Though the events in Ferguson have brought the horrifying reality of police brutality to light, it is not a new development.
It’s been going on as long as there have been groups of people given charge over other people. There was probably police brutality happening in ancient Sumeria and before.
Many of you may remember the Rodney King incident, which was probably the first time most of us saw how brutal law enforcement officers could be. As we watched that video tape — which only exists because an inhabitant of the neighborhood thought he was taping something important — we saw a side of our “friendly town cop” that we hadn’t seen before. And it scared us. But those officers were acquitted on all charges, despite the obvious beating they delivered to a man who was trying to curl up into a ball to protect himself. The resulting riots were, sadly, pointed to as a reason why King and those “like him” had to be beaten down.
In the past several years, we have seen video of police officers practicing their peculiar brand of zealotry on many victims. Often something as innocuous as not rolling your window down far enough during a traffic stop is enough to merit a beating. Selling cigarettes is, apparently, a death sentence in Staten Island. We’ve seen video and heard reports of police shooting handcuffed suspects, beating a woman on the side of the freeway, assaulting paraplegics, killing a homeless man for camping illegally and stomping on the head of a suspect. And all of this has occurred in the past year.
There are many more examples in recent memory, the names enshrined in a sad list: Kelly Thomas, Oscar Grant, Edgar Vargas Arzate. And, as the world’s eyes were focused not 7 miles away, Kajieme Powell.
It seems as though it’s just getting worse. Part of this is because of the prevalence of video recording; every phone has a recorder now. But a bigger impact has been made by the militarization of police forces. Because of a federal law passed in 1990 known as the 1033 program, we’ve seen our police turn into small armies. Us oldsters remember when a SWAT team was a rarity. Now they are used to serve warrants.
Because if they have the equipment, they will use the equipment. Body armor and some weaponry can be excused, considering what some of the bad guys are using. But mine-resistant APC’s? Grenade launchers? Why would a small-town police force need these things? And why wear camo in the city? I think John Oliver summed it up quite well.
How can you know if your police has a military arsenal? The Free Thought Project has a way for you to find out. Anyone can do a quick search and find out exactly what their local police are packing, thanks to a database provided by the Defense Logistics Agency. Simply choose your state and county and you will know whether to worry about a tank rolling up your driveway.
Why do our police seem to hate us? Why do they beat people up, shoot them and otherwise brutalize them? It’s important to remember that not all police are like that. We’ve seen recent examples of police being wonderful. And most police officers are happy to be polite representatives of our communities. Unfortunately, as with any news, we hear about the bad ones and not the good. The bad ones are more visible — and should be. Lapel cameras for every cop may help curb them. Hopefully.
Yet, even with cameras, we are unlikely to see this kind of behavior stop. Any time a small group of people are given authority over others, it will continue to happen. Because there are some people who enjoy having power over others. Unfortunately, some of these individuals end up in law enforcement.
Watch a short history of police brutality from the trailer of the film Crimes of Police Brutality below.
WARNING: Disturbing imagery, subject matter and language NSFW: