The long, painful history of police brutality in the u.s..

A 1963 protest placard in the Smithsonian collections could almost be mistaken for any of the Black Lives Matter marches of today

Katie Nodjimbadem

Katie Nodjimbadem

Bloody Sunday

Last month, hours after a jury acquitted former police officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter in the shooting death of 32-year-old Philando Castile , protesters in St. Paul, Minnesota, shutdown Interstate 94. With signs that read: “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” the chant of “Philando, Philando” rang out as they marched down the highway in the dark of night.

The scene was familiar. A year earlier, massive protests had erupted when Yanez killed Castile, after pulling him over for a broken taillight. Dashcam footage shows Yanez firing through the open window of Castile’s car, seconds after Castile disclosed that he owned and was licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

A respected school nutritionist , Castile was one of 233 African-Americans shot and killed by police in 2016, a startling number when demographics are considered. African-Americans make up  13 percent of the U.S. population but account for 24 percent of people fatally shot by police. According to the Washington Post , blacks are "2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers."

Today's stories are anything but a recent phenomenon. A cardboard placard in the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture and on view in the new exhibition “ More Than a Picture ,” underscores that reality. 

We Demand

The yellowing sign is a reminder of the continuous oppression and violence that has disproportionately shaken black communities for generations—“We Demand an End to Police Brutality Now!” is painted in red and white letters.

“The message after 50 years is still unresolved,” remarks Samuel Egerton, a college professor, who donated the poster to the museum. He carried it in protest during the 1963 March on Washington. Five decades later, the poster’s message rings alarmingly timely. Were it not for the yellowed edges, the placard could almost be mistaken for a sign from any of the Black Lives Matter  marches of the past three years.

"There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?" said Martin Luther King, Jr. in his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 march. His words continue to resonate today after a long history of violent confrontations between African-American citizens and the police. "We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality."

"This idea of police brutality was very much on people’s minds in 1963, following on the years, decades really, of police abuse of power and then centuries of oppression of African-Americans," says William Pretzer, senior history curator at the museum.

Stop Murder by Police

Modern policing  did not evolve into an organized institution until the 1830s and '40s when northern cities decided they needed better control over quickly growing populations. The first American police department  was established  in Boston in 1838. The communities most targeted by harsh tactics  were  recent European immigrants. But, as African-Americans fled the horrors of the Jim Crow south, they too  became  the victims of brutal and punitive policing in the northern cities where they sought refuge.

In 1929, the Illinois Association for Criminal Justice published the  Illinois Crime Survey . Conducted between 1927 and 1928, the survey sought to analyze causes of high crime rates in Chicago and Cook County, especially among criminals associated with Al Capone. But also the survey provided data on police activity—although African-Americans made up just five percent of the area's population, they constituted 30 percent of the victims of police killings, the survey revealed.

"There was a lot of one-on-one conflict between police and citizens and a lot of it was initiated by the police," says  Malcolm D. Holmes , a sociology professor at the University of Wyoming, who has researched and  written  about the topic of police brutality extensively.

That same year, President Herbert Hoover established the  National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement  to investigate crime related to prohibition in addition to policing tactics. Between 1931 and 1932, the commission published the findings of its investigation in 14 volumes, one of which was titled  “Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement.”  The realities of police brutality came to light, even though the commission did not address racial disparities outright.

During the Civil Rights Era, though many of the movement's leaders advocated for peaceful protests, the 1960s were fraught with violent and destructive riots.

Police Disperse Marchers with Tear Gas

Aggressive dispersion tactics, such as police dogs and fire hoses, against individuals in peaceful protests and sit-ins were the most widely publicized examples of police brutality in that era. But it was the pervasive violent policing in communities of color that built distrust at a local, everyday level.

One of the deadliest riots occurred in Newark in 1967 after police officers severely  beat  black cab driver John Smith during a traffic stop. Twenty-six people died and many others were injured during the four days of unrest. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson organized the  National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders  to investigate the causes of these major riots.

The origins of the unrest in Newark weren't unique in a police versus citizen incident. The commission  concluded  "police actions were 'final' incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.”

The commission identified  segregation  and poverty as indicators and published recommendations for reducing social inequalities,  recommending  an “expansion and reorientation of the urban renewal program to give priority to projects directly assisting low-income households to obtain adequate housing.” Johnson, however,  rejected  the commission’s recommendations. 

Black newspapers reported incidents of police brutality throughout the early and mid-20th century and the popularization of radio storytelling spread those stories even further. In 1991, following the beating of cab driver Rodney King, video footage vividly  told  the story of police brutality on television to a much wider audience. The police officers, who were acquitted of the crime, had hit King more than 50 times with their batons.

Today, live streaming, tweets and Facebook posts have blasted the incidents of police brutality, beyond the black community and into the mainstream media. Philando Castile’s fiancée, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her daughter when he was shot, streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting on her phone using Facebook live.

"Modern technology allows, indeed insists, that the white community take notice of these kinds of situations and incidents," says Pretzer.

And as technology has evolved, so has the equipment of law enforcement. Police departments with military-grade equipment  have become  the norm in American cities.  Images  of police officers in helmets and body armor riding through neighborhoods in tanks accompany stories of protests whenever one of these incidents occurs.

"What we see is a continuation of an unequal relationship that has been exacerbated, made worse if you will, by the militarization and the increase in fire power of police forces around the country," says Pretzer.

The resolution to the problem, according to Pretzer, lies not only in improving these unbalanced police-community relationships, but, more importantly, in eradicating the social inequalities that perpetuate these relationships that sustain distrust and frustration on both sides.

'There’s a tendency to stereotype people as being more or less dangerous. There’s a reliance upon force that goes beyond what is necessary to accomplish police duty," says Holmes. "There’s a lot of this embedded in the police departments that helps foster this problem."

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Katie Nodjimbadem

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Katie was formerly the staff reporter for Smithsonian magazine.

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Student Editorial Contest Winner

Breaking the Blue Wall of Silence: Changing the Social Narrative About Policing in America

police brutality oppression essay

By The Learning Network

  • June 3, 2019

This essay, by Narain Dubey , age 17, is one of the Top 12 winners of our Sixth Annual Student Editorial Contest , for which we received 10,509 entries.

We are publishing the work of all the winners and runners-up this week, and you can find them here as they post. Excerpts from some will also be in the special Learning print section on Sunday, June 9.

As a child, I thought of police officers with veneration — if I saw a cop in the park, I felt safer. I told myself that when I got older, I would be wearing the badge too.

At 12 years old, I learned about police brutality. When I first saw the video of Eric Garner being thrown to the ground by police officers, I thought it was a movie. Despite knowing that the officers were at fault, I refused to change my internal rhetoric; I thought the media was only portraying the bad side of the people I saw as heroes.

Then on July 31, 2017, a police officer shot and killed my cousin, Isaiah Tucker, while he was driving. Isaiah wasn’t just my cousin. He was also a young, unarmed, African-American man. I no longer dreamt of becoming a police officer.

But the issue is much larger than what happened to Isaiah. As highlighted in The New York Times, the Center for Policing Equity found that African-Americans are 3.6 times more likely to experience force by police officers as compared to whites.

Despite this blatant disproportionality, there is still overwhelming ignorance about it. Just last August, a group of people marched in Philadelphia, countering Black Lives Matter protests with signs and chants of “Blue Lives Matter.” People are quick to challenge discussions of police violence with the idea that “not all cops are bad cops.”

But when we argue in defense of the morality of individual police officers, we are undermining a protest of the larger issue: the unjust system of policing in the United States.

When I met Wesley Lowery, a journalist from The Washington Post, he was adamant that the social narrative regarding police brutality in the United States needs to change. “Conversations about police reform and accountability are about systems and structures, not about individuals,” said Lowery.

It is not that some police officers aren’t doing admirable things in our communities, but revering police officers for not abusing their power is dangerous — it normalizes police violence and numbs society to these issues. The idea that “not all cops are bad cops” belittles attempts to uproot the system. When we go out of our way to controvert this fight, we are perpetuating the inherent problems with racialized policing.

So as you think about policing in America, think of Eric Garner. Think of Alton Sterling, my cousin Isaiah, and the families that were left behind.

We have a responsibility as citizens of this country to call out corruption in systems of power. Policing in America is rooted in racism, oppression and privilege — it’s time that we recognize that.

I learned to change my perspective. So can you.

Works Cited

Williams, Timothy. “ Study Supports Suspicion That Police Are More Likely to Use Force on Blacks .” New York Times. 7th July, 2016.

Lowery, Wesley. (2018, August 2nd). Personal communication at Asian American Journalist Association’s JCAMP .

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  • 19 June 2020
  • Update 26 May 2021

What the data say about police brutality and racial bias — and which reforms might work

  • Lynne Peeples 0

Lynne Peeples is a science journalist in Seattle, Washington.

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For 9 minutes and 29 seconds, Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. This deadly use of force by the now-former Minneapolis police officer has reinvigorated a very public debate about police brutality and racism.

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Updates & Corrections

Update 26 May 2021 : On 20 April 2021, Derek Chauvin was convicted of causing the death of George Floyd. The text has been modified to include updated information on how long Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.

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Solving racial disparities in policing

Colleen Walsh

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Experts say approach must be comprehensive as roots are embedded in culture

“ Unequal ” is a multipart series highlighting the work of Harvard faculty, staff, students, alumni, and researchers on issues of race and inequality across the U.S. The first part explores the experience of people of color with the criminal justice legal system in America.

It seems there’s no end to them. They are the recent videos and reports of Black and brown people beaten or killed by law enforcement officers, and they have fueled a national outcry over the disproportionate use of excessive, and often lethal, force against people of color, and galvanized demands for police reform.

This is not the first time in recent decades that high-profile police violence — from the 1991 beating of Rodney King to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 — ignited calls for change. But this time appears different. The police killings of Breonna Taylor in March, George Floyd in May, and a string of others triggered historic, widespread marches and rallies across the nation, from small towns to major cities, drawing protesters of unprecedented diversity in race, gender, and age.

