The Excessive Use of Force Against People of Color and the Lack of Accountability by Law Enforcement
There have been many protests over the death of George Floyd both in this country and now even globally. I believe these protests are not really just about George Floyd, but how his death represents the straw that broke the camels back. There is a lack of accountability by law enforcement when excessive use of force becomes lethal.
Use of Force Escalation
It should be noted, there are no uniform set of rules or tactics for the use of force across this entire nation. The rules of force and associated training are based on the policies of the given police departments and jurisdiction.
In the field, it is a subjective matter strictly based on how the officers feels about the situation at any given moment in time. It can start out peacefully, but depending on how well the person complies with the officers' commands, it can escalate to being lethal.
As an example, one of the policies that is used in high crime rate areas is to increase the number of traffic stops for minor violations or perceived violations. It usually starts out peacefully, but the use of force is escalated based on how compliant the suspect is acting. If the suspect is not complying with the officer's commands, they can escalate the use of force until it becomes lethal as in the case of George Floyd.
Below is a typical use of force reference guide. It should be noted, it is typical and not all law enforcement uses the same guide, but they are all similar as to how they are managed. It starts at the bottom level with Perceived Subject Actions, Threat Perception Categories, and Cooperative Controls and continues to escalate vertically until it reaches the top at which point the officer uses deadly force.
An example of a use-of-force continuum
- Officer Presence — No force is used. Considered the best way to resolve a situation.
- The mere presence of a law enforcement officer works to deter crime or diffuse a situation.
- Officers' attitudes are professional and nonthreatening.
- Verbalization — Force is not-physical.
- Officers issue calm, nonthreatening commands, such as "Let me see your identification and registration."
- Officers may increase their volume and shorten commands in an attempt to gain compliance. Short commands might include "Stop," or "Don't move."
- Empty-Hand Control — Officers use bodily force to gain control of a situation.
- Soft technique. Officers use grabs, holds and joint locks to restrain an individual.
- Hard technique. Officers use punches and kicks to restrain an individual.
- Less-Lethal Methods — Officers use less-lethal technologies to gain control of a situation.
- Blunt impact. Officers may use a baton or projectile to immobilize a combative person.
- Chemical. Officers may use chemical sprays or projectiles embedded with chemicals to restrain an individual (e.g., pepper spray).
- Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs). Officers may use CEDs to immobilize an individual. CEDs discharge a high-voltage, low-amperage jolt of electricity at a distance.
- Lethal Force — Officers use lethal weapons to gain control of a situation. Should only be used if a suspect poses a serious threat to the officer or another individual.
- Officers use deadly weapons such as firearms to stop an individual's actions.
Source - National Institute of Justice
Victims and Lack of Accountability of Officers
It is important to note that in the chronology below, almost all of the victims were stopped for minor violations. Also, in almost every case, the officer or shooter, was never acquitted. This is because of the insular and protective effect of the criminal justice system for police officers involved in black shootings. The police criminal justice system is organized in such a way that they investigate themselves when there is a charge filed against the officers or the department. If you do not want to read the details of each incident, it is recommended that you just read the date and the name of the person.
(Source- excerpts from Don Lemon's CNN special - I can't breath, black men living and dying in America)
February 2012-Trayvon Martin a 17-year-old African-American, Fatally shot in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman acquitted of all charges.
July 2014 – Eric Garner suspected of selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. Died of Asthma caused by Officer's Choke hold. No indictment; Officer Pantaleo was fired five years later on August 19, 2019.
August 9, 2014 - Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by 28-year-old white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the city of Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was accompanied by his 22-year-old friend Dorian Johnson. Darren Wilson was never indicted.
October 20, 2014- Laquan McDonald - a 17-year-old black male armed with a knife—was shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke as McDonald was running away from the Officer. Van Dyke was sentenced to 10 years in prison for 2nd degree murder.
November 22, 2014 Tamir Rice, a 12-year old African-American boy, was fatally shot in Cleveland, Ohio by Timothy Loehmann, a 26-year-old police officer. Rice was carrying a toy replica of an Airsoft gun; Loehmann shot him almost immediately after arriving on the scene. Loehman was fired from the force for not filling out an application properly that had nothing to do with Tamir Rice, but not for the killing of Tamir Rice.
April 4, 2015 - Walter Scott A daytime traffic stop for a non-functioning brake light was made by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer. Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by Slager who was then sentenced to 20 years in prison.
