Protect and Serve — Stop Excessive Force

By Wiha Powell

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was brutally beaten by police officers, after a high-speed chase.

On August 9, 1997, Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was brutally attacked and tortured by a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer. The officer took Louima into the restroom of the 70th Precinct police station in Brooklyn and sodomized him with a broken broomstick.

On November 25, 2006, NYPD officers fired 50 times at the car where Sean Bell and his friends were riding after having his bachelor party at a Queens, New York strip club where NYPD was conducting an investigation.

On July 23, 2014, a NYPD officer subdued and stomped on the head of Jahmil-El Cuffee after seeing him roll a marijuana joint on the street in Brooklyn, New York. A week prior, on July 17, 2014 an NYPD officer put Eric Garner in a chokehold that resulted in his death.

Powell 8.5Police brutality and the use of excessive force has become a common occurrence in our society, even though police officers have a civic duty to protect and to serve the community. Like most people that have a great deal of power, sometimes police officers abuse such power. Since there is no concrete definition for excessive force and police officers can use a ‘reasonable’ amount of force on a daily basis, sometimes that force goes beyond what is reasonably necessary to arrest a suspect.

Excessive force should not be confused with ‘force continuum’, where a police officer must first request politely, then demand, then use chemical sprays, then physical force and then lethal force. Throughout history, many police officers jump directly to excessive physical or lethal force, which not only deprives individuals of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution but it is also a violation of Section 1414 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

So what can be done to stop the use of excessive force by police officers?

Many have pointed fingers at the departmental procedures and policies as well as officer training. However, let’s not put full blame on the police. Let’s also look at the community’s attitude toward the police. With the long-standing history of excessive force, members of the community have been very defensive when an officer approaches them. However, in hindsight, police officers have done nothing to reduce this defensive attitude.

One way to solve the problem is for officers to change the way they interact with members of the community. Not everyone is a threat and not everyone is a suspect. Officers should aim to treat each person as a human being and not as a wild animal that needs to be subdued. This approach could result in members of the community not viewing police officers as a threat. Furthermore, a substantive review of department training procedures and policies is recommended.

These steps are just a few in stopping the use of excessive force. It is imperative for police officers to work with the community as a unit and to stop abusing the small amount of power they have. It is time to protect and serve the community and stop the use of excessive force.

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