If you don't like to read, check out the video. If you DO like to read... also check out the video ;) On this page, there's a second video at the bottom. A reward for being literate as well as passionate about this topic.

Defining Police Brutality

Police brutality is the abuse of authority by the unwarranted infliction of excessive force by personnel involved in various aspects of law enforcement while in performance of their official duties. The term is also applied to abuses by corrections personnel in municipal, state and federal penal facilities including military prisons.

While the term police brutality is usually applied in the context of causing physical harm, it may also involve psychological harm through the use of intimidation tactics beyond the scope of officially sanctioned police procedure. In the past those who engaged in police brutality may have acted with the implicit approval of the local legal system, e.g. during the Civil Rights era. In the modern era individuals who engage in cases of police brutality may do so with the tacit approval of their superiors or they may be rogue officers; in either case they may perpetrate their actions under color of law, and more often than not engage in a subsequent cover-up of their illegal activity.

Graphs and statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics

The word "brutality" has several meanings; the sense used here (savage cruelty) was first used in 1633.[1] The first known use of the term "police brutality" was in the New York Times in 1893,[2] describing a police officer's beating of a civilian.


What are the causes of excessive force and brutality from Law Enforcement Officers? With endless situations and variable, it is impossible to attribute this type of violence to one factor alone. A major aspect is legislation that infringes upon our individual liberties and criminalizes certain activities or substances such as Prohibition did in the 1920's and as the War on Drugs has done since it was initiated in 1969. For legislators to make deicions for us, as to what activities we may participate in that have no harm or consequence to others is oppressive. No law should exist that doesn't benefit everyone equally. For legislators to make decisions for us as to what natural and man-made substance we should elect to use without harm or consequence to others is oppressive. The fact that Law Enforcement Officers and the state must initiate these policies and enforce them with violence and suppress the population with fear should prove they are detrimental to our individual freedom and personal liberties.

The African-American Civil Rights Movement has been the target of numerous incidents of police brutality in its struggle for justice and racial equality, notably during the Birmingham campaign of 196364 and during the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. Media coverage of the brutality sparked national outrage, and public sympathy for the movement grew rapidly as a result. Martin Luther King Jr. criticized police brutality in speeches. During this time, the Black Panther Party (BPP) formed in response to police brutality from disproportionately white police departments that were perceived as oppressing black communities.[3] The conflict between the BPP and various police departments often resulted in violence with the deaths of 34 members of the BPP[4] and 15 police officers.[5]

Graphs and statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics

In the United States, race and accusations of police brutality continue to be closely linked, and the phenomenon has sparked a string of race riots over the years. Especially notable among these incidents was the uprising caused by the arrest and beating of Rodney King on March 3, 1991 by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department. The atmosphere was particularly volatile because the brutality had been videotaped by a bystander and widely broadcast afterwards. When the four law enforcement officers charged with assault and other violations were acquitted, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots broke out.

Numerous human rights observers have raised concerns about increased police brutality in the U.S. in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. An extensive report prepared for the United Nations Human Rights Committee, tabled in 2006, states that in the U.S., the "War on Terror" has "created a generalized climate of impunity for law enforcement officers, and contributed to the erosion of what few accountability mechanisms exist for civilian control over law enforcement agencies. As a result, police brutality and abuse persist unabated and undeterred across the country."[6]

Internal Investigation

In the United States, investigation of cases of police brutality has often been left to internal police commissions and/or district attorneys (DAs). Internal police commissions have often been criticized for a lack of accountability and for bias favoring officers, as they frequently declare upon review that the officer(s) acted within the department's rules, or according to their training. For instance, an April, 2007 study of the Chicago Police Department found that out of more than 10,000 police abuse complaints filed between 2002 and 2003, only 19 (0.19%) resulted in meaningful disciplinary action. The study charges that the police department's oversight body allows officers with "criminal tendencies to operate with impunity," and argues that the Chicago Police Department should not be allowed to police itself.[7] Only 19% of large municipal police forces have a civilian complaint review board (CCRB). Law enforcement jurisdictions that have a CCRB have an excessive force complaint rate against their officers of 11.9% verses 6.6% complaint rate for those without a CCRB. Of those forces without a CCRB only 8% of the complaints were sustained.[8] Thus, for the year 2002, the rate at which police brutality complaints were sustained was 0.53% for the larger police municipalities nationwide.

The ability of district attorneys to investigate police brutality has also been called into question, as DAs depend on help from police departments to bring cases to trial. It was only in the 1990s that serious efforts began to transcend the difficulties of dealing with systemic patterns of police misconduct.

Know Your Rights

The best way to protect yourself besides the obvious ( Obeying the law as much as possible... ) is to know your rights, be polite and comply within reason. Laws intended to protect against police abuse of authority include the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution - protects against unreasonable searches and seizures; the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses; the Civil Rights Act of 1871; and the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Civil Rights Act has evolved into a key U.S. law in brutality cases. However, 42 U.S.C. 1983 has been assessed as ultimately ineffective in deterring police brutality.[9] Judges often give police convicted of brutality light sentences on the grounds that they have already been punished by damage to their careers.[10] Much of this difficulty in combating police brutality has been attributed to the overwhelming power of the stories mainstream American culture tells about the encounters leading to police violence.[11]

In 1978, surveys of police officers found that police brutality, along with sleeping on duty, was viewed as one of the most common and least likely to be reported forms of police deviance other than corruption.[12]


1. Oxford English Dictionary
2. "Police officers in trouble: Charges against policeman McManus by his sergeant". New York Times. June 23, 1893.
3. The Black Panthers by Jessica McElrath, published as a part of afroamhistory.about.com, accessed on December 17, 2005.
4. from an interview with Kathleen Cleaver on May 7, 2002 published by the PBS program P.O.V. and being published in Introduction to Black Panther 1968: Photographs by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones, (Greybull Press).
5. The Officer Down Memorial
6. "In the Shadows of the War on Terror: Persistent Police Brutality and Abuse in the United States" (PDF). United Nations Committee on Human Rights. June 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-11.
7. Ryan Gallagher (2007-04-04). "Study: Police abuse goes unpunished". Medill School, Northwestern University, Alabama. Retrieved 2007-09-04.
8. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. "Citizen Complaints about Police Use of Force". Retrieved 18 February 2013.
9. Patton, Alison L. (19921993), Endless Cycle of Abuse: Why 42 U.S.C. 1983 Is Ineffective in Deterring Police Brutality, The 44, Hastings L.J., p. 753
10. Alexa P. Freeman (March 1996), Unscheduled Departures: The Circumvention of Just Sentencing for Police Brutality 47, Hastings L.J., p. 677
11. DD Troutt (1999), Screws, Koon, and Routine Aberrations: The Use of Fictional Narratives in Federal Police Brutality Prosecutions, NYUL Rev.
12. T Barker (1978), An empirical study of police deviance other than corruption, Journal of Police Science and Administration