According to historians and other scholars, the problem is embedded in the story of the nation and its culture. Rooted in slavery, racial disparities in policing and police violence, they say, are sustained by systemic exclusion and discrimination, and fueled by implicit and explicit bias. Any solution clearly will require myriad new approaches to law enforcement, courts, and community involvement, and comprehensive social change driven from the bottom up and the top down.

While police reform has become a major focus, the current moment of national reckoning has widened the lens on systemic racism for many Americans. The range of issues, though less familiar to some, is well known to scholars and activists. Across Harvard, for instance, faculty members have long explored the ways inequality permeates every aspect of American life. Their research and scholarship sits at the heart of a new Gazette series starting today aimed at finding ways forward in the areas of democracy; wealth and opportunity; environment and health; and education. It begins with this first on policing.

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad traces the history of policing in America to “slave patrols” in the antebellum South, in which white citizens were expected to help supervise the movements of enslaved Black people.

Photo by Martha Stewart

The history of racialized policing

Like many scholars, Khalil Gibran Muhammad , professor of history, race, and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School , traces the history of policing in America to “slave patrols” in the antebellum South, in which white citizens were expected to help supervise the movements of enslaved Black people. This legacy, he believes, can still be seen in policing today. “The surveillance, the deputization essentially of all white men to be police officers or, in this case, slave patrollers, and then to dispense corporal punishment on the scene are all baked in from the very beginning,” he  told NPR  last year.

Slave patrols, and the slave codes they enforced, ended after the Civil War and the passage of the 13th amendment, which formally ended slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” But Muhammad notes that former Confederate states quickly used that exception to justify new restrictions. Known as the Black codes, the various rules limited the kinds of jobs African Americans could hold, their rights to buy and own property, and even their movements.

“The genius of the former Confederate states was to say, ‘Oh, well, if all we need to do is make them criminals and they can be put back in slavery, well, then that’s what we’ll do.’ And that’s exactly what the Black codes set out to do. The Black codes, for all intents and purposes, criminalized every form of African American freedom and mobility, political power, economic power, except the one thing it didn’t criminalize was the right to work for a white man on a white man’s terms.” In particular, he said the Ku Klux Klan “took about the business of terrorizing, policing, surveilling, and controlling Black people. … The Klan totally dominates the machinery of justice in the South.”

When, during what became known as the Great Migration, millions of African Americans fled the still largely agrarian South for opportunities in the thriving manufacturing centers of the North, they discovered that metropolitan police departments tended to enforce the law along racial and ethnic lines, with newcomers overseen by those who came before. “There was an early emphasis on people whose status was just a tiny notch better than the folks whom they were focused on policing,” Muhammad said. “And so the Anglo-Saxons are policing the Irish or the Germans are policing the Irish. The Irish are policing the Poles.” And then arrived a wave of Black Southerners looking for a better life.

In his groundbreaking work, “ The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America ,” Muhammad argues that an essential turning point came in the early 1900s amid efforts to professionalize police forces across the nation, in part by using crime statistics to guide law enforcement efforts. For the first time, Americans with European roots were grouped into one broad category, white, and set apart from the other category, Black.

Citing Muhammad’s research, Harvard historian Jill Lepore  has summarized the consequences this way : “Police patrolled Black neighborhoods and arrested Black people disproportionately; prosecutors indicted Black people disproportionately; juries found Black people guilty disproportionately; judges gave Black people disproportionately long sentences; and, then, after all this, social scientists, observing the number of Black people in jail, decided that, as a matter of biology, Black people were disproportionately inclined to criminality.”

“History shows that crime data was never objective in any meaningful sense,” Muhammad wrote. Instead, crime statistics were “weaponized” to justify racial profiling, police brutality, and ever more policing of Black people.

This phenomenon, he believes, has continued well into this century and is exemplified by William J. Bratton, one of the most famous police leaders in recent America history. Known as “America’s Top Cop,” Bratton led police departments in his native Boston, Los Angeles, and twice in New York, finally retiring in 2016.

Bratton rejected notions that crime was a result of social and economic forces, such as poverty, unemployment, police practices, and racism. Instead, he said in a 2017 speech, “It is about behavior.” Through most of his career, he was a proponent of statistically-based “predictive” policing — essentially placing forces in areas where crime numbers were highest, focused on the groups found there.

Bratton argued that the technology eliminated the problem of prejudice in policing, without ever questioning potential bias in the data or algorithms themselves — a significant issue given the fact that Black Americans are arrested and convicted of crimes at disproportionately higher rates than whites. This approach has led to widely discredited practices such as racial profiling and “stop-and-frisk.” And, Muhammad notes, “There is no research consensus on whether or how much violence dropped in cities due to policing.”

Gathering numbers

In 2015 The Washington Post began tracking every fatal shooting by an on-duty officer, using news stories, social media posts, and police reports in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Brown, a Black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. According to the newspaper, Black Americans are killed by police at twice the rate of white Americans, and Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate.

Such efforts have proved useful for researchers such as economist Rajiv Sethi .

A Joy Foundation Fellow at the Harvard  Radcliffe Institute , Sethi is investigating the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers, a difficult task given that data from such encounters is largely unavailable from police departments. Instead, Sethi and his team of researchers have turned to information collected by websites and news organizations including The Washington Post and The Guardian, merged with data from other sources such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Census, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A Joy Foundation Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Rajiv Sethi is investigating the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers,

Courtesy photo

They have found that exposure to deadly force is highest in the Mountain West and Pacific regions relative to the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, and that racial disparities in relation to deadly force are even greater than the national numbers imply. “In the country as a whole, you’re about two to three times more likely to face deadly force if you’re Black than if you are white” said Sethi. “But if you look at individual cities separately, disparities in exposure are much higher.”

Examining the characteristics associated with police departments that experience high numbers of lethal encounters is one way to better understand and address racial disparities in policing and the use of violence, Sethi said, but it’s a massive undertaking given the decentralized nature of policing in America. There are roughly 18,000 police departments in the country, and more than 3,000 sheriff’s offices, each with its own approaches to training and selection.

“They behave in very different ways, and what we’re finding in our current research is that they are very different in the degree to which they use deadly force,” said Sethi. To make real change, “You really need to focus on the agency level where organizational culture lies, where selection and training protocols have an effect, and where leadership can make a difference.”

Sethi pointed to the example of Camden, N.J., which disbanded and replaced its police force in 2013, initially in response to a budget crisis, but eventually resulting in an effort to fundamentally change the way the police engaged with the community. While there have been improvements, including greater witness cooperation, lower crime, and fewer abuse complaints, the Camden case doesn’t fit any particular narrative, said Sethi, noting that the number of officers actually increased as part of the reform. While the city is still faced with its share of problems, Sethi called its efforts to rethink policing “important models from which we can learn.”

Fighting vs. preventing crime

For many analysts, the real problem with policing in America is the fact that there is simply too much of it. “We’ve seen since the mid-1970s a dramatic increase in expenditures that are associated with expanding the criminal legal system, including personnel and the tasks we ask police to do,” said Sandra Susan Smith , Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice at HKS, and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute. “And at the same time we see dramatic declines in resources devoted to social welfare programs.”

“You can have all the armored personnel carriers you want in Ferguson, but public safety is more likely to come from redressing environmental pollution, poor education, and unfair work,” said Brandon Terry, assistant professor of African and African American Studies and social studies.

Kris Snibble/Harvard file photo

Smith’s comment highlights a key argument embraced by many activists and experts calling for dramatic police reform: diverting resources from the police to better support community services including health care, housing, and education, and stronger economic and job opportunities. They argue that broader support for such measures will decrease the need for policing, and in turn reduce violent confrontations, particularly in over-policed, economically disadvantaged communities, and communities of color.

For Brandon Terry , that tension took the form of an ice container during his Baltimore high school chemistry final. The frozen cubes were placed in the middle of the classroom to help keep the students cool as a heat wave sent temperatures soaring. “That was their solution to the building’s lack of air conditioning,” said Terry, a Harvard assistant professor of African and African American Studies and social studies. “Just grab an ice cube.”

Terry’s story is the kind many researchers cite to show the negative impact of underinvesting in children who will make up the future population, and instead devoting resources toward policing tactics that embrace armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and spy planes. Terry’s is also the kind of tale promoted by activists eager to defund the police, a movement begun in the late 1960s that has again gained momentum as the death toll from violent encounters mounts. A scholar of Martin Luther King Jr., Terry said the Civil Rights leader’s views on the Vietnam War are echoed in the calls of activists today who are pressing to redistribute police resources.

“King thought that the idea of spending many orders of magnitude more for an unjust war than we did for the abolition of poverty and the abolition of ghettoization was a moral travesty, and it reflected a kind of sickness at the core of our society,” said Terry. “And part of what the defund model is based upon is a similar moral criticism, that these budgets reflect priorities that we have, and our priorities are broken.”

Terry also thinks the policing debate needs to be expanded to embrace a fuller understanding of what it means for people to feel truly safe in their communities. He highlights the work of sociologist Chris Muller and Harvard’s Robert Sampson, who have studied racial disparities in exposures to lead and the connections between a child’s early exposure to the toxic metal and antisocial behavior. Various studies have shown that lead exposure in children can contribute to cognitive impairment and behavioral problems, including heightened aggression.

“You can have all the armored personnel carriers you want in Ferguson,” said Terry, “but public safety is more likely to come from redressing environmental pollution, poor education, and unfair work.”

Policing and criminal justice system

Alexandra Natapoff , Lee S. Kreindler Professor of Law, sees policing as inexorably linked to the country’s criminal justice system and its long ties to racism.

“Policing does not stand alone or apart from how we charge people with crimes, or how we convict them, or how we treat them once they’ve been convicted,” she said. “That entire bundle of official practices is a central part of how we govern, and in particular, how we have historically governed Black people and other people of color, and economically and socially disadvantaged populations.”

