It is quite palpable to anyone who follows social media that the police force of the USA has been exhibiting an aggressive and belligerent nature and the most frequent victims belong to the Black community. It should be noted that these actions entail drastic consequences and as result, measures have been taken to bring this situation under control and to neutralize the protests evoked. The most sacred document in US History, the United States Declaration of Independence is said to have one of the “best-known sentences in the English Language” when it says:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The US Government and law enforcement agencies prove to be the major violators and threat to its own constitution as well as the Declaration of Independence; accused of committing racial profiling while in a position of authority.
The entrance of ethnic minorities in the big-city police departments during the 1970s changed the relationship between Black American community and the police. Moving towards a level of representation reflective of local demographics and beyond the realm of tokenism (Dulaney 1996), in the last quarter of the 20th century, police department integration has largely changed. The possibility that majority non-white metropolitan departments may soon be the norm across the nation is suggested by the diversity trend line (Sklansky 2006). Metropolitan Police Departments are reported to have a sharp growth in non-white full-time personnel; with the number increasing from 30 to 38 Percent throughout the 1990s. During the same period, the ratio of non-white police officers to nonwhite citizens increased from .59 to .63, and the Black American police-citizen ratio rose from .64 to .74 (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2000).
Today, the black-white racial dichotomy no longer maps neatly onto citizen-police relationships in poor urban neighborhoods as Black Americans often hold positions at all levels of the police institution. In Metropolitans, Black American officers increasingly police Black American residents. Some might argue that a more civil and just system of metropolitan policing seems promising due to this forty year change in demographics. Arguments also came across that the growing diversity justifies easing 1960s Supreme Court decisions regulating police conduct such as Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (rendering inadmissible at trial evidence obtained in an illegal search); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (specifying the limits of a warrantless search of a person absent probable case); and Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 643 (requiring suspects to be informed of various procedural rights prior to interrogation) (Brown and Frank 2006; Kahan and Meares 1998; Sklansky 2006).
In 2015, police officers killed at least 1139 people in the United States, according to The Guardian. Over 25 percent of these victims of police violence were Black Americans—a number grossly disproportionate to the share of the national population that is Black (US Census Bauru). As per the Guardian Database, statistically, Black Americans are much more likely to die at the hands of police than white, Latino, and Asian Americans. Among people killed by police; Black Americans are almost twice as likely to die unarmed than White, Asian or Latino Americans.Discriminatory and excessive use of force by the police violates the obligations of the United States under international law to respect and protect the rights to life and security of person, to be protected from arbitrary detainment, painful and torture, inhuman and mortifying treatment (“CIDT”), and to equality before the law.
The American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (“American Declaration”), which is a foundation of lawful obligations for the United States as a member of the Organization of American States (“OAS”), protects the right to life (Article I), the right to equality before the law (Article II), the right to recognition of juridical personality and civil rights (Article XVII), the right to protection from arbitrary detention (Article XXV), and the right to due process of law (Article XXVI). These rights are similarly enshrined in other international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), as well as treaties that are legally binding in the United States, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“ICERD”), and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”).
Hostile encounters between Black Americans and the police are often a result of racial profiling. Profiling is a problem for Black Americans in particular because stereotypes associated with Black Americans often link them to crime. Black Americans are more likely than members of other ethnic and racial groups to be stereotyped as violent criminals or drug abusers. Although national surveys have demonstrated relatively similar rates of drug use among diverse ethnic groups, authorities have targeted Black Americans for drug crimes in grossly disproportionate numbers since the launch of the federal government’s “war on drugs” in the 1980s. The racial profiling of Black Americans is a self-perpetuating cycle. When Black Americans are arrested and jailed at grossly outsized rates, they are stereotyped as criminals. That stereotype later undergirds and justifies the profiling of Black individuals and communities, driving the rates of police encounters and arrests even higher.
According to updated guidelines issued by the Department of Justice in December 2014, federal law enforcement officers are absolutely forbidden from relying on generalized stereotypes based on race, among other characteristics. The articulation of such a prohibition is a positive step, but its effectiveness is yet unproven.The previous version of the federal guidelines was issued in 2003 after President Bush declared that racial and ethnic profiling was “wrong” and promised to “end it in America.” In spite of such assertions, however, the guidelines failed to stem the tide of racial profiling, which continued to characterize encounters between Black Americans and the police for the next decade.466 In Los Angeles, California, between July 2003 and June 2004, for example, Black drivers of vehicles were vastly more likely to be stopped than white drivers (LA Times) by the Los Angeles Police Department: “For every 10,000 residents, about 3,400 more black people are stopped than whites …. Stopped blacks are 127% more likely to be frisked … than stopped whites.
