Saturday, 15 August 2015

Police brutality

My friend and I recently had a very interesting discussion about the situation in the US with regards to alleged police shootings and killings of black men (and women) during arrests or in custody. She raised some good points and it got me to thinking. Just yesterday another story was posted on line, but in this case the young man survived. Recently, I saw an article that shows the extent of the problem. TL; DR: ‘in the 31 days of March [2015], police in the United States killed more people than the UK did in the entire 20th century. In fact, it was twice as many; police in the UK only killed 52 people during that 100 year period.’
Now, the first issue I have heard raised is the media, and the problem of not seeing footage in its entirety, or seeing it heavily edited, so as to make the police look bad. It’s certainly true that you can’t believe everything you see in the news, and that the media often portrays things according to how partisan the publication is; but I don’t believe that bias in and of itself wouldn't stop the footage appearing, given the ease with which uploaded material is available now days. Would a reputable news outlet mash up footage to obscure the truth? Hell, in this day and age, maybe.
Also, it would be odd if the footage showed a particular angle (such as the cops doing their job perfectly, or indeed the opposite), and no news station aired it. Such footage would be useful, given the partisan nature of many stations and publications previously mentioned. It’s been said that the media only report the bad police actions and traffic stops, and to a large degree this is true, but it’s also logical. The incidents where nothing happens are not reported, because nothing happening is not news. Still, it would be good if there were a more positive focus sometimes (and there are networks which do this).
Secondly, I do believe gun control saves lives. At the very simplest, if no one has a gun, then no one gets shot. That much seems apparent. I don't suggest that this would be easy to apply in the US, but if it were, it would work. There are a lot more points to this argument, but for now I’ll leave it at that.
I’ve also heard it said that, if you’re not committing a crime, you won’t get accosted by the police. This line of thinking is both not always true, and dangerously close to excusing brutality on the part of policemen (and women). It’s not always true because, apart from the fact that a person's guilt or innocence is often meant to be determined after the fact (i.e. in court), there are examples of people who have been beaten or killed for committing no crime. And these people were often black. It's true that there will be some instances where race doesn't play a part, but there are definitely some where it does. The black community feels victimised and devalued, and I can understand why.
The problem with the idea of obeying the law in any situation only works if you are protected by those who enforce it. The US is a country which, despite having protections for all colours and creeds enshrined in law, has often failed to enforce them. After abolition, freedom of employment and education were granted to all, but it took many more years for this to become a reality for black people, and it’s still the case today that discrimination exists. This is why people like Rosa Parks and MLK have had to do what they did. I think there may be some frivolous or over-hyped brutality cases against police, but to attribute all such claims to these causes seems highly unlikely. I don’t think it’s true that the majority of minorities (if such a phrase may be allowed) want to feel victimised by the people meant to protect them. Certainly Rodney King didn’t.
Similarly, there is the issue of resisting arrest, confrontation, disrespectful behaviour, and downright violence towards the police. It’s true brutality occurs less when people cooperate with the police, but non-cooperation is not an excuse for brutality. Non-cooperation is simply an excuse for legal and acceptable limits of restraint and control. And yes, sometimes police must draw and fire their weapons if the situation calls for it, but the key is knowing when to do so. I don’t say it’s an easy thing to handle every day, but it is the job they have chosen. Brutality is, by definition, illegal. The police are trained to know and understand this truth.

I guess though, that in the end I will never really know what it is like to be a young black man pulled over by a policeman. In some cases, I am sure the cops were right to shoot. But not in all cases. And if there is a chance that there are cops who fall into the latter category, they need to be exposed and charged.