Unpacking such a complicated issue requires voices from a variety of different backgrounds, experiences, and fields of expertise who can shine light on the problem and possible solutions, said Natapoff, who co-founded a new lecture series with HLS Professor Andrew Crespo titled “ Policing in America .”

In recent weeks the pair have hosted Zoom discussions on topics ranging from qualified immunity to the Black Lives Matter movement to police unions to the broad contours of the American penal system. The series reflects the important work being done around the country, said Natapoff, and offers people the chance to further “engage in dialogue over these over these rich, complicated, controversial issues around race and policing, and governance and democracy.”

Courts and mass incarceration

Much of Natapoff’s recent work emphasizes the hidden dangers of the nation’s misdemeanor system. In her book “ Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal ,” Natapoff shows how the practice of stopping, arresting, and charging people with low-level offenses often sends them down a devastating path.

“This is how most people encounter the criminal apparatus, and it’s the first step of mass incarceration, the initial net that sweeps people of color disproportionately into the criminal system,” said Natapoff. “It is also the locus that overexposes Black people to police violence. The implications of this enormous net of police and prosecutorial authority around minor conduct is central to understanding many of the worst dysfunctions of our criminal system.”

One consequence is that Black and brown people are incarcerated at much higher rates than white people. America has approximately 2.3 million people in federal, state, and local prisons and jails, according to a 2020 report from the nonprofit the Prison Policy Initiative. According to a 2018 report from the Sentencing Project, Black men are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are 3.1 times as likely.

Reducing mass incarceration requires shrinking the misdemeanor net “along all of its axes” said Natapoff, who supports a range of reforms including training police officers to both confront and arrest people less for low-level offenses, and the policies of forward-thinking prosecutors willing to “charge fewer of those offenses when police do make arrests.”

She praises the efforts of Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins in Massachusetts and George Gascón, the district attorney in Los Angeles County, Calif., who have pledged to stop prosecuting a range of misdemeanor crimes such as resisting arrest, loitering, trespassing, and drug possession. “If cities and towns across the country committed to that kind of reform, that would be a profoundly meaningful change,” said Natapoff, “and it would be a big step toward shrinking our entire criminal apparatus.”

Retired U.S. Judge Nancy Gertner cites the need to reform federal sentencing guidelines, arguing that all too often they have been proven to be biased and to result in packing the nation’s jails and prisons.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard file photo

Sentencing reform

Another contributing factor in mass incarceration is sentencing disparities.

A recent Harvard Law School study found that, as is true nationally, people of color are “drastically overrepresented in Massachusetts state prisons.” But the report also noted that Black and Latinx people were less likely to have their cases resolved through pretrial probation ­— a way to dismiss charges if the accused meet certain conditions — and receive much longer sentences than their white counterparts.

Retired U.S. Judge Nancy Gertner also notes the need to reform federal sentencing guidelines, arguing that all too often they have been proven to be biased and to result in packing the nation’s jails and prisons. She points to the way the 1994 Crime Bill (legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware) ushered in much harsher drug penalties for crack than for powder cocaine. This tied the hands of judges issuing sentences and disproportionately punished people of color in the process. “The disparity in the treatment of crack and cocaine really was backed up by anecdote and stereotype, not by data,” said Gertner, a lecturer at HLS. “There was no data suggesting that crack was infinitely more dangerous than cocaine. It was the young Black predator narrative.”

The First Step Act, a bipartisan prison reform bill aimed at reducing racial disparities in drug sentencing and signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018, is just what its name implies, said Gertner.

“It reduces sentences to the merely inhumane rather than the grotesque. We still throw people in jail more than anybody else. We still resort to imprisonment, rather than thinking of other alternatives. We still resort to punishment rather than other models. None of that has really changed. I don’t deny the significance of somebody getting out of prison a year or two early, but no one should think that that’s reform.”

 Not just bad apples

Reform has long been a goal for federal leaders. Many heralded Obama-era changes aimed at eliminating racial disparities in policing and outlined in the report by The President’s Task Force on 21st Century policing. But HKS’s Smith saw them as largely symbolic. “It’s a nod to reform. But most of the reforms that are implemented in this country tend to be reforms that nibble around the edges and don’t really make much of a difference.”

Efforts such as diversifying police forces and implicit bias training do little to change behaviors and reduce violent conduct against people of color, said Smith, who cites studies suggesting a majority of Americans hold negative biases against Black and brown people, and that unconscious prejudices and stereotypes are difficult to erase.

“Experiments show that you can, in the context of a day, get people to think about race differently, and maybe even behave differently. But if you follow up, say, a week, or two weeks later, those effects are gone. We don’t know how to produce effects that are long-lasting. We invest huge amounts to implement such police reforms, but most often there’s no empirical evidence to support their efficacy.”

Even the early studies around the effectiveness of body cameras suggest the devices do little to change “officers’ patterns of behavior,” said Smith, though she cautions that researchers are still in the early stages of collecting and analyzing the data.

And though police body cameras have caught officers in unjust violence, much of the general public views the problem as anomalous.

“Despite what many people in low-income communities of color think about police officers, the broader society has a lot of respect for police and thinks if you just get rid of the bad apples, everything will be fine,” Smith added. “The problem, of course, is this is not just an issue of bad apples.”

Efforts such as diversifying police forces and implicit bias training do little to change behaviors and reduce violent conduct against people of color, said Sandra Susan Smith, a professor of criminal justice Harvard Kennedy School.

Community-based ways forward

Still Smith sees reason for hope and possible ways forward involving a range of community-based approaches. As part of the effort to explore meaningful change, Smith, along with Christopher Winship , Diker-Tishman Professor of Sociology at Harvard University and a member of the senior faculty at HKS, have organized “ Reimagining Community Safety: A Program in Criminal Justice Speaker Series ” to better understand the perspectives of practitioners, policymakers, community leaders, activists, and academics engaged in public safety reform.

Some community-based safety models have yielded important results. Smith singles out the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets program (known as CAHOOTS ) in Eugene, Ore., which supplements police with a community-based public safety program. When callers dial 911 they are often diverted to teams of workers trained in crisis resolution, mental health, and emergency medicine, who are better equipped to handle non-life-threatening situations. The numbers support her case. In 2017 the program received 25,000 calls, only 250 of which required police assistance. Training similar teams of specialists who don’t carry weapons to handle all traffic stops could go a long way toward ending violent police encounters, she said.

“Imagine you have those kinds of services in play,” said Smith, paired with community-based anti-violence program such as Cure Violence , which aims to stop violence in targeted neighborhoods by using approaches health experts take to control disease, such as identifying and treating individuals and changing social norms. Together, she said, these programs “could make a huge difference.”

At Harvard Law School, students have been  studying how an alternate 911-response team  might function in Boston. “We were trying to move from thinking about a 911-response system as an opportunity to intervene in an acute moment, to thinking about what it would look like to have a system that is trying to help reweave some of the threads of community, a system that is more focused on healing than just on stopping harm” said HLS Professor Rachel Viscomi, who directs the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program and oversaw the research.

The forthcoming report, compiled by two students in the HLS clinic, Billy Roberts and Anna Vande Velde, will offer officials a range of ideas for how to think about community safety that builds on existing efforts in Boston and other cities, said Viscomi.

But Smith, like others, knows community-based interventions are only part of the solution. She applauds the Justice Department’s investigation into the Ferguson Police Department after the shooting of Brown. The 102-page report shed light on the department’s discriminatory policing practices, including the ways police disproportionately targeted Black residents for tickets and fines to help balance the city’s budget. To fix such entrenched problems, state governments need to rethink their spending priorities and tax systems so they can provide cities and towns the financial support they need to remain debt-free, said Smith.

Rethinking the 911-response system to being one that is “more focused on healing than just on stopping harm” is part of the student-led research under the direction of Law School Professor Rachel Viscomi, who heads up the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program.

Jon Chase/Harvard file photo

“Part of the solution has to be a discussion about how government is funded and how a city like Ferguson got to a place where government had so few resources that they resorted to extortion of their residents, in particular residents of color, in order to make ends meet,” she said. “We’ve learned since that Ferguson is hardly the only municipality that has struggled with funding issues and sought to address them through the oppression and repression of their politically, socially, and economically marginalized Black and Latino residents.”

Police contracts, she said, also need to be reexamined. The daughter of a “union man,” Smith said she firmly supports officers’ rights to union representation to secure fair wages, health care, and safe working conditions. But the power unions hold to structure police contracts in ways that protect officers from being disciplined for “illegal and unethical behavior” needs to be challenged, she said.

“I think it’s incredibly important for individuals to be held accountable and for those institutions in which they are embedded to hold them to account. But we routinely find that union contracts buffer individual officers from having to be accountable. We see this at the level of the Supreme Court as well, whose rulings around qualified immunity have protected law enforcement from civil suits. That needs to change.”

Other Harvard experts agree. In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe last June, Tomiko Brown-Nagin , dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute and the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at HLS, pointed out the Court’s “expansive interpretation of qualified immunity” and called for reform that would “promote accountability.”

“This nation is devoted to freedom, to combating racial discrimination, and to making government accountable to the people,” wrote Brown-Nagin. “Legislators today, like those who passed landmark Civil Rights legislation more than 50 years ago, must take a stand for equal justice under law. Shielding police misconduct offends our fundamental values and cannot be tolerated.”

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What the police really believe

Inside the distinctive, largely unknown ideology of American policing — and how it justifies racist violence.

police brutality oppression essay

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Arthur Rizer is a former police officer and 21-year veteran of the US Army, where he served as a military policeman. Today, he heads the criminal justice program at the R Street Institute, a center-right think tank in DC. And he wants you to know that American policing is even more broken than you think.

“That whole thing about the bad apple? I hate when people say that,” Rizer tells me. “The bad apple rots the barrel. And until we do something about the rotten barrel, it doesn’t matter how many good fucking apples you put in.”