Stopped blacks are 76% more likely to be searched … than stopped whites. Stopped blacks are 29% more likely to be arrested …. Now consider this: Although stopped blacks were 127% more likely to be frisked than stopped whites, they were 42.3% less likely to be found with a weapon after they were frisked, 25% less likely to be found with drugs and 33% less likely to be found with other illegal substances.” The Los Angeles Police Department disregard the study, published in 2008 because it relied on older data. There are no more recent studies, however, and more recent data on the racial breakdown of vehicular stops in Los Angeles are not publicly available. The problem appears to persist: in April 2015, Los Angeles County paid $750,000 to victims of racial profiling by the county police (RT USA).
Ezell Ford, a Black man, is one such victim, killed on August 11, 2014, during a stop initiated by two police officers in a neighborhood in Los Angeles, the officers said was “notorious for gang and drug activity.” One officer claims to have called out, “Hey you, I want to talk to you”. When Ford did not respond or stop walking, the two officers cornered him. The officer then touched Ford’s shoulder and then immediately attempted to handcuff him. Ford, who was known by police to be mentally ill, responded by tackling the officer. The officer’s partner then shot Ford twice, and the arresting officer shot him once. Ford died later that evening––no drugs or weapons were found on him (CNN). Following an investigation, the Los Angeles Police Commission concluded that the officers did not have reason to stop or detain Ford in the first place (LA Times) and that the officer’s inappropriate handling of the situation was “so flawed that it led to the fatal altercation.” Ford’s death is a dreadful example of an illegal stop by police that escalated into an officer’s use of the deadly force against a Black man.
The Black Lives Matter Movement didn’t just appear out of nowhere and pick up where the Civil Rights Movement left off. Societal movements’ progress through a series of stages over time and the Black Lives Matter movement is still in the early stages of development. Social movements are triggered by a thought. For this movement, it was the loss of Trayvon Martin in 2012 that prompted the idea that Black Lives Matter. The initiative and expression “Black Lives Matter” was invented in response to neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman being acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin (Graff 2015). The three women that begun Black Lives Matter took to social media to share their new phrase as a hashtag. Their initiative started to achieve more attention over social media site and it entered the “hope” stage of social movement progression. The Black Lives Matter hashtag was gaining attention and some people in America started to believe that it could move from social media to affect change in society. After the death of the Michael Brown, the movement gained, even more, attention and moved into the action stage. The Black Lives Matter Movement is still transitioning from the action stage to the change stage.
Black Lives Matter was started to fight against and dismantle the color-blind racism that is present in our current society. The BLM Movement is intended at ending the racial oppression that the United States was discovered. It has the prospective to become the “wide based social movement, one that rivals in size, scope, depth, and courage the movement that was begun in the 1960s and left unfinished.” (Alexander 2010). It is continuing from where the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century left off and reinventing it. It’s a new type of civil rights movement to fight against a new kind of racism. When the Civil Rights Movement of the past shifted from being a grassroots campaign to the legal battle fought by lawyers in court rooms the movement began to distance itself from the people it set out to help.
The lawyers became political personalities and sought to distance themselves from the stigma of working with those that were labeled criminals (Alexander 2010). The twentieth-century movement was addressed on helping those that would elicit sympathy from society and criminals were not relatable and would not garner sympathy from the majority of people in America. The Black Lives Matter Movement is changing all of that. The statement, “Black Lives Matter”, isn’t just saying the obscure “black lives matter too”, it is saying that all black lives matter. It is an inclusive movement that seeks to bring together all of those people that were left out of the Civil Rights Movement of the past. The kind of movement that BLM has started to develop into is necessary to dismantle the color-blind racism present in American society today.
The overall goal of the Black Lives Matter Movement is to fight the colorblind racism and change the dynamics, in American social order, that treat African-American lives like they don’t matter. One of the systems that the Black Lives Matter Movement is working to transform is the criminal justice system, but in order to transform it there has to be a larger change in the general society (Van Cleve and Mayes 2015). The BLM Movement works at different levels trying to make changes in society in order to make changes in the criminal justice system. It understands how the general population’s beliefs about crime and racism work against any sort of reform to lower the racial disparities that are widespread throughout every level of the criminal justice system. The movement is attempting to direct the conversation to about how race does matter in both the criminal justice system and society. While policies in the criminal justice system may be written to be race neutral and try to ensure that one race isn’t negatively affected more than the others; that is not the reality of what is happening. The goal of the Black Lives Matter Movement is to move away from color blindness and to become color conscious.
