Author: WW Tube News by Christian Lukic
Country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the USA is generally a state with historically social deviance.
Traditionally considered to be exclusively related to the criminal world, in reality this deviance is a characteristic found also in the behavior of the police force: we are talking about police brutality.
US law enforcement agencies,
traditionally known as an apparatus with extremely repressive tendencies, especially for a democratic nation, have a history stained by countless cases of physical and psychological violence, corruption, abuse of power, perpetrated against American citizens. Much of this violence is unleashed against the country’s African American and Hispanic communities, in line with the cultural trends of a society that is still deeply divided by the racial issue and in which minorities are subject to harsh discrimination.
In the USA, where deep racial inequalities between blacks and whites still persist, one of the most important factors in their reproduction is determined precisely by police behavior. Taking advantage of their authority, supported by a Constitution that has gradually widened the meshes of the legitimacy of their abusive actions and by the historical bipartisan political will to use the hard punch against criminals – or presumed such -, the police forces have always been a fundamental agent in the process of marginalization, criminalization and violent repression of the black communities, since the times of Reconstruction.
Three are the fundamental knots of the question. The first relates to why the American police are so violent, and why this violence rages especially against African Americans and Hispanics. The second concerns the destructive consequences of this phenomenon in relationships of trust between citizens and institutions. Finally, the third concerns what the most effective policies can be to reduce police brutality.
The reason for police brutality:
the cultural factor and the social context
When considering why American law enforcement agencies make such frequent use of violent methods, the most important factor to consider is cultural. Police brutality seems to be conveyed above all through an extremely corporatist and humorous internal culture, which enhances the machismo of agents – promoting clearer and harder solutions – and permeated with a deep and radical racism.
Police officers have historically moved in a social context in which targeting certain fragments of society – in this case, racial minorities – has met with the approval of most institutions and civil society. During slavery and reconstruction, the police often worked to suppress the ambitions of those African Americans who sought emancipation. The same happened during Jim Crow’s segregationism, where the police repression of civil rights activists clashed with their lax and lax attitude towards whites who committed real terrorist acts against African Americans. Finally, the police were the institution that, in the last few decades, more than any other has contributed to the increase in the incarceration rates of blacks and Latinos, placing millions of individuals in US prisons. In such a profoundly racist social context, police brutality thrives when agents are allowed to use destructive force against minorities, already the most fragile and marginal part of society.
The discriminatory culture that permeates American society is also conveyed through the action of the police, who, by absorbing the values of the context they are part of, become an agent in the process of reproducing racial inequalities. Thus, the use of violent methods becomes instrumental in maintaining an order that goes beyond the legal one, touching the exposed nerve of the racial issue.
The social divide between law enforcement and the color community
The size of the phenomenon is considerable. Between 2017 and 2018, American police committed 2,311 murders – over three a day. The homicide rate of African Americans is three times higher than that of whites. Of the black victims – blacks and Latinos – nearly 40% were killed while unarmed; among whites, only 14%. But the most disconcerting thing is that the vast majority of cases do not translate into investigations, suspensions or court convictions for agents.
The system protects them, making it impossible for US law enforcement to take responsibility for their conduct, which can thus act undisturbed. War on Drugs and mass incarceration, with the targeted targeting of black communities and the escalation of violence, abuse of power and arrests, are only the last step in a long and coherent historical process.
The police arrest blacks and Latinos at a disproportionate rate compared to whites, although there are no differences in the rate of crime committed. Recent episodes, such as that of some NYPD agents who denounced a superior, who had ordered them to “stop more blacks and Latinos”, are the litmus test of a climate poisoned by deep racial discrimination.
In such a context, where violence is widespread, where it is largely racially connoted, and where there are no mechanisms for empowering agents, the relationship between law enforcement and minorities has deteriorated. Already characterized by a strong distrust of institutions, accused of leaving their neighborhoods in a state of neglect, these communities suffer a relationship with the police that inspires fear and evokes deep social traumas, instead of creating security.
Conclusions and policies
Reflected by the society in which it operates, the American police seem to have assimilated many of the cultural trends specific to the context in which it operates, becoming an extremely violent and repressive organ. The rootedness of racism in the US, then, translates into forces of order with markedly discriminatory tendencies, which contributes to giving much of the violence a racial connotation. Finally, corporatism and the absence of accountability mechanisms for agents who commit abuses of power create a protective shield, which makes it difficult to impose policies on departments that can reduce violent behavior.
Nonetheless, there are virtuous cases in the US, the effect of specific policies that have a proven effect in reducing violence by law enforcement agencies. In particular, restrict the use of some intervention methods such as chokeholds, impose greater transparency on agents in the compilation of reports, clearly define if and when violent methods can be used, work on de-escalation and impose the use of weapons to fire only as extrema ratio are some of the most effective measures that are revealed in the hand.
Some departments have already implemented part of these solutions. By adopting them, the level of violence committed against citizens has decreased. Not only that: the use of these techniques also brings benefits to agents, decreasing the chances of them being killed or injured on the ground. They are, in essence, solutions that create greater security for both citizens and the police.
It is evident, however, that a cultural change within departments is also necessary. The reduction in violence by police officers in the USA also depends on their willingness to be more transparent in their conduct and on how much they will work to eliminate the racial bias that has historically influenced their course of action.