Police Brutality

free essayPolice brutality refers to the use of excessive force by the police under their duty of maintaining law and order. The use of the force is also unlawful. When police brutality takes place, several fundamental rights become violated. Life and dignity are jeopardized as a result of tortures. In numerous instances, the police have overstepped their authority granted by various laws and the Constitution. During arrests, for example, the police flouted the laws governing arrest, search, and seizure procedures. Police officers wounded alleged suspects without respecting their constitutional rights. Such conduct is especially rampant when the police deal with people of color in America. I wish the police altered their unacceptable behavior and followed the laws and basic freedoms while exercising duties.

The Meaning of Police Brutality

The expression police brutality seems very simple, yet it is complicated as it contains several aspects. A lot of people confuse police brutality with police corruption and unlawfulness. Police brutality, however, goes beyond this. I will, therefore, endeavor to explain briefly what police brutality entails. First, it involves some improper exercise of force beyond the limit permitted by law (Holmes, Malcolm and Brad 2). The definition what amounts to proper force also presents a lot of ambiguity with regard to police brutality. Nevertheless, most scholars agree that an act is deemed as police brutality when the force is exercised in an unlawful manner. That understanding means that any act in which the force used exceeds the required proportion may be regarded as an act of police brutality. Police officers have various powers granted by the law, which range from arrests and searches to seizures (Holmes 4). It should be noted that this acts themselves do not constitute police brutality unless the process of exercising these powers is accompanied by the use of excessive force. Police brutality further differs from police corruption. While police corruption is also an abuse of police powers, it does not involve the use of force. Soliciting a bribe in exchange for a service is unlawful but not brutal. There are acts of brutality committed by the police that do not amount to police brutality. For example, when a male police officer uses force towards his wife, such an act amounts to an act of violence and brutality, but it cannot be termed as an act of police brutality. It is may be explained by the fact that such conduct takes place outside his role of a police officer. There is a difference between a police officer in his civilian duties and a police office in his official duties.

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Evolution of Police Brutality in America

Police brutality in America has evolved from workers strikes and demonstrations that occurred in the 19th century (Holmes, Malcolm and Brad 17). From there onwards, it has become a norm in America. The situation got worse in the 1960s, immediately after the Second World War, when black Americans were claiming their rights under the American Constitution. During this period, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X organized demonstrations as a way of fighting racism and discrimination in the country. In return, American police officers always responded with a lot of brutality, causing multiple injuries and deaths to black people. Eventually, the same attitude has been adopted by today’s generation, where the majority of the acts of police brutality are committed against black people. Racism, therefore, plays a key role in brutal treatment because in numerous instances when the police encounter black people, most of whom are always unarmed as compared to their white counterparts.

The Effect of Police Brutality on Human Rights

Brutality on the part of the police may take a form of exercising force in a manner that contradicts the law (Leo 48). When excessive force is exercised during demonstrations and strikes to calm down rioters, for example, several rights are threatened (Leo 48). One of the consequences of these acts is loss of life, which is considered sacred according to human rights. The police may use force that causes traumas that may lead to an individual’s death either instantly or within some time. In such a case, enjoyment of the right is curtailed. The next fundamental right that is affected by police brutality is the right to freedom from torture, cruel and degrading treatment (Leo 48). Such instances may occur when the police use tear gas or weapons to dismiss a crowd. Likewise, the right to human dignity is also affected. These rights will be elaborated in detail later in this paper.

Organizations Dedicated towards Changing Police Brutality

When police brutality happens, innocent citizens suffer the most because they are not as powerful as the government. Several non-governmental organizations and other intergovernmental organizations step in to fight for protection of fundamental human rights by ensuring that the police act per the set laws and the Constitution while executing their duties (Mutua 49). Some of these organizations include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties, and the United Nations. Human Rights Watch operates on all continents and is dedicated to eradicating human rights abuses by exposing the manner in which violations happen and bringing them to the attention of the relevant bodies. As a result, Human Rights Watch plays a key role in eradicating police brutality by interviewing people about the cases of police brutality and consulting with the government about the necessary steps to be taken to handle the situation. It also pushes the government to account for any police officer involved in cases of brutality, especially during strikes and demonstrations (Mutua 52).