Police offers must receive proper training, inadequate training does not just jeopardize the rights of civilians; it also violates the rights of police officers. Although police officers perform a State function and thus have a duty to respect the rights of civilians, they do not thereby lose their status as rights-holders (UNOHC). Like all individuals, officers possess the rights to life, health, and safe working conditions, among other rights. As private citizens and public employees, police officers have a right to be prepared for the tasks that they must perform. Under international human rights law, police officers are entitled to adequate, continuous and updated training as part of their right to be prepared to manage their professional responsibilities, including the psychological impacts of policing.
Training on the use of force must address the principle of legality, meaning that the permissible purposes for which police may use force must be defined in law. This Commission has stressed the vital role that police play in society. As stated by this Commission, “an honest police force that is professional in its approach, well trained and efficient is essential for gaining the confidence of citizens.” (Situation of Human Rights in Mexico, Supra) Yet society has given police the power to use force only to achieve legitimate objectives. There must be clear understandings both of what constitutes “force” and of what constitutes “legitimate objectives” of its use, so that there are transparency and accountability, as to what law enforcement agencies can do.
Under its binding international obligations to ensure equal treatment for all and to guarantee nondiscrimination, the United States must make sure that all police officers are properly trained in the areas of non-discrimination and implicit bias. Such training is essential to prevent the disproportionate use of force against individuals based on race. Currently, the NYPD Report acknowledges the principle of non-discrimination when it states all “reasonable use of force … requires equal treatment of all individuals.” (Findings and Recommendations, Supra) Yet, the Report is silent on how well the NYPD Patrol Guide and NYPD training prepares its officers to avoid discrimination. While Black people make up 22.6% of the citywide population, the NYPD Report notes that 87.1% of individuals who submit complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (“CCRB”) are people of color: 57.8% are Black and 30.3% are Hispanic. These statistics do not conclusively show that NYPD improperly trains its officers in non-discrimination, but they call into question the efficacy of training programs to date.
Police impunity lies at the heart of a cycle of violence and discrimination against people of color, generally, and against Black Americans specifically. As Amnesty International has observed, “when it comes to arbitrary, disproportionate, and abusive or otherwise unlawful use of force, the most important factor leading to such behavior is when impunity prevails” (Amnesty International). A police officer who engages in misconduct, such as the use of excessive force resulting in death, may face one or more of three types of formal legal action—or no action. A civilian or a police department may initiate an internal police investigation, which could lead to sanctions against the officer or termination of the officer’s employment. State and/or federal authorities may initiate a criminal investigation. Lastly, a private plaintiff may choose to bring a civil action against an officer for monetary damages. Despite the existence of these different avenues for accountability, in practice, it remains the exception rather than the norm that officers are held accountable at all for the excessive and discriminatory use of force.
All key decision-makers and interested parties – policymakers, practitioners, community groups, and formerly incarcerated individuals – should be included in the development and implementation of reforms. This collective approach can identify sources of disparity, develop solutions and weigh their costs, carry out implementation, and establish monitoring and liability practices. Reforms institutionalization in this way can also ensure that they are sustainably funded and implemented. In addition, public education can expand demand and support for reforms.
Despite substantial progress in achieving racial justice in American society over the past fifty years, racial disparity in the criminal justice system has persisted and worsened in many aspects. Surveys show how among Black American men born just after World War II; 15% of those without a high school degree were imprisoned by their mid-30s. For those born in the 1970s, 68% were behind the bars by their mid-thirties. The country has made an improvement on these issues in current years. New York and other large states have notably reduced their prison populations and the juvenile justice system has reduced youth confinement and detention by over 40% since 2001. The racial gap in incarceration rates has begun to narrow and police departments in many cities are increasingly diverse.
The Garner case has sensitized many white Americans to problems in the justice system, with 47% of whites nationwide and half in New York City stating that the officer should have been indicted. With the possible improvements aforementioned in this paper, harmony, and justice for racial and ethnic minorities from law enforcement agencies is more likely. (PEW Research Center) But until then, demonstrators will echo Garner’s final words – “I can’t breathe” – and the message attributed to Brown – “hands up, don’t shoot” – in public protests because there is much left to do, after all, it is imperative to get the message across that Black Lives Do Matter.
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