To illustrate the problem, Rizer tells a story about a time he observed a patrol by some officers in Montgomery, Alabama. They were called in to deal with a woman they knew had mental illness; she was flailing around and had cut someone with a broken plant pick. To subdue her, one of the officers body-slammed her against a door. Hard.

Rizer recalls that Montgomery officers were nervous about being watched during such a violent arrest — until they found out he had once been a cop. They didn’t actually have any problem with what one of them had just done to the woman; in fact, they started laughing about it.

“It’s one thing to use force and violence to affect an arrest. It’s another thing to find it funny,” he tells me. “It’s just pervasive throughout policing. When I was a police officer and doing these kind of ride-alongs [as a researcher], you see the underbelly of it. And it’s ... gross.”

America’s epidemic of police violence is not limited to what’s on the news. For every high-profile story of a police officer killing an unarmed Black person or tear-gassing peaceful protesters, there are many, many allegations of police misconduct you don’t hear about — abuses ranging from excessive use of force to mistreatment of prisoners to planting evidence. African Americans are arrested and roughed up by cops at wildly disproportionate rates , relative to both their overall share of the population and the percentage of crimes they commit.

Something about the way police relate to the communities they’re tasked with protecting has gone wrong. Officers aren’t just regularly treating people badly; a deep dive into the motivations and beliefs of police reveals that too many believe they are justified in doing so.

To understand how the police think about themselves and their job, I interviewed more than a dozen former officers and experts on policing. These sources, ranging from conservatives to police abolitionists, painted a deeply disturbing picture of the internal culture of policing.

police brutality oppression essay

Police officers across America have adopted a set of beliefs about their work and its role in our society. The tenets of police ideology are not codified or written down, but are nonetheless widely shared in departments around the country.

The ideology holds that the world is a profoundly dangerous place: Officers are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger and that the only way to guarantee survival is to dominate the citizens they’re supposed to protect. The police believe they’re alone in this fight; police ideology holds that officers are under siege by criminals and are not understood or respected by the broader citizenry. These beliefs, combined with widely held racial stereotypes, push officers toward violent and racist behavior during intense and stressful street interactions.

In that sense, police ideology can help us understand the persistence of officer-involved shootings and the recent brutal suppression of peaceful protests. In a culture where Black people are stereotyped as more threatening, Black communities are terrorized by aggressive policing, with officers acting less like community protectors and more like an occupying army.

The beliefs that define police ideology are neither universally shared among officers nor evenly distributed across departments. There are more than 600,000 local police officers across the country and more than 12,000 local police agencies. The officer corps has gotten more diverse over the years, with women, people of color, and LGBTQ officers making up a growing share of the profession. Speaking about such a group in blanket terms would do a disservice to the many officers who try to serve with care and kindness.

However, the officer corps remains overwhelmingly white, male, and straight. Federal Election Commission data from the 2020 cycle suggests that police heavily favor Republicans . And it is indisputable that there are commonly held beliefs among officers.

“The fact that not every department is the same doesn’t undermine the point that there are common factors that people can reasonably identify as a police culture,” says Tracey Meares, the founding director of Yale University’s Justice Collaboratory.

The danger imperative

In 1998, Georgia sheriff’s deputy Kyle Dinkheller pulled over a middle-aged white man named Andrew Howard Brannan for speeding. Brannan, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, refused to comply with Dinkheller’s instructions. He got out of the car and started dancing in the middle of the road, singing “Here I am, shoot me” over and over again.

In the encounter, recorded by the deputy’s dashcam, things then escalate: Brannan charges at Dinkheller; Dinkheller tells him to “get back.” Brannan heads back to the car — only to reemerge with a rifle pointed at Dinkheller. The officer fires first, and misses; Brannan shoots back. In the ensuing firefight, both men are wounded, but Dinkheller far more severely. It ends with Brannan standing over Dinkheller, pointing the rifle at the deputy’s eye. He yells — “Die, fucker!” — and pulls the trigger.

The dashcam footage of Dinkheller’s killing, widely known among cops as the “Dinkheller video,” is burned into the minds of many American police officers. It is screened in police academies around the country ; one training turns it into a video game-style simulation in which officers can change the ending by killing Brannan. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop, was shown the Dinkheller video during his training.

“Every cop knows the name ‘Dinkheller’ — and no one else does,” says Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who currently teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The purpose of the Dinkheller video, and many others like it shown at police academies, is to teach officers that any situation could escalate to violence. Cop killers lurk around every corner.

It’s true that policing is a relatively dangerous job . But contrary to the impression the Dinkheller video might give trainees, murders of police are not the omnipresent threat they are made out to be. The number of police killings across the country has been falling for decades ; there’s been a 90 percent drop in ambush killings of officers since 1970. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data , about 13 per 100,000 police officers died on the job in 2017. Compare that to farmers (24 deaths per 100,000), truck drivers (26.9 per 100,000), and trash collectors (34.9 per 100,000). But police academies and field training officers hammer home the risk of violent death to officers again and again.

It’s not just training and socialization, though: The very nature of the job reinforces the sense of fear and threat. Law enforcement isn’t called to people’s homes and streets when things are going well. Officers constantly find themselves thrown into situations where a seemingly normal interaction has gone haywire — a marital argument devolving into domestic violence, for example.

“For them, any scene can turn into a potential danger,” says Eugene Paoline III, a criminologist at the University of Central Florida. “They’re taught, through their experiences, that very routine events can go bad.”

Michael Sierra-Arévalo, a professor at UT-Austin, calls the police obsession with violent death “ the danger imperative .” After conducting 1,000 hours of fieldwork and interviews with 94 police officers, he found that the risk of violent death occupies an extraordinary amount of mental space for many officers — far more so than it should, given the objective risks.

Here’s what I mean: According to the past 20 years of FBI data on officer fatalities, 1,001 officers have been killed by firearms while 760 have died in car crashes. For this reason, police officers are, like the rest of us, required to wear seat belts at all times.

In reality, many choose not to wear them even when speeding through city streets. Sierra-Arévalo rode along with one police officer, whom he calls officer Doyle, during a car chase where Doyle was going around 100 miles per hour — and still not wearing a seat belt. Sierra-Arévalo asked him why he did things like this. Here’s what Doyle said:

There’s times where I’ll be driving and the next thing you know I’ll be like, ‘Oh shit, that dude’s got a fucking gun!’ I’ll stop [mimics tires screeching], try to get out — fuck. Stuck on the seat belt … I’d rather just be able to jump out on people, you know. If I have to, be able to jump out of this deathtrap of a car.

Despite the fact that fatal car accidents are a risk for police, officers like Doyle prioritize their ability to respond to one specific shooting scenario over the clear and consistent benefits of wearing a seat belt.

“Knowing officers consistently claim safety is their primary concern, multiple drivers not wearing a seatbelt and speeding towards the same call should be interpreted as an unacceptable danger; it is not,” Sierra-Arévalo writes. “The danger imperative — the preoccupation with violence and the provision of officer safety — contributes to officer behaviors that, though perceived as keeping them safe, in fact put them in great physical danger.”

This outsized attention to violence doesn’t just make officers a threat to themselves. It’s also part of what makes them a threat to citizens.

Because officers are hyper-attuned to the risks of attacks, they tend to believe that they must always be prepared to use force against them — sometimes even disproportionate force. Many officers believe that, if they are humiliated or undermined by a civilian, that civilian might be more willing to physically threaten them.

Scholars of policing call this concept “ maintaining the edge ,” and it’s a vital reason why officers seem so willing to employ force that appears obviously excessive when captured by body cams and cellphones.

“To let down that edge is perceived as inviting chaos, and thus danger,” Moskos says.

This mindset helps explain why so many instances of police violence — like George Floyd’s killing by officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis — happen during struggles related to arrest .

In these situations, the officers aren’t always threatened with a deadly weapon: Floyd, for example, was unarmed. But when the officer decides the suspect is disrespecting them or resisting their commands, they feel the need to use force to reestablish the edge.

They need to make the suspect submit to their authority.

A siege mentality

Police officers today tend to see themselves as engaged in a lonely, armed struggle against the criminal element. They are judged by their effectiveness at that task, measured by internal data such as arrest numbers and crime rates in the areas they patrol. Officers believe these efforts are underappreciated by the general public; according to a 2017 Pew report , 86 percent of police believe the public doesn’t really understand the “risks and challenges” involved in their job.

Rizer, the former officer and R Street researcher, recently conducted a separate large-scale survey of American police officers. One of the questions he asked was whether they would want their children to become police officers. A majority, around 60 percent, said no — for reasons that, in Rizer’s words, “blew me away.”

“The vast majority of people that said ‘no, I don’t want them to become a police officer’ was because they felt like the public no longer supported them — and that they were ‘at war’ with the public,” he tells me. “There’s a ‘me versus them’ kind of worldview, that we’re not part of this community that we’re patrolling.”

You can see this mentality on display in the widespread police adoption of an emblem called the “thin blue line.” In one version of the symbol , two black rectangles are separated by a dark blue horizontal line. The rectangles represent the public and criminals, respectively; the blue line separating them is the police.

In another, the blue line replaces the central white stripe in a black-and-white American flag, separating the stars from the stripes below. During the recent anti-police violence protests in Cincinnati, Ohio, officers raised this modified banner outside their station.

police brutality oppression essay

In the “thin blue line” mindset, loyalty to the badge is paramount; reporting excessive force or the use of racial slurs by a colleague is an act of treason. This emphasis on loyalty can create conditions for abuses, even systematic ones, to take place: Officers at one station in Chicago, Illinois, tortured at least 125 Black suspects between 1972 and 1991. These crimes were uncovered by the dogged work of an investigative journalist rather than a police whistleblower.

“Officers, when they get wind that something might be wrong, either participate in it themselves when they’re commanded to — or they actively ignore it, find ways to look the other way,” says Laurence Ralph, a Princeton professor and the author of The Torture Letters , a recent book on the abuses in Chicago.