April 12, 2015 - Freddie Carlos Gray Jr., a 25-year-old black man, was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department and subsequently charged for possessing a knife. While being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and was taken to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center where he died in a coma by a spinal injury as a result of face-down rough ride in the van. None of the officers were convicted.
July 13, 2015 - Sandra Bland - a 28-year-old African American woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a pretextual traffic stop. Her death was ruled a suicide. No one was charged.
July 6, 2016 - Philando Castile, a 32-year-old African American man, was stopped while driving and fatally shot by Jeronimo Yanez, a 29-year-old Hispanic-American police officer from St. Anthony, Minnesota. Even though there were charges: Second-degree manslaughter, Two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. Yanez was not found guilty.
September 6, 2018 - Botham Jean was fatally shot by off-duty Dallas Police Department patrol officer Amber Guyger when she entered the Dallas, Texas, apartment of 26-year-old accountant him. Guyger said that she had entered the apartment believing it was her own and that she shot Jean believing he was a burglar. She was found guilty of murder and received 10 years in prison.
March 13, 2020 - Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African American woman, was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers. Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, Detective Brett Hankison, and Detective Myles Cosgrove when they entered her apartment in plainclothes in Louisville, Kentucky, while serving a "no-knock warrant" She was suspected of association with drug trafficking operations. Charges are still pending for the officers.
February 23, 2020 - Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year old African America male was shot and killed by the McMichael’s (father and son), while jogging in his neighborhood. The father and son believed he fit the description of a person who was suspected of burglary in the area.
They took the law into their own hands based on Georgia law for a citizens’ arrest. They both have been arrested, including a third member. The outcome is still under investigation after a five-month delay caused by internal conflicts of interest. The case is being remanded to the Georgia grand jury for further investigation.
May 25, 2020 - George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street. The autopsy indicated Floyd died of “asphyxia due to neck and back compression” and that Floyd died at the scene where Minneapolis police detained and restrained him. All officers involved have been indicted. The case is under investigation.
Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)
"The FOP is the nation’s largest police association, boasting more than 300,000 members belonging to its 2,000 or so local chapters—some of which are unions and others which are simply fraternal organizations. There’s also a national FOP that lobbies on various issues pertaining to law enforcement and labor.
The FOP’s national leadership consists of seven white men. Such a lack of diversity is striking in an organization that claims 30 percent of its members are officers of color. And many local chapters appear to be run by white cops—even in cities with police forces that are predominantly of color.
Perhaps the biggest gift was delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in person at the FOP’s annual convention in August. Sessions was the event’s keynote speaker and announced there that Trump would sign an executive order restoring the 1033 program, which gives local police departments surplus military equipment including bayonets, tanks, and grenade launchers. "We have your back and you have our thanks," Sessions told the crowd. According to news reports, the audience reacted “with roaring cheers.”
The police union is a nation-wide collective bargaining organization, but not like a regular labor union. They bargain with city officials and other legal entities for officers who need legal representation and protection, including the following types of bargaining.
- Legal representation
- Delays in statements about potential officers violation of the law
- Not showing selected taped video footage that my be incriminating towards the officer
- Allowing collaboration with other officers to keep their stories straight
- Giving more leeway to officers in shootings situations to protect them from legal actions.
Protests are good, but congress as well as state and local lawmakers should convene hearings on racial bias in the FOP and Police Unions to better understand organizations that operates with little transparency but are so heavily embedded in the influencing of the system of policing.
Additionally, civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the ACLU should target them as a barrier to police accountability. Community organizations and activists should make it clear to their local police departments that citizens will never have confidence in officers who belong to groups who appear so hostile towards civil rights.
Having said all of this, history has shown, it is still difficult to penetrate the symbiotic relationship of legal protection entities and politicians at the local, state, and federal government levels.
Currently, we are hearing about defunding police departments. But I don't think that is the answer. After doing the research, I think proper training in both anger management and how to deescalate the excessive use of force to prevent unnecessary deaths is needed.
Also people of color, should comply with the officer's commands, just so the use of force does not escalate out of control. I know that is difficult to do when it seems a person is being detained for minor violations, but it may save lives in the long run.
Thank you for reading this article. I know it was long, but it may bring more insight into the complex nature of law enforcement and the interaction with the communities they try to protect.
Sources: The Atlantic, NPR, National Institute of Justice, CNN, I can't breath, black men living and dying in America Fraternal Order of Police Police Union
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Mike Russo