Nicole Harris is a 25-year-old freelance writer from southern California. Her studies have included criminal justice, sociology and psychology. She spends her free time reading true crime accounts and running.
If you’ve been watching the news at all, you know that police brutality is a hot topic. Not only is it increasingly prevalent, but it is also incredibly controversial. This has become more than simply a conversation about police brutality. It’s about class, age, gender and especially race.
The horrifying case of Walter Scott, believe it or not, is one of the more optimistic stories of police brutality — and that’s only because the cop in this case is charged with a crime. He hasn’t even been convicted, and there’s still a chance he’ll walk away. And the only reason we know that Michael Slager is worthy of charges is because we have it on video where he is arguably planting a taser on Scott’s body.
According to the Supreme Court, police officers may not shoot at suspects who are fleeing unless the officer has reasonable suspicion that the suspect poses a serious threat to others. Looking at the video, it does not appear that Scott was posing a danger to the public or police officers. It is clear that he was not in control of the taser as Slager had initially suggested. So what made him think this was okay? Could it be the fact that he (and other officers before him) have got away with violence in the past?
Slager himself is not new to controversy. Another unarmed man claims Slager used excessive force against him — and he wasn’t even the suspect that officers were looking for. According to this man, Slager demanded that he come outside or be tased. The man says he raised his hands and was tased in the stomach. He was thrown on the ground, handcuffed and taken to the car. All the while, the victims were telling Slager that this was the wrong man. It would appear that Slager didn’t learn anything from this experience. And why would he? Nothing came of it.
In the shooting of Walter Scott, Slager was not in fear of his life. This man was running away from him. He appears to be the one in fear. He was just tased. The taser was no longer attached to his body as he continued to run. The man was unarmed. He was running. Slager shot anyway. He murdered.[pullquote]In the shooting of Walter Scott, Slager was not in fear of his life. This man was running away from him. He appears to be the one in fear. He was just tased. The taser was no longer attached to his body as he continued to run. The man was unarmed. He was running. Slager shot anyway. He murdered.[/pullquote]
While police brutality is often against men, it is not isolated to them. Black women, including 43-year-old Duanna Johnson, 26-year-old Tarika Wilson (and her 14-month-old son) and 19-year-old Tyisha Williams are just other examples of cops using unnecessary force. You might also recall hearing about the story of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones who was shot and killed as she slept and police raided her home. All the while, they were filming for a television show called The First 48.
The suggestion of lapel cameras for all police officers is not a bad one. We are often left with only the perspective of the party left living — the officer. Police officers are deemed by most of society to be trustworthy, and they tend to receive the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, cameras simply aren’t enough. Cameras captured the chokehold assault of Eric Garner, and yet no cops were cited for his death. 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot while appearing on camera, seconds after the officers pulled up. John Crawford III was shot in Walmart while holding a toy gun — on camera. Again, no charges.
Right now, one has to wonder if it is even safe to film the police. In most states, it is completely legal to film police. Still, it is not uncommon for officers to claim that filming is an interference or “obstruction” to justice. Why are so many people under the impression that they are not allowed to film officers in public? It seems to be a common misunderstanding.
What would the world look like had we not had film of the assault on Rodney King in 1991? Even with video, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. The police are still assaulting those they are supposed to protect, and retaliation against those who speak out is not unheard of either. People do not want to believe that this kind of corruption really exists within our local police forces, but it does. And why wouldn’t it? The entire system is built to protect the officers who harm those they are intended to protect.
The man who filmed the assault against Garner, who was put in a chokehold for selling a loose cigarette (not a felony), was indicted on criminal charges not long after he released the video. Undercover officers arrested the man, Ramsey Orta, on weapons charges. Orta believes they nabbed him for filming the assault. Whether or not this is a fact is questionable; however, it is awful that we live in a world in which we are forced to scrutinize police and believe even for a moment that this could be true. The urge to retaliate is very human, and each police officer is a human after all.
I concede that there are plenty of kindhearted police officers. They can be kind, helpful and compassionate. Unfortunately, it seems as if these good officers are not standing up against the bad ones. They stand united, and you don’t hear a voice of dissent that makes it seem that work is actually happening from the inside out. When can we expect this change to occur?
Police brutality, especially against black men, does not consist of a few isolated incidents. Could it be that the occurrences are not necessarily more common, but that we are just starting to hear about them? People are calling for justice. Protesters are marching, holding signs and begging for some peace. It seems as if there will never be a truce.
What can we do in the meantime? Just last week, Los Angeles protesters shut down a train. We are making strides in speaking up about our needs, but what are we communicating? What is justice when you live in a country where the “justice” system is broken?
How long do we have to wait for change to come from within the police forces of the United States? Can we really trust that such a change is ever going to occur? And more importantly, how many lives must we lose in the meantime?