This insularity and siege mentality is not universal among American police. Worldviews vary from person to person and department to department; many officers are decent people who work hard to get to know citizens and address their concerns.

But it is powerful enough, experts say, to distort departments across the country. It has seriously undermined some recent efforts to reorient the police toward working more closely with local communities, generally pushing departments away from deep engagement with citizens and toward a more militarized and aggressive model.

“The police have been in the midst of an epic ideological battle. It’s been taking place ever since the supposed community policing revolution started back in the 1980s,” says Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. “In the last 10 to 15 years, the more toxic elements have been far more influential.”

Since the George Floyd protests began, police have tear-gassed protesters in 100 different US cities . This is not an accident or the result of behaviors by a few bad apples. Instead, it reflects the fact that officers see themselves as at war — and the protesters as the enemies.

A 2017 study by Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, a sociologist at Colorado State University-Pueblo, examined data on 7,000 protests from 1960 to 1995. She found that “police are much more likely to try to quell protests that criticize police conduct.”

“Recent scholarship argues that, over the last twenty years, protest policing [has gotten] more aggressive and less impartial,” Reynolds-Stenson concludes. “The pattern of disproportionate repression of police brutality protests found in this study may be even more pronounced today.”

There’s a reason that, after New York Police Department Lt. Robert Cattani kneeled alongside Black Lives Matter protesters on May 31, he sent an email to his precinct apologizing for the “horrible decision to give into a crowd of protesters’ demands.” In his mind, the decision to work with the crowd amounted to collaboration with the enemy.

“The cop in me,” Cattani wrote, “wants to kick my own ass.”


Policing in the United States has always been bound up with the color line. In the South, police departments emerged out of 18th century slave patrols — bands of men working to discipline slaves, facilitate their transfer between plantations, and catch runaways. In the North, professional police departments came about as a response to a series of mid-19th century urban upheavals — many of which, like the 1834 New York anti-abolition riot , had their origins in racial strife.

While policing has changed dramatically since then, there’s clear evidence of continued structural racism in American policing. The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has compiled an extensive list of academic studies documenting this fact , covering everything from traffic stops to use of deadly force. Research has confirmed that this is a nationwide problem , involving a significant percentage of officers .

When talking about race in policing and the way it relates to police ideology, there are two related phenomena to think about.

The first is overt racism. In some police departments, the culture permits a minority of racists on the force to commit brutal acts of racial violence with impunity.

Examples of explicit racism abound in police officer conduct. The following three incidents were reported in the past month alone:

  • In leaked audio , Wilmington, North Carolina, officer Kevin Piner said, “we are just going to go out and start slaughtering [Blacks],” adding that he “can’t wait” for a new civil war so whites could “wipe them off the fucking map.” Piner was dismissed from the force, as were two other officers involved in the conversation.
  • Joey Lawn, a 10-year veteran of the Meridian, Mississippi, force, was fired for using an unspecified racial slur against a Black colleague during a 2018 exercise. Lawn’s boss, John Griffith, was demoted from captain to lieutenant for failing to punish Lawn at the time.
  • Four officers in San Jose, California, were put on administrative leave amid an investigation into their membership in a secret Facebook group. In a public post, officer Mark Pimentel wrote that “black lives don’t really matter”; in another private one, retired officer Michael Nagel wrote about female Muslim prisoners: “i say we repurpose the hijabs into nooses.”

In all of these cases, superiors punished officers for their offensive comments and actions — but only after they came to light. It’s safe to say a lot more go unreported.

Last April , a human resources manager in San Francisco’s city government quit after spending two years conducting anti-bias training for the city’s police force. In an exit email sent to his boss and the city’s police chief, he wrote that “the degree of anti-black sentiment throughout SFPD is extreme,” adding that “while there are some at SFPD who possess somewhat of a balanced view of racism and anti-blackness, there are an equal number (if not more) — who possess and exude deeply rooted anti-black sentiments.”

Psychological research suggests that white officers are disproportionately likely to demonstrate a personality trait called “social dominance orientation.” Individuals with high levels of this trait tend to believe that existing social hierarchies are not only necessary, but morally justified — that inequalities reflect the way that things actually should be. The concept was originally formulated in the 1990s as a way of explaining why some people are more likely to accept what a group of researchers termed “ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality,” including “the ideology of anti-Black racism.”

police brutality oppression essay

This helps us understand why some officers are more likely to use force against Black suspects, even unarmed ones. Phillip Atiba Goff, a psychologist at John Jay and the CEO of the Center for Policing Equity think tank, has done forthcoming research on the distribution of social dominance orientation among officers in three different cities. Goff and his co-authors found that white officers who score very highly in this trait tend to use force more frequently than those who don’t.

“If you think the social hierarchy is good, then maybe you’re more willing to use violence from the state’s perspective to enforce that hierarchy — and you think that’s your job,” he tells me.

But while the problem of overt racism and explicit commitment to racial hierarchy is a serious one, it’s not necessarily the central problem in modern policing.

The second manifestation of anti-Blackness is more subtle. The very nature of policing, in which officers perform a dizzying array of stressful tasks for long hours, brings out the worst in people. The psychological stressors combine with police ideology and widespread cultural stereotypes to push officers, even ones who don’t hold overtly racist beliefs, to treat Black people as more suspect and more dangerous. It’s not just the officers who are the problem; it’s the society they come from, and the things that society asks them to do.

While overt racists may be overrepresented on police forces, the average white officer’s beliefs are not all that different from those of the average white person in their local community. According to Goff, tests of racial bias reveal somewhat higher rates of prejudice among officers than the general population, but the effect size tends to be swamped by demographic and regional effects.

“If you live in a racist city, that’s going to matter more for how racist your law enforcement is ... than looking at the difference between law enforcement and your neighbors,” he told me.

In this sense, the rising diversity of America’s officer corps should make a real difference. If you draw from a demographically different pool of recruits, one with overall lower levels of racial bias, then there should be less of a problem with racism on the force.

There’s some data to back this up. Pew’s 2017 survey of officers found that Black officers and female officers were considerably more sympathetic to anti-police brutality protesters than white ones. A 2016 paper on officer-involved killings of Black people, from Yale’s Joscha Legewie and Columbia’s Jeffrey Fagan, found that departments with a larger percentage of Black officers had lower rates of killings of Black people.

But scholars caution that diversity will not, on its own, solve policing’s problems. In Pew’s survey, 60 percent of Hispanic and white officers said their departments had “excellent” or “good” relations with the local Black community, while only 32 percent of Black officers said the same. The hierarchy of policing remains extremely white — across cities, departmental brass and police unions tend to be disproportionately white relative to the rank-and-file. And the existing culture in many departments pushes nonwhite officers to try and fit in with what’s been established by the white hierarchy.

“We have seen that officers of color actually face increased pressure to fit into the existing culture of policing and may go out of their way to align themselves with traditional police tactics,” says Shannon Portillo, a scholar of bureaucratic culture at the University of Kansas-Edwards.

There’s a deeper problem than mere representation. The very nature of policing, both police ideology and the nuts-and-bolts nature of the job, can bring out the worst in people — especially when it comes to deep-seated racial prejudices and stereotypes.

The intersection of commonly held stereotypes with police ideology can prime officers for abusive behavior, especially when they’re patrolling majority-Black neighborhoods where residents have long-standing grievances against the cops. Some kind of incident with a Black citizen is certain to set off a confrontation; officers will eventually feel the need to escalate well beyond what seems necessary or even acceptable from the outside to protect themselves.

“The drug dealer — if he says ‘fuck you’ one day, it’s like getting punked on the playground. You have to go through that every day,” says Moskos, the former Baltimore officer. “You’re not allowed to get punked as a cop, not just because of your ego but because of the danger of it.”

The problems with ideology and prejudice are dramatically intensified by the demanding nature of the policing profession. Officers work a difficult job for long hours, called upon to handle responsibilities ranging from mental health intervention to spousal dispute resolution. While on shift, they are constantly anxious, searching for the next threat or potential arrest.

Stress gets to them even off the job; PTSD and marital strife are common problems. It’s a kind of negative feedback loop: The job makes them stressed and nervous, which damages their mental health and personal relationships, which raises their overall level of stress and makes the job even more taxing.

According to Goff, it’s hard to overstate how much more likely people are to be racist under these circumstances. When you put people under stress, they tend to make snap judgments rooted in their basic instincts. For police officers, raised in a racist society and socialized in a violent work atmosphere, that makes racist behavior inevitable.

“The mission and practice of policing is not aligned with what we know about how to keep people from acting on the kinds of implicit biases and mental shortcuts,” he says. “You could design a job where that’s not how it works. We have not chosen to do that for policing.”

Across the United States, we have created a system that makes disproportionate police targeting of Black citizens an inevitability. Officers don’t need to be especially racist as compared to the general population for discrimination to recur over and over; it’s the nature of the police profession, the beliefs that permeate it, and the situations in which officers find themselves that lead them to act in racist ways.

This reality helps us understand why the current protests have been so forceful: they are an expression of long-held rage against an institution that Black communities experience less as a protection force and more as a sort of military occupation.

police brutality oppression essay

In one landmark project , a team including Yale’s Meares and Hopkins’s Vesla Weaver facilitated more than 850 conversations about policing among residents of six different cities, finding a pervasive sense of police lawlessness among residents of highly policed Black communities.

Residents believe that police see them as subhuman or animal, that interactions with officers invariably end with arrests and/or physical assaults, and that the Constitution’s protections against police abuse don’t apply to Black people.

“[It’s often said that] if you don’t have anything on you, just agree to a search and everything will be okay. Let me tell you, that’s not what happens,” Weaver tells me, summarizing the beliefs of her research subjects. “What actually happens is that you’re bound to get beat up, you’re bound to get dragged to the station. The police can search you for whatever. We don’t get due process, we don’t get restitution — this is what we live by.”

Police don’t treat whole communities like this because they’re born worse or more evil than civilians. It’s better to understand the majority of officers as ordinary Americans who are thrown into a system that conditions them to be violent and to treat Black people, in particular, as the enemy. While some departments are better than others at ameliorating this problem, there’s not a city in the country that appears to have solved it entirely.

Rizer summarizes the problem by telling me about one new officer’s experience in Baltimore.

“This was a great young man,” Rizer says. “He joined the Baltimore Police Department because he wanted to make a difference.”

Six months after this man graduated from the academy, Rizer checked in on him to see how he was doing. It wasn’t good.

“They’re animals. All of them,” Rizer recalls the young officer telling him. “The cops, the people I patrol, everybody. They’re just fucking animals.”

This man was, in Rizer’s mind, “the embodiment of what a good police officer should have been.” Some time after their conversation, he quit the force — pushed out by a system that takes people in and breaks them, on both sides of the law.

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police brutality oppression essay

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The Culture of Policing Is Broken

Brutality and dehumanization are deeply embedded in many departments.

police brutality oppression essay

I t’s one of the most remarkable poll results of the current moment. From May 29 to June 2, a Wall Street Journal /NBC News poll asked voters whether they were more troubled by the actions of the police and the death of George Floyd, or by protests that had turned violent. By a more than two-to-one margin, they said they were more troubled by the actions of the police.

This is not how Americans reacted to the riots of 1968, when they swung to Richard Nixon’s law-and-order message. This is not how they reacted to the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992. Something is different in America. In that WSJ /NBC News poll, 80 percent of respondents said they think the country is spiraling “out of control,” and people are more worried by police than by protesters.

James Fallows: Is this the worst year in modern American history?

This is not the only poll question that reveals a seismic shift in public opinion in recent years. After a grand jury didn’t indict the officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014, only 33 percent of Americans felt that police were more likely to use excessive force against black people than against white people. Now, after George Floyd was killed in 2020, 57 percent of Americans believe that. According to a June Monmouth University poll, 76 percent of Americans now think racism and discrimination are “a big problem,” up 25 points since 2015. In January 2018, more registered voters said they opposed Black Lives Matter than said they supported it. Now supporters outnumber opponents by a 26-point margin.

What has shifted?

The killings of the past few years and the Black Lives Matter movement, which has arisen in response to them, have given all Americans an education in the systematic mistreatment of black people by police forces across the country. Videos of police brutality are washing across everyone’s phones: videos of cops running over young women with police horses, pushing down old white men for no reason, rushing into crowds of peaceful demonstrators, and raining blows on young people and reporters. Videos that show the deadness in the eyes of an officer as he kicks a young woman in the face, a woman who is just sitting there peacefully on the street.

Where does this brutality come from? And what can we do about it?

Two theories are now dominating public debate. The first sees the problem on the individual level. There are a number of “bad apples” in every police force—authoritarian, racist bullies who take pleasure in pummeling defenseless black men. We need to take away union protections, increase sanctions,  remove them from the force, and prosecute them when appropriate.

The second theory sees the problem on the systemic level. There’s something inherently oppressive about neighborhoods being ruled by men and women with guns, batons, and mace. In a systemically racist society, the use of force in that way is bound to be unjust. We need to “defund the police” and try softer, more communal models.

Both theories contain some truth. Some cops, like George Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, rack up a lot of complaints and infractions. It’s also true that over the course of American history, law enforcement has constantly been used to enforce racial hierarchy. Police brutality reflects the legacy of racial lynchings, and some of the habits of mind that are still embedded in American society and in its police departments.

Adam Serwer: Trump gave police permission to be brutal

But the evidence suggests that the bulk of the problem is on a different level, neither individual or systemic. The problem lies in the organizational cultures of some police forces. In the forces with an us-versus-the-world siege mentality. In the ones with the we-strap-on-the-armor-and-fight culture, the ones who depersonalize the human beings out on the street. All cruelty begins with dehumanization—not seeing the face of the other, not seeing the whole humanity of the other.  A cultural regime of dehumanization has been constructed in many police departments. In that fertile ground, racial biases can spread and become entrenched. But the regime can be deconstructed.

M any people go into policing because they are idealistic. A study of NYPD recruits found that one of their most common motivations was the “opportunity to help people in the community.” In 2015, a group of researchers led by the police psychologist Daniel M. Blumberg studied police recruits, using what they called the “integrity scale” to measure honesty, trustworthiness, and incorruptibility. The police recruits scored higher on average than the college students who had participated in earlier studies. As Blumberg wrote in a later paper, “Law enforcement agencies generally do not hire ‘bad apples,’” because of their rigorous screening of recruits.

Then they enter training, where a core theme is that it’s a threatening world out there. Recruits are told that a guy with a knife 21 feet away can run up and stab you before you have the chance to draw your gun. Even when your gun is drawn on someone with his back turned, he can pivot and pull his trigger before you have the chance to fire. Recruits listen to the desperate radio cries of officers killed in the line of duty, and the message is: Don’t ever let this happen to you . When in doubt, as the saying goes, it is “better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.”

About 70 percent of police officers say they have never fired their gun while on the job, but on average, 71 hours of their training are devoted to firearm skills and 60 hours to self-defense, according to a 2013 Bureau of Justice report, while only 43 hours are spent on community-policing measures, such as cultural-diversity training, human relations, mediation, and conflict management.

Annie Lowrey: Defund the police

Many training programs take recruits out of civilian life and put them in a boot-camp atmosphere. Years on the job have a tendency to reinforce this separation. I left the University of Chicago to become a police reporter on the South Side of that city. The first thing I learned, during that brief stint, was that the detectives in the Chicago Police Department were just as intelligent as the professors back at school. The second thing I learned is that cops have a profound sense of service, but have to spend their days among people who are at their worst moment, and often among individuals when they are at their worst—responding to domestic violence, rape, drug dealing, and murder.

“Because police officers are frequently exposed to traumatic events such as death, being shot at, and physical assault, rates of PTSD among police officers have been reported to be as high as 15 percent," the epidemiologist Erin McCanlies and her co-authors wrote in a 2017 paper. The pressures are intense. Though quotas are illegal in some states, many cops are urged by their superiors to ramp up their production—issuing more tickets and making more arrests. Officers are also encouraged to respond to calls more swiftly. Constant hyper-vigilance and stress become the background tone of life.

The organizational culture of their departments too often turns them into street warriors, occupying soldiers. Decades ago, the social scientist James Q. Wilson wrote that there are three types of police officer: the watchman, the legalist, and the service provider. Today there’s a fourth, the gladiator.

In the videos, we saw cops armored in riot gear. American law-enforcement agencies have acquired billions of dollars in surplus equipment, including bayonets and grenade launchers.

Casey Delehanty, Ryan Welch, Jack Mewhirter, and Jason Wilks have studied the relationship between militarization and public safety. In The Washington Post , Mewhirter and Welch wrote about their findings: “When a county goes from receiving no military equipment to $2,539,767 worth (the largest figure that went to one agency in our data), more than twice as many civilians are likely to die in that county the following year.” Problems are more likely to be seen as acts of war. The person on the other side of the equipment is rendered less visible.

We’re tracing the etiology of dehumanization here, the gradual closing-off of natural sympathy between one person and another. Almost all cops resist this pressure most of the time, and we owe them our respect, honor, and gratitude. Many of us know warm and compassionate police officers, who have rejected the worst parts of their environment—but the cultural pressures are there, nonetheless.

Some organizational cultures take a final few steps to instill a depersonalized worldview: The use of jargon, nicknames, insults, and euphemisms, all the linguistic tricks people use when they want to achieve moral distance from their surroundings and turn off the personal lens. The collective repression of emotion—the masks of cynicism, constant irony, and dark humor that groups adopt together. Cultural norms encourage officers to ignore their own vulnerability.

Then there is the constant presence of unacknowledged fear. As Seth Stoughton, a University of South Carolina law professor, wrote in The Atlantic in 2014, police officers “shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.” They’re in somebody else’s space. They don’t know what onlookers are going to do. They often feel like they are desperately trying to impose order on chaos.

And so, in moments like the ones we’ve been witnessing in the past weeks, it all becomes us-versus-them. Some officers no longer see a human being. They see a perp.

Even hiring a diverse police force is no panacea. A 2016 Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore Police Department found consistent racially biased policing, in a force where, in 2015, more than 40 percent of the cops were African American. The problem lay not only in the minds of individual police officers, but also in the culture of the departments into which the officers entered.

Rosa Brooks: Stop training police like they’re joining the military

We all construct reality according to the way we see the world. If the culture around you induces you to see others not as fully human, but as objects, that’s how you’re going to see them. Cops are human, and live on the jagged edges of a society that has deep racial disparities. The social construction of the reality too many officers inhabit is a core problem here—when the woman sitting cross-legged on the street is not a daughter or a sister, when the man on the ground is not a Christian or a neighbor—some officers start to see them as just objects they can kick or crush.

T hree lines of reform have been popping up these days. The first and most famous is “defund the police.” This means different things, many of them quite sensible, to different people. But if it means reducing police spending so there are fewer cops around, it will not happen, and it will not help.

Over the decades, Americans have consistently said they want more police officers. A 2019 Civis Analytics poll for Vox found that 60 percent of African Americans, 65 percent of Latinos, and 74 percent of whites would like to see an increased number of police officers in high-crime areas. In 2015, just after the protests in response to Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, Gallup asked Americans whether they would prefer to see a larger police presence in their neighborhood or a smaller one. Thirty-eight percent of African Americans said they would like to see a larger police presence, 51 percent said they wanted no change, and only 10 percent said they wanted a smaller police presence.

Fewer cops does not mean less brutality. Officers often use force more when they are tired. A 2017 study of the Sheriff’s Department in King County, in Washington State, found that if an officer works four additional hours of overtime in a week, the odds that he or she will discharge a firearm the following week rise by 15.2 percent. If you have fewer tired officers working longer shifts with more overtime, you will have more incidents. And, as Matt Yglesias has argued in Vox , research clearly shows that the presence of more cops leads to less crime, fewer police stops, a reduced likelihood of abuse when stops do occur, and less incarceration.

The other, more promising reforms involve changing procedures during an encounter and building a community-rooted police force in the first place. It’s striking how much procedural changes can achieve. Las Vegas police worked with the Center for Policing Equity, co-founded by the psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff, to examine the department’s use of force. Their study led to a new policy, mandating that in a foot chase the officer leading the chase would not be the first person to lay hands on the suspect. That alone produced a 23 percent reduction in total use of force and an 11 percent reduction in officer injury. One study found that police departments that banned chokeholds and strangleholds experienced a 22 percent reduction in the rate of police killings.

Read: Who will hold the police accountable?

But the big thing is changing the organizational culture of departments. It’s interesting that states with the highest numbers of police shootings per capita are in the West, where the gun ethos is more common: New Mexico, Alaska, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada. The states with the lowest rates are in the East: Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Culture is invisible but all-determining. The police forces that have done well in reducing crime do not train their officers to see themselves as superheroes attacking bad guys. They have a stronger community-service ethos. Camden, New Jersey, became something of a model for reformers a few years ago when the entire police department was disbanded. It was replaced with a county-level agency less encumbered by union rules, which then hired more cops—411 officers, up from 250—and moved them out of their cars and back to walking the beats. Newark has handled the past few weeks reasonably well in part because it has not militarized its force, but also because in 2014, the city created the Newark Community Street Team, consisting of community leaders who take a public-health approach to violence and, in moments of tension, work to prevent looting and violence.

The relational things that are soft and squishy are actually hard and practical. And there’s evidence that this approach has been spreading over the years. In New York City, the NYPD has managed to dramatically reduce the number of shots fired each year. Police officers fired 1,292 bullets in 1996. By 2018, that number was down to 136. In 2014, 64 unarmed black people were killed by police and in 2015, 78 were. But in 2018 and 2019, 28 unarmed black people were killed each year. The pressure brought by Black Lives Matter, and the reforms that police departments are instituting in response, is having an effect.

Even the best police reforms can't erase the poison of racism in American society. But the changes in public opinion over the past three weeks have been astounding. Changing a culture, in the nation and in its police departments, is usually slow and necessary work. But norms can shift gradually and then all at once, and when they do, the effects can be historic.

Essay on Police Brutality

There are a lot of challenges facing the police management hence affecting the enforcement of the law altogether. There are challenges from recruitment, retention, use of force, i.e., police brutality, among many others. These have necessitated the policy change in the management to embrace the pillars of training, supervision, discipline, policy, and people. This means to be successful, the system must maintain good people, good policy, and have enough training for the police department. There should be proper supervision of workers and discipline when the policy is broken. This paper will focus on police brutality and how it can be addressed as an issue in the criminal justice system. This issue has brought several debates in the United States in recent years hence become a big menace that needs to be addressed.

Police Brutality

Police brutality is whereby law enforcement uses force in an unwarranted and excessive manner. These are extreme forms of misconduct and a violation of civil rights. Police brutality can include verbal abuse, physical harm, property damage, lack of action by police to a crime, and in extreme cases, death. (Reiss,1972). Most marginalized communities see the police as oppression rather than people meant to shield them from harm in American society. This is due to the many deaths of people from minority groups. (Mary D,1995). Police officers are only supposed to use a certain amount of force, changing according to the situation. It is not following the law for a police officer to use excessive force. Various departments worldwide have taken it upon themselves to understand why police use too much pressure on people.

One cause of police violence is the gradual sense of authority among law enforcers that makes them think they are above the law. The violence can also be influenced by past traumatic experiences on duty that may lead them to act roughly. It has also been established that some police officers are psychopaths who have no leniency hence use excessive force. The brutality can also be attributed to the deployment of young and inexperienced staff who tend to make mistakes while on duty (Schrivner &Oskamp,1994). There are also pressures to adjust and follow what is commonly known as the police culture, e.g., the Blue code. Blue Code is the term used to show the code of silence among police officers even when a fellow officer has committed a crime. They use these informal codes to help them cover police brutality. The use of force continuum guides police on the amount of force to use when a suspect is not cooperating. However, violence used by police is often not unlawful despite the law allowing it.

Some officers result to vigilantism whereby they believe that a criminal deserves more punishment than what they have received from the government. They feel that it is in their place to execute more sentences which results in police brutality. (Chevigny,1969).

It is, therefore, necessary to eliminate police brutality within law enforcement. This requires proper training and sensitizing the officers to use a minimum amount of force. This can be done by using the code of conduct, such as good stewardship, to enforce its usage. There are numerous issues found in policing as they engage in unethical behaviors. It is a result of practices in the organizational culture. It is thus necessary for police at an individual level to have accountability and ethics. By applying good ethics and rejecting unethical behavior by their colleagues, they can drive morality to the police culture.

The ability to recruit and retain qualified law enforcement officers at all levels has been the biggest challenge in the management of the law enforcement unit. A study done showed that police officers from large cities in the United States such as Chicago, New York, and San Fransico reported that most police officers were leaving the department within their first few months in office. Many of them were taking jobs from other areas. They attributed these to a lack of local support. The effects of police brutality can be felt in various sectors such as health, economy, race, and minority groups. Police brutality that involves the use of too much force can result in the death of n individual.

The victims of police brutality suffer many effects due to the action. They vary from Post Traumatic disorder, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, and depression. Whenever the victims of police brutality take the issues to court, they often use too many resources and sometimes do not win over the demoralizing cases. The act of police brutality has also been used to fuel racism. Most of these brutal incidents happen to African American people, which steers much hate towards the white police.

A good example is the George Floyd incident in who was murdered by the police in march 2020 (Oriola & Knight,2020). It brought about many protests from the black community justice. The claims were that the police were killing people of color hence racial bias.

Some of the ways to streamline the police department on issues of police brutality include changing the terms of the use of force. Most police departments have been forced to change their use of force rule. For instance, after George Floyd’s death by neck restraint, and the chokehold has been banned in New York City have been forced to rewrite their policies and compel other officers to intervene when there is excessive use of force.

Another way to curb police brutality would be to defund the police. Many people suggest that the funds can be reduced and directed to other areas of the community, such as health and education. The next step would be to dismantle the police. It was to create a new task force that is ready and willing to work under the code of conduct. Others suggest that in the future, it would have been necessary to have a police-free society. It means that anybody ranging from doctors, social workers, religious leaders can do the work of the police. It is believed to reduce the risk of police brutality.

The police also need to be held accountable for their mistakes, i.e., police the police. Those that publicly propagate racist ideas should be fired. Many police work in a closed system whereby if one commits a gross offense, the others have their back. Hence when one has no video evidence on any brutality incident, it becomes hard for criminals to prove. Many people are pushing for police to wear body cameras to record their interactions with the police. However, this might not be effective as body cameras might be shut off during severe incidents. Hence, citizens are urged to record and expose any acts of brutality by the police.

More often than not, citizens who sue the police for excessive force have their cases thrown out due to a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity. The government put the immunity to protect government employees from lawsuits and gives officers a pass if they had no previous record of misconduct. These should be revisited, and police who commit dire atrocities should face the law too.

With increased incidences of police brutality, it is important to recommend the de-escalation of force. De-escalation is how police apply different mechanisms to stop excessive use of force during law enforcement (Todak & James,2018). Such strategies enable both the police and the victims to agree and collaborate. Some factors may influence the ability to de-escalate. They include barriers in communication, i.e., language, poor mental judgment, alcohol and substance abuse, medical conditions, behavior disorder, and disability. Officers are advised to establish boundaries with the target who is uncooperative while carrying out disciplinary measures. They can use subtle body language, alert the victim, ensure they advertise their closeness to the target to protect the person and to enhance visibility.

De-escalation has proved to be very efficient in law enforcement as it has in the greater society. Courts have played a big role in ensuring that police officers adhere to the rules and guidelines set while de-escalating. In order for Descalation to be established, proper preparation, monitoring, and execution should be maintained. Police brutality has been protested by African American citizens and other minority groups who have claimed it has affected them dearly. It is evident in movements such as black lives matter, which protests against police brutality and racial violence. The efforts by the United States to have good stewardship towards law enforcement and the criminal justice system have paid. As good stewards, the police accept the role of serving and nurturing their communities. Ethically, police need to understand that values and principles guide them. They should be committed to serving in fairness and social responsibility. They should also be omitted to do the common good of the community.

In conclusion. there is still a long way to go when it comes to police reforms. There is a need for quality training that will serve as a moral compass for law enforcement. There is also a need to run background checks to ascertain who is being hired and suitable for their position. Lastly, it is important to adopt a wellness program for officers related to suicide prevention, mental health awareness, stress management, among other support needed. More training needs to be done to meet the demand for police reforms

Chevigny, P. (1969). Police power: police abuses in New York City (p. 132). New York: Pantheon Books.

Oriola, T. B., & Knight, W. A. (2020). COVID-19, George Floyd, and human security.

Reiss, A. J. (1972). Police Brutality? (pp. 456-476). Columbia University Press.

Scrivener, E., Costanzo, M., & Oskamp, S. (1994). Police brutality. In Violence and the Law: Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications (pp. 181-202).

Todak, N., & James, L. (2018). A systematic social observation study of police de-escalation tactics. Police Quarterly, 21(4), 509-543.

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Supreme Court allows Texas to enforce immigration law

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed Texas to enforce for now a contentious new law  that gives local police the power to arrest migrants.

The conservative-majority court, with three liberal justices dissenting, rejected an emergency request by the Biden administration, which said states have no authority to legislate on immigration , an issue the federal government has sole authority over.

That means the law can go into effect while litigation continues in lower courts. It could be blocked at a later date.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, hailed the court order , calling it "clearly a positive development," though he acknowledged that the legal battle is not over.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that the law "will not only make communities in Texas less safe, it will also burden law enforcement and sow chaos and confusion at our southern border."