Another organization that is committed to ending police brutality is the United Nations. The organization was established in 1945 with a mandate to ensure peace and security in the world. Partly, the cause of insecurity worldwide is the brutality with which some governments deal with their citizens through the police (Roberts and Benedict 4). The United Nations send their rapporteurs to assess situations on the ground with a view to providing a solution to the affected parties. Whenever grave breaches occur, the United Nations has appropriate mechanisms of punishing the states that condone police brutality. Some of these measures include initiating proceedings against the responsible government officials in the International Criminal Court over allegations of crimes against humanity (Roberts and Benedict 4). Such a case happened in Rwanda, during the genocide where the police committed a lot of torture against the civilian population on the order of few members of the government. Another example is the Republic of Kenya, where during the 2007-post-election confrontations, numerus police abuses occurred, prompting the secretary general to initiate investigations and subsequent prosecutions against senior government officials, including the sitting President and the Deputy President, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and William Samoei Ruto. The UN also has a Human Right Council that litigates cases concerning infringement of basic freedoms (Roberts and Benedict 10). The body invites individuals and non-governmental organizations to report any forms of police abuses for cases against the state (Roberts and Benedict 10). Human Rights Council also pushes the states to file periodical reports to demonstrate their level of compliance with the international human rights instruments.

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Another organization is Amnesty International, which also collects data on the ground about police brutality and files cases against states in international courts when such governments fail to eradicate police brutality within their borders (Mutua 60). The organization is therefore deeply dedicated towards conducting research on police brutality amongst other issues in order to expose such ill and make the states address the situation and prevent any future occurrences. The organization also finances local non-governmental organizations committed to protection of human rights and empowers them to file petitions against the government if abuses proceed in their countries (Mutua 60). Several other organizations including American Civil Liberties play a very vital role in safeguarding human rights.

Human Rights Affected by the Oppression of People by the Police

The significance of life and dignity appears to have found their proper meaning in several human rights laws (Roberts and Benedict 12). These rights are absolute in nature and subject to very minimal derogation. The right to life, for example, is regarded as the most important human right that cannot be violated; no other fundamental freedom can be sustained. The United States of America through its Public Order Act and several other acts define the limits of police powers in order to protect the sanctity of life.

The police are always at a risk of violating the right to life during strikes, demonstrations, pickets, and protests. During arrests of suspects engaged in various crimes, the police may also be tempted to use excessive force to achieve confession of the accused persons (Leo 72). Police officers commit murder and subsequently violate the right to life when they knowingly commit an act aimed at causing serious physical, emotional, or mental harm to an individual. It, therefore, means that there must be some malice towards murder (Ritchie and Joey 179). The police, however, may cite the use of reasonable force, self-defense, and public interest as grounds for the limitation of the right to life in the course of their duties.

In Makaratzis v Greece case, the court recognized life as the most important right of all protected rights. In the same case, the court further ruled that the right to freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment under the same convention cannot be derogated.

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It is evident from the above cases that the manner in which deaths occur during strikes due to the use of deadly weapons and tear gas to calm protesters clearly undermine dignity of human beings and amount to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. Sometimes, police officers resort to torture and coercion for the sole reason of acquiring evidence (William 65). They know that when they acquire confessions, the prosecution of the cases will be simplified. In other instances, police officers harass suspects at the time of their arrests, even if they are not armed (William 66). The oppression caused by enforcement officers eventually undermines fundamental freedoms (William 66). As a matter of fact, the law should form a basis upon which the powers of officers are exercised to avoid anarchy.

Court Rulings on the Brutality of the Law Enforcement Officers

The Necessity Criteria

The necessity of applying force by enforcement officers is the weighing scale upon which brutality rests. In the case of Mc Cann and Others V UK (1995), the court had to explain in which circumstances the police could be allowed to use lethal force. The case involved some of the members of the IRA, who were found with a device that might have been used to commit a terrorist attack. Gibraltar Air Force, therefore, shot and killed the suspects. The court came to a conclusion that the acts perpetrated by the police officers could not be regarded as reasonable. The judges used the standard of a reasonable and democratic society as a basis upon which the acts rested. As a result, the police committed a crime against Mc Cann.

In Andreou v Turkey case (2009), the presiding judges stated the circumstances in which application of force is deemed reasonable. It stated that Art. 2 of the European Convention granted every person the right to life, which could only be taken away under a lawful court sentence after a due process. The article goes further to state that the exercise of force is allowed where the use of force is done by the police in a manner that is necessary, for example, for the defense of a police officer from unlawful violence. There are some parameters that may excuse law enforcement officers for the brutal manner in which they carry out their legal roles during arrests, searches, and other procedures. They include instances where it may appear to the public that the police officer was abusing his or her power, but there are some cases when they are protected by the law and cannot be held accountable.

In the case of Parisan and Another V Turkey (2010) the police used considerable force to calm down disturbing prisoners, causing the death of eight prisoners and inflicting injuries to others. The judge said that since the deaths could have been avoided through employing other less lethal means, the force became unjustified. Consequently, the exercise of force in this case was unlawful and amounted to police brutality. It should be noted that only the force used to the mere unlawfulness of the act constitutes police brutality.

