Over the past few years, there have been far too many cases of police brutality within the United States. The obscene number of deaths at the hands of police officers has even began to penetrate the pop culture scene. Since pop culture stars have brought attention to the issue, more and more people are beginning to accept the fact that this is a problem that needs to be solved as opposed to this being a case of a few bad apples. However, it is so crucial that all factors are accounted for before attempting to solve the issue; otherwise, the corruption is likely to continue. And although most can admit that African-Americans are disproportionately mistreated by police in the United States, very few will accept the fact that there are systemic problems at the root of this issue that are not racially charged. Police brutality is certainly not solely rooted in race-relations, and in order for justice to be served, we must address all of the root causes.
Once again, there is no argument to be made regarding the racial nature of this issue. There have been many cases of police brutality committed against African-Americans for no apparent reason, and these cases suggest a racial factor. A recent example of such a case is of 15-year-old Edward Jordan, who was driving away from a party when a police officer, Roy Oliver, fired into the vehicle, shooting and killing him. When Oliver heard a loud noise nearby, he quickly assumed it was gunfire that was coming from the truck, using stereotypes of the African-American community when assessing his environment. Regardless, this stereotyping led to the avoidable death of a young boy.
An even more recent case demonstrates how police training is likely the more influential factor in their decision to pull the trigger in the field. Such is the tragic case of Justine Damond, who called the police for assistance with what she suspected was a potential sexual assault occurring in an alley near her home. When the dispatched officers arrived at the scene, Damond came to greet them, “slapped” the police vehicle, and was met with Officer Mohammad Noor’s firearm. Once again, this illustrates how detrimental the current training protocol for handling potential threats is.
Looking forward: Procedures to avoid abuse of power
The police force obviously knows about the complexities of this issue. It is no coincidence that in all cases, the officers’ justification for pulling the trigger involves a perceived threat to their lives. Officers use this as a justification because that is what they believe to have happened. They have been extensively trained to perceive everything as a threat, and it grossly affects their behaviour.
Nevertheless, police departments throughout the United States have implemented the use of dashboard and body cameras, and this is certainly a step in the right direction. However, in almost all recent cases of excessive use of force dash cams, they are often dysfunctional, indiscernible, or worst yet, disregarded. Philando Castile’s tragic death is an example of video footage that may as well have been ignored. The offending officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was charged with manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm, but was acquitted of all charges.
Evidently, the solution must go much farther than simple dash and body cams. The problem is that a solution like cameras might hold individuals accountable for their actions, but it does not hold the system accountable for how it prevents cases of police brutality and handles ones that have already occurred.
Instead, we should advocate for reforming police training nationwide to training that focuses on the safety and protection of both the officers and the civilians involved. At the moment, police training in the United States is not nearly as extensive as it should be. Sadly, training for many jobs that do not involve immediate threats require much more training police officers receive in many American states.
But not enough training is not the only problem with police training in America. The focus of the training includes far too much emphasis on the police officer’s life and putting down threats rather than on serving and protecting citizens. Furthermore, training that highlights the hostility of the environments officers work in can also reinforce and perpetuate negative stereotypes, even without putting in the effort to do so.
Finally, although it is important to show support for police officers, we must change the culture of idolization and protection that has developed around them, particularly when it seems to have created an unspoken status of being untouchable.
The issue of police brutality and its fallout is not about ‘backing’ anyone as the now viral hashtag #backtheblue suggests. Instead, it should be about advocating for a training protocol that will prevent avoidable deaths at the hands of police officers and have a renewed emphasis on serving and protecting the public.
By Stephanie Yaacoub
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.