An aerial view of migrants crossing the Rio Grande.

“The court gives a green light to a law that will upend the longstanding federal-state balance of power and sow chaos,” liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion. Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson also objected to the decision.

The majority did not explain its reasoning, but one of the conservative justices, Amy Coney Barrett, wrote separately to note that an appeals court has yet to weigh in on the issue.

"If a decision does not issue soon, the applicants may return to this court," she wrote. Her opinion was joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

In response to the Supreme Court order, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals fast-tracked oral arguments on the Biden administration’s effort to block the law. Arguments are set to take place Wednesday morning, meaning a decision could come quickly.

The law in question, known as SB4, allows police to arrest migrants who illegally cross the border from Mexico and imposes criminal penalties. It would also empower state judges to order people to be deported to Mexico.

A top Mexico official said Tuesday in a statement on X that the country will not accept deportations from Texas.

According to a spokesperson for the Texas Department for Public Safety, there is no start date yet for enforcement of the law. Lt. Chris Olivarez said that state officials have been planning for its implementation for months, but they’re still discussing some practical details.

In Val Verde County on the U.S.-Mexico border, Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez said his small force, with three deputies on duty around the clock for a 3,145 square mile county of 47,586 people, will not start arresting migrants until he receives guidance from the state.

“I think that we all are in uncharted waters,” he said Tuesday.

He said not only is he not sure how and when to initiate enforcement of the state law, but that he will likely need more deputies and jail space if tasked with the new enforcement initiative. The county jail has a daily capacity of 94, Martinez said.“Right now we’re not equipped to handle that,” he said.

The dispute is the latest clash between the Biden administration and Texas over immigration enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a separate opinion, Kagan wrote that the Texas law appears to conflict with federal law, noting that "the subject of immigration generally, and the entry and removal of noncitizens particularly, are matters long thought the special province of the federal government."

A federal judge blocked the law after the Biden administration sued, but the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a brief order that it could go into effect March 10 if the Supreme Court declined to intervene. The appeals court has not yet decided whether to grant the federal government's request to block the law.

On March 4, Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary freeze on the law to give the Supreme Court time to consider the federal government’s request.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said in court papers that the law is “flatly inconsistent” with Supreme Court precedent dating back 100 years.

“Those decisions recognize that the authority to admit and remove noncitizens is a core responsibility of the national government, and that where Congress has enacted a law addressing those issues, state law is preempted,” she wrote.

The appeals court, Prelogar added, did not explain its reasoning for allowing the law to go into effect.

She dismissed Texas’ argument that its law can be defended on the basis that the state is effectively battling an invasion at the border under the State War Clause of the Constitution. The provision says states cannot “engage in war, unless actually invaded” or in imminent danger.

“A surge of unauthorized immigration plainly is not an invasion within the meaning of the State War Clause,” Prelogar wrote.

Defending the law, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in court papers that the measure complements federal law and the state should be allowed to enforce it.

The Constitution “recognizes that Texas has the sovereign right to defend itself from violent transnational cartels that flood the state with fentanyl, weapons, and all manner of brutality,” he added.

Texas is “the nation’s first-line defense against transnational violence and has been forced to deal with the deadly consequences of the federal government’s inability or unwillingness to protect the border,” Paxton said.

The city of El Paso and two immigrant rights groups, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and American Gateways, have also challenged the law and filed their own emergency request at the Supreme Court.

In 2012, the Supreme Court invalidated provisions of a tough immigration law enacted in Arizona. Only two of the justices who were in the majority in that case are still on the court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Sotomayor.

police brutality oppression essay

Lawrence Hurley covers the Supreme Court for NBC News.

police brutality oppression essay

Russia establishes special site to fabricate fuel for China’s CFR-600


A special production site to fabricate fuel for China’s CFR-600 fast reactor under construction has been established at Russia’s Mashinostroitelny Zavod (MSZ - Machine-Building Plant) in Elektrostal (Moscow region), part of Rosatom’s TVEL Fuel Company. 

As part of the project, MSZ had upgraded existing facilities fo the production of fuel for fast reactors, TVEL said on 3 March. Unique equipment has been created and installed, and dummy CFR-600 fuel assemblies have already been manufactured for testing.

The new production site was set up to service an export contract between TVEL and the Chinese company CNLY (part of China National Nuclear Corporation - CNNC) for the supply of uranium fuel for CFR-600 reactors. Construction of the first CFR-600 unit started in Xiapu County, in China's Fujian province in late 2017 followed by the second unit in December 2020. The contract is for the start-up fuel load, as well as refuelling for the first seven years. The start of deliveries is scheduled for 2023.

“The Russian nuclear industry has a unique 40 years of experience in operating fast reactors, as well as in the production of fuel for such facilities,” said TVEL President Natalya Nikipelova. “The Fuel Division of Rosatom is fulfilling its obligations within the framework of Russian-Chinese cooperation in the development of fast reactor technologies. These are unique projects when foreign design fuel is produced in Russia. Since 2010, the first Chinese fast neutron reactor CEFR has been operating on fuel manufactured at the Machine-Building Plant, and for the supply of CFR-600 fuel, a team of specialists from MSZ and TVEL has successfully completed a complex high-tech project to modernise production,” she explained.

A special feature of the new section is its versatility: this equipment will be used to produce fuel intended for both the Chinese CFR-600 and CEFR reactors and the Russian BN-600 reactor of the Beloyarsk NPP. In the near future, the production of standard products for the BN-600 will begin.

The contract for the supply of fuel for the CFR-600 was signed in December 2018 as part of a governmental agreement between Russia and China on cooperation in the construction and operation of a demonstration fast neutron reactor in China. This is part of a wider comprehensive programme of cooperation in the nuclear energy sector over the coming decades. This includes serial construction of the latest Russian NPP power units with generation 3+ VVER-1200 reactors at two sites in China (Tianwan and Xudabao NPPs). A package of intergovernmental documents and framework contracts for these projects was signed in 2018 during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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police brutality oppression essay

Settlement in Suffolk police misconduct case where Kenny Lazo, of Bay Shore, died in custody, court document shows

An undated family photograph of Kenny Lazo and his son,...

An undated family photograph of Kenny Lazo and his son, Kenny Lazo, Jr. Credit: Handout

Suffolk County and the family of a Bay Shore man fatally beaten by police following a 2008 traffic stop have agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the deceased’s estate, court papers filed Wednesday in federal court in Central Islip show.

A jury awarded the family of Kenny Lazo $35 million in August following a three-week trial in the Eastern District of New York, and Suffolk officials appealed the verdict, arguing in a motion filed in November that the evidence did not justify the verdict. The motion asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven L. Tiscione to reject the verdict or schedule a new trial.

In a letter jointly submitted to Tiscione on Wednesday with lawyers for Lazo's family, the county told Tiscione that a “proposed settlement agreement has been reached.”

Details of the settlement were not disclosed in the letter. Lazo estate attorney Frederick K. Brewington did not return a request for comment. Michael Martino, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine, declined to comment on the litigation.

The settlement must be approved by the Ways and Means Committee of the Suffolk County Legislature, according to the letter, which also said “certain terms are still being discussed.” The committee is scheduled to review and vote on the proposed settlement on April 4.

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The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Lazo’s family in 2009 argued that Suffolk police and county officials conducted sham investigations to avoid accountability. It said the officers used excessive force when they beat Lazo with their fists and heavy flashlights and stopped his blue Cadillac without cause. The civil trial provided a rare inside look at alleged brutality cases in the county. Investigations are conducted by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, and the results are rarely made public.

The lawsuit eventually went to trial last summer, more than 14 years after it was filed. Officials said the officers stopped Lazo’s Cadillac after they watched him participate in a drug transaction. They said he was combative when they tried to take him into custody, endangering officers’ lives as he struggled with them while vehicles sped dangerously by on the busy parkway.

The lawsuit named Suffolk, its police department, five police officers and others as defendants. Thirty-six injuries were found on Lazo’s head, neck, torso and other body parts, Brewington told the jury during his closing argument.

An autopsy conducted by the Suffolk County medical examiner determined Lazo had died from cardiac arrest “following exertion associated with prolonged physical altercation from multiple blunt impacts.” The autopsy also concluded that obesity was a factor in Lazo’s death.

Attorneys for the county argued in the November appeal papers that the officers named as defendants enjoyed qualified immunity from such lawsuits. They also said Tiscione had prejudiced the case by denying the defendants’ motion to schedule a trial for the officers first, and then a trial for the county and the police department.

Evidence of previous misconduct by officers would be admissible in a case involving the police department and the county, but would be barred if the claims against the officers were tried separately. Trying the officers with the county and the department, the motion said, prejudiced the jury.

In a response filed in late February, Brewington and attorney Scott Korenbaum said the plaintiffs presented more than enough evidence to prove that cops used excessive force and falsely arrested Lazo. Their papers said the defendants have been the subjects of dozens of complaints and lawsuits alleging misconduct, but they were never held accountable.

One defendant, William Judge, was never interviewed by internal affairs, despite seven complaints. Defendant John Newton, the papers said, was the subject of 20 complaints, and was also never interviewed by internal affairs.

The evidence at the trial prompted the jury to ask Tiscione if they could make a statement, the court papers filed last week said. Tiscione declined but told the jurors they were free to speak to the media after they left the federal courthouse in Central Islip.

“Upon review of the evidence, we the jury feel strongly that the policies and practices of the Suffolk County Police Department should be better enforced to protect and serve the community,” the statement said. “The failure to properly train, retrain and/or discipline officers directly led to this unfortunate situation. Our hope is that actual change comes from this verdict.”

With Vera Chinese

Michael O'Keeffe covers Suffolk County police and other Long Island law enforcement agencies. He is an award-winning journalist and the co-author of two books, "The Card" and "American Icon."

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The Issues of Racial Profiling, Police Brutality, and Racism in The United States

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