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The European Court of Human Rights further advised that in order to end cases of brutality on the part of the police, they had to undergo a course in which they were taught on how they could measure force in various situations. After this, the mastery of the law was the key and they had to be forced to learn all the provisions governing their job. The judge ruled this in the case of Nachova and Others V Bulgaria. It was further noted that the basis of such discernment was not only laws and regulations but also respect for the fundamental value of human life.

Proportionality as a Measure of Brutality

The test of proportionality does not arise from human rights documents but from reasoning. The principle arose out of the court decisions to fill the gap in the law. Constitutional law scholars had a chance to debate over its application and finally settled on it as a necessary component of balancing force between an officer and a civilian (Ritchie and Joey 179). The principle implies that the force used by the police must be proportional in measure to the force of the person the police seeks to arrest or interrogate. In Wasilewska and Kalucta V Poland case (2010,), the court rebuked the government of Poland for deliberately disrupting the process of dealing with the allegations of police oppression reported by the citizens of Poland . The court further indicated that the same government had failed in its mandate to ensure that there was enough legislative framework necessary to protect innocent people from arbitrary exercise of force done by the police.

In summary, the court pointed out that the task of clearing the hurdles and eradicating police oppression lies with the government. Such positive suggestions must ensure full enjoyment of human freedoms. This plan can be managed when the government sets up appropriate regulations for police officers and provides adequate training. The police must also be taught that the use of firearms should always be the last option in quelling a riot to save as many lives as possible. The states are responsible for eradicating the use of force. In addition, political parties are expected to take all possible measures to improve the situation.

When the Use of Force Is Justified by the Police

When force is applied, especially in quelling riots, a lot of people see only the negative role of the police, but they do not see the positive aspect. The police play a significant role in preserving peace and security by maintaining law and order (Paoline and William 185). It is needed for guaranteeing security of the state and protecting fundamental rights of an individual (Ritchie and Joey 179). Such tricky responsibilities leave a police officer in a dire discretionary situation. It becomes especially complicated during demonstrations. On the one hand, the police have a duty to maintain peace and ensure security while, on the other hand, they have to respect the life of an individual (Paoline and William 182). In such circumstances, police officers might decide to kill or wound one or several individuals for the sake of preserving security of the majority. In doing so, the police justify their conduct by serving public interests.

If police officers were to act without using any force, people would not fear any sanctions and the country would plunge into a state of anarchy. In the case of Plumhoff V Rickard (2014), a police officer from Memphis tried to stop Rickard when he saw a broken headlight of his vehicle. However, Rickard refused to cooperate. The police officer also found that the windscreen of his vehicle was tinted, which was against the law. When Rickard was asked to step out of his vehicle, police officers witnessed his suspicious behavior. He immediately drove away, forcing the police officer together with his colleagues to pursue him. At some point, Rickard seemed to have lost control when the police officers came out of their vehicles to question him. Nevertheless, he decided to flee away, hitting the police officers’ vehicles, which could have been very dangerous to the public. The police officers shot fifteen times at Rickard and his colleagues, which resulted in their death. In this case, it was finally decided that the force applied by the police in the circumstances met the criteria of objective reasonableness.

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My Opinion about the Change I Would Like to See in America Regarding the End of Police Brutality

From the above insight into the topic of police brutality and the use of force, we learn that often the victims of police brutality are innocent citizens who subscribed to the social contract theory of the formation of the government. Moreover, in most cases, the government is the violator of citizens’ rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When police officers engage in brutal acts against people in the line of duty, they are deemed to be acting as agents of the government and, in the long run, it is the government that takes responsibility should a claim for compensation arise (Paoline and William 180). It is absolutely clear that the government has tremendous bargaining power in the matter of police brutality that, if not properly checked, leads to prejudice against innocent victims. In order to address this issue, I propose to the Congress of the United States of America to consider amending the Public Order Act to give fewer powers to police officers to eradicate this menace. Such a law should also defend the rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by various instruments. Such a law should only allow minimal rights to exercise power in circumstances where the injury may be grave. The Congress should ensure that the law complies with the United Nations’ Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. Lastly, all statutes in the United States of America must be amended to reflect Basic Principles of the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers.

Conclusion

The question of what amounts to police brutality has to be answered by the court. What is universally agreed, however, is that police brutality is wrong. This act involves the use of force in a manner inconsistent with the law. While police officers have the mandate to maintain law and order, the limitation of the rights to life and torture cannot be justified by security reasons. That is why, I support the proponents of streamlining police forces to end police brutality as a way of preserving peace in the American society.