Chapter 3: How Does Police Brutality Affect Society?
Chapter 3 Preface
The police department in New Haven, Connecticut, had a well-deserved reputation for police brutality and corruption during the 1980s. As is true of many police departments across the country, New Haven’s police chief unfailingly supported his officers against charges of police brutality. Some say that this toleration for police brutality encouraged police officers to use excessive force when questioning and arresting suspects. When Nicholas Pastore became New Haven’s chief of police in 1990, he made many changes to the department, including the withdrawal of automatic support to police officers accused of using excessive force.
Critics of Pastore’s new policy concerning police brutality believe that it caused the crime rate to rise. They maintain that since incidents of police brutality were no longer tolerated by their supervisors, police officers became reluctant to involve themselves in situations that could turn violent. One police officer asked, “Why am I going to risk my butt to get into that situation when I know that even if I handle it well, I may face a departmental inquiry?” Pastore’s critics assert that criminals became so emboldened by the new policy that they began to sell drugs openly on street corners in full view of New Haven’s police.
Others believe, however, that brutality by New Haven police officers was responsible for much of the violence in the city. By preventing police brutality, they argue, other types...
(The entire section is 391 words.)
Police Brutality Reveals the Injustice of Capitalism
About the author: George Kane is a staff reporter for the New Unionist, a monthly socialist newspaper.
It is a common failing to believe that nothing ever changes. So with thinking about the police: we’ve always had them and we always will.
A Recent Institution
Actually, as chronicled by Jerome Skolnick and James Fyfe in their book, Above the Law, police forces are a relatively recent institution, a creation of the Industrial Age. In this country, police were introduced in Boston in 1837, and in New York City in 1845.
The early American police forces were modeled after the London Metropolitan Police, organized by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 after 50 years of recurring riots in the city. The transformation of English society brought about by the Industrial Revolution had created a propertyless class of wage laborers who could not vote. Mass protests were the typical means for the industrial working class to put forward their grievances, and mass protests frequently turned into riots. Also, high unemployment and chronic poverty caused a rise in crime coincident with the rise of industrial capitalism.
Social unrest reached a peak in the economic depression that followed the Napoleonic Wars. In 1819, a peaceful protest against high wheat tariffs in St. Peters field outside London fumed into a massacre when the army moved in to disperse the crowd. Eleven unarmed protesters were killed and hundreds...
(The entire section is 1740 words.)
Police Brutality Reveals Society’s Racism
About the author: Joseph C. Kennedy holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from Columbia University. He works in African development.
I have two sons. They attended public and private schools in New York and Washington, studied abroad in London, Rome, and West Africa, and graduated from a highly respected college in the Midwest of the United States. They never caused any trouble at school, at home, or in the streets. They were never on drugs, never involved in rape or carjackings. They “grew up right.” Yet both have been arrested, jailed, and criminally charged, and we have heard the words “five to ten years mandatory” and “one to five years minimum.”
My sons are black. And their experience has made clear to at least one black family that no black American—regardless of education, profession, wealth, or values—can be shielded from the capriciousness of racism. While Americans were divided over the O.J. Simpson verdict, most were appalled by the Mark Fuhrman tapes and their revelations of racism, manipulation of evidence, and perjury by a member of the Los Angeles Police Department. It would be easy and comforting to believe that Mark Fuhrman’s behavior was an aberration, or that such racial biases and behavior toward blacks exist only in large city police departments like Los Angeles or Philadelphia. But as long as racism exists in American society, it will be found even among those sworn to uphold the law— in police...
(The entire section is 4225 words.)
Police Brutality Leads to a Loss of Trust in the Police
About the author: Lawrence J. Finnegan Jr. is a judge for the New York Supreme Court and teaches ethics in criminal justice at St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York.
Two hundred years ago, Donatien Alphonse Francois was writing books and philosophical treatises, many of which focused on deviant sexual misconduct.
The infliction of enormous pain related to sexual activity was core to his sick beliefs. He is known as the Marquis de Sade, and the legacy of his thinking has left its mark on a few very sick individuals here in New York. Because of that sick thinking, a tough job has just gotten a lot tougher.
The police officers from New York City’s 70th Precinct who allegedly committed a sadistic act of brutality against Abner Louima [who was sodomized with a toilet plunger handle in August 1997] have unwittingly allied themselves with criminals who belong in jail for life—criminals who will now find themselves the indirect beneficiaries of this reported police brutality.
While New York is dismantling the 70th Precinct brick by brick, we should bury the refuse of that chamber of horrors along with the idea that there is no need for an independent monitor to watch the police. Lest we be misled by the swift action in moving against the accused officers, we should not delude ourselves in the belief these allegations are unique or isolated. Brutality is alive and well in this...
(The entire section is 1011 words.)
Police Brutality Results in a Loss of Respect for the Police
About the author: The Washington Afro-American is a twice-weekly newspaper in the Baltimore–Washington, D.C., area.
Headlines in the local papers calling Terrence Johnson “a convicted cop killer” have done little to heal the wounds of our community. Unless the white media and others are willing to face the true facts in this case—and many other cases—we predict there will be more police killings, to the horror of all good thinking people.
Why is there so much hatred for police? Let’s look at the facts. (And we don’t even have to mention the Rodney King beating case.)
Terrence Johnson. He was only 15 years old and weighed about 98 pounds when he and his brother were stopped for a minor traffic violation in 1978. He was taken to a Prince George’s County, Virginia, Police station, where in the presence of police of all races Terrence said:
“I was kicked in the groin. They all converged on me at one time. They kept kicking me and stomping me. There were six to seven police. I was thrown in a room and this officer had my neck in a headlock. I bit him in the chest. I was in so much pain. He kneed me in the stomach. I had my hand on his gun. I stepped back and shot him. I kept thinking that they were going to kill me. All I remember was shooting one time.”
Two policemen died in this struggle. For this, Terrence Johnson was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He...
(The entire section is 819 words.)
Police Brutality Makes Citizens Feel Less Safe
About the author: Dianne Liuzzi Hagan is a freelance writer.
The tragedy of Jonny Gammage’s death in Brentwood, Pennsylvania, has touched all of America. [Gammage, who is black, was driving a Jaguar owned by his cousin, Pittsburgh Steeler Ray Seals, through a white neighborhood at night in October 1995. He was pulled over for a minor traffic violation by white police officers. Seven minutes later, he was dead by suffocation.] How could this have happened in America in 1995? More than that, how many African American men must die as they go about their normal course of business in their lives. It is frightening for those of us who have husbands, sons, fathers or brothers of color to think that one day we may receive the same phone call Jonny Gammage’s family did on that tragic night.
Some of us were aware a long time ago that monsters such as Fuhrman, Koon and Vojtas exist. [Mark Fuhrman, Stacey Koon, and John Vojtas are all police officers who have been accused or convicted of police brutality.] Jonny Gammage’s death in 1995 in Brentwood, Pennsylvania, was not a surprise, but one more episode in a long history of renegade cops who choose to abuse their power. They choose to bring their prejudices and hatred to their jobs, just as they choose who they will protect and who will pay the price.
I have witnessed bad cops in action. And I ask myself, do I feel safe? Do I feel protected under the law? Is my family protected?...
(The entire section is 1036 words.)