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Recognizing Police Misconduct in the U.S.

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UC Berkeley- Alameda, California source: TheRealMichaelMoore on flickr

In 1991, Rodney King was detected speeding down a Los Angeles freeway when he led police on high-speed car chase out of fear his probation violation would be revoked for a traffic violation. After pulling to the side of the road, the officers ordered King to exit his vehicle and when a Taser failed to subdue the young man, five officers went on to beat him relentlessly with batons, according to TIME Magazine. A bystander captured the incident on video, and it didn’t take long for the footage to go viral and shock the world.

A year later in a Simi Valley courtroom an all white jury ruled the officers not guilty. This verdict led to what would soon be labeled as one of the worst protests in American history. On April 29, 1992, angry protestors stormed the streets in a riot that left 53 people dead and over $1 billion in damages.

Fast-forward twenty-three years to August 9, 2014 when a young man, Michael Brown, was stopped for walking in the street by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson who positioned his patrol vehicle in front of the teen. An encounter ensued which resulted in Brown being shot five times by Officer Wilson and his body was left uncovered in the middle of the street for 4 hours.

Three months later on November 24th, a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict the officer for Brown’s death. Similar to King’s case, the community was angered by the verdict. Protestors filled the roadways for days.

From Rodney King in 1991 to Michael Brown in 2014, it seems there hasn’t been much change in the ways we “police the police’. Complaints of misconduct from law enforcement continue to make headlines and media coverage makes it seem as though we’re experiencing a bigger wave of police violence now more than ever before.

According to a Bronx police misconduct attorney, in efforts to control the issue a non-government project has recently been put into effect to report on police violence. Prior to the project there had been no ‘real numbers’ regarding an exact count of citizens that have been killed or injured by a police officer on duty. Since its debut in 2009, The National Police Misconduct Reporting Project has aimed to monitor the growing issue between police and civilians while also enhancing public awareness in the United States. When the reports were first published, more 3,000 instances had been recorded in just one year with over 193 of the cases resulting in fatalities.

In addition to this project, some police departments have also begun issuing awards to officers who prevent conflict. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross comments, “An officer going home is of paramount importance to us, but everyone should have an opportunity to go home if that presents itself. This is an effort to slow down situations for the sake of everybody concerned”.

As communities around the U.S. are striving to reform the issues of police misconduct, we are slowly starting to see improvements. However as hopeful as we would all like to be in thinking that these problems will be terminated completely, it’s not realistic. 

Cincinnati Police Chief comments, “Policing and violence are only symptoms of this larger problem. We’re gonna have problems. But at least we’re starting to know now what works in terms of reducing crime short term and long term and what works in terms of community policing and good community relations”.

Falynne Knight was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona where she graduated from Arizona State University in 2015 with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication.

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