perpetrating the injustice. As stated by Harris when the administrators of agency and courts fail to fault a criminalized officer, he or she feels that he or she can perpetrate any injustice they desire (44). Therefore, if the likelihood of racial prejudice is taken into account.

Another significant issue that is tied to police brutality in the United States is racism. Evidence suggests that a police officer is more likely to arrest or, at the very least, harass an innocent civilian if he or she is either black or Hispanic, rather than white (Boyd 259). It is concerning that the cases of killings involving African Americans are increasing. In a span of five years, between 2015 and 2019, there have been about nine high profile murder cases by the police, only one of which resulted in a noteworthy conviction. As indicated by a report obtained by the Chicago Tribune in 2018, three out of five killings by police were of an African American male (Harris 37). Such statistics epitomizes the risks that young black males might be facing at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect them. While such statistics may be construed to point to a higher crime rate among young non-white individuals, evidence suggests otherwise (Lacoe and Jillian 859). A study conducted by Milner, George, and Allison in 2016 indicated that Africcan and Hispanic American males were 21 times more likely to be shot and kkilled by law enforcement officers as compared to their white counterparts thus making the kill rate of 31.17 deaths per million as compared to 1.47 deaths per million for White males (72). Racial bullying, brutalization, and the public display of the degradation of Black men are still used to marginalize this group. From the days of slavery and the years following the Emancipation Proclamation, (the law that ended slavery of people who were of African descent), Black males have remained the consistent targets of White supremacy in the United States

Figure 1. Number of people shot to death by the police in the United States from 2017 to 2019, by race

Sources: https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/

Figure1 represents the racial demographic of the people who have fallen victim to police-perpetrated homicides from 2017 to 2019. While the graph suggests that more white people are killed by the police, it should be noted that the total population of the white people is much higher than that other races living in the United States. When the ration of killings perpetrated by the police is compared to that of the while people to other races, it is evident that the rate of deaths in the hands of police are much lower among white people. Unfortunately, the rate of fatal police shootings in America seems to be on an upward trend. From the data presented in Figure 1 the number of white individuals has been on a significant decrease, from 457 in 2017, 223 in 2018 and 179 in 2019. On the other hand, the black race reduced from 220 in 2017, 150 in 2018, and 123 in 2019. The ratios of the two races show a disparity that may lay claim to police brutality against the African American race. The increased murders of African American youths is the reason behind the Black Lives Matter Movement being used as a tool to sensitize the public on police brutality in the U.S. through the organization of “die-ins”, marches, as well as demonstrations in response to the killings of African Americans by the police.

Police brutality in the U.S is usually explained by nation’s history against minorities. Slavery, racism, as well as segregation, triggered the racial tension have endured to date. It can be stated that a significant number of police officers have adopted a white supremacist approach discriminating against minorities particularly the African American community when pursuing criminal offenders (Lacoe and Jillian 859). As presented by Barlow and Barlow since the eras of slavery through to the Civil Rights Movement height in the 1950’s and 1960’s, some White Americans have stood by a historical perspective belief  that endorsed the need to provide racial regulation of minorities; in particular, African American males were a concern (112). The suggested desire to control as well as showcase minorities as inferior served as an affirmation of White supremacy led to police brutality. With this in mind, it can then be suggested that what was once the regulatory duty of the slave overseers, night riders, as well as racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) has now fallen into the hands of the criminal justice department system in the. As explained by Weitzer, in some cases there exist law enforcement officers that have taken advantage of exploiting their socially responsible position of authority to carry out racially motivated hate crimes that may be easily justified based on their decent posts (475). With this in mind, it can be suggested the police department at times is used as tool to predicate social injustice against minority groups.

Bias against minority races by law enforcement should be intolerable in a developed and democratic country like the United States, a nation known to be an example of democracy for the rest of the world. Allowing police officers to commit crimes without consequences is not only unlawful but also perilous for democracy itself. Allowing individuals in national service administration to abuse the law to their benefits as well as at the expense of the lives of blameless citizens is the most significant step towards an inequitable and oppressive society.

Police homicide is considered a traumatic experience that could leave significant psychological and emotional scars on victims and even the potential ones. As explained by Barlow and Barlow, ethnic minorities have been emotionally influenced by simply reading as well as hearing about it on the news (72). Subsequently, many people can develop complications such as anxiety or even anti-social behavior, by knowing that they are considered as less worthy by those in an administration that has been given the task to protect and serve all citizens alike.

Technology can be used to reduce instances of police brutality and investigate and prosecute the reported ones. As explained by Weitzer, technological developments have given way to several new possibilities, including better oversight as well as accountability of police officers throughout their daily routine and duties (102). For example, while Dash Cameras, which are installed in police cars record everything that happens in front of the vehicle thus making it simple to see what happens during and after a police chase, have been used o encourage police officers to follow protocol, they have a partial angle of recording and may be switched off at any time thus leaving room for abuse of power. Nevertheless, body cameras, which are linked to secure databases and have remote power buttons, can be used alongside dash cameras to track the activities of the officers. According to a study by Chaney and Ray, body or chest, as well as dash cameras, have not only increased accountability among police officers but also protected them from fabricated claims by ill-willed citizens (420). As such, these body cameras have reduced the potential abuses against minority groups and have been used against police in criminal court cases.

The emergence of the internet as well as social media as outfits of raising consciousness about police brutality or unequal treatment of minority groups cannot be understated. As indicated by Charles, Dorothy et al., social media is one of the main avenues that have been used to create awareness of and protest against the mentioned vice (1007). Social media has given minority groups a voice that has made virtually impossible for cases of unfair treatment by the police to go unnoticed, as such, the platform is a significant deterrent tool.

Conclusion

Police brutality against minority ethnic groups in the United States is a significant social problem. Throughout the history of the United States, the police force has promoted violence against minority groups to keep them in line. Leaders, such as Malcolm X. and Martin Luther King, were fueled by, among other issues, the brutality perpetrated against the black community by the police. Currently, the Black Lives Matter movement, among others, is fighting for the rights of accountability against the police officers. White supremacy stereotypes as well as the history of the U.S plays a major role in promoting bias treatment by the police.

 

Works Cited

Barlow, David E., and Melissa Hickman Barlow. Police in a multicultural society: An American story. Waveland Press, 2018.

Boyd, Rhea W. “Police Violence and the Built Harm of Structural Racism.” The Lancet 392.10144 (2018): 258-259.

Chaney, Cassandra, and Ray V. Robertson. “Racism and police brutality in America.” Journal of African American Studies 17.4 (2013): 480-505.

Charles, Dorothy, Kathryn Himmelstein, Walker Keenan, Nicolas Barcelo, and White Coats for Black Lives National Working Group. “White coats for black lives: medical students responding to racism and police brutality.” Journal of urban health 92, no. 6 (2015): 1007-1010.

Harris, Fredrick C. “The Next Civil Rights Movement?.” Dissent 62.3 (2015): 34-40.

Lacoe, Johanna, and Jillian Stein. “Exploring the policy implications of high-profile police violence.” Criminology & Public Policy 17.4 (2018): 859-863.

Nelson, Jill. Police Brutality: An Anthology. WW Norton & Company, 2001.

Weitzer, Ronald. “American policing under fire: Misconduct and reform.” Society 52.5 (2015): 475-480.