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Police Brutality Essay, Research Paper

Police brutality is a problem in our country today. There are many instances where the police have gone too far in dealing with criminals. There are many things that people are doing to stop police brutality. More and more bad cops are being caught in their wrong doings. There are many cases that go unseen. The police are good at keeping things quiet. They have a code of honor that says that police do not tell on each other.

The Johnny Gammage case was a recent case in the news. One of the only reasons that this case made the news is because Gammage is the cousin of Pittsburgh Steeler Ray Seals. The outcome of this case angered many people. On October twelfth, 1995, Johnny Gammage the 31-year-old black male was pulled over. Gammage committed no crime. After an altercation with the police he was brutally beaten. Over the course of seven minutes he was beaten and suffocated by five police officers. An autopsy showed that Gammage was suffocated by pressure applied to his neck and chest when the officers were trying to restrain him.

On November third, 1995 a six-member coroner’s jury recommended that criminal homicide charges be filed against the police officers. District Attorney Bob Colville said that he would only charge three out of the five officers involved in the beating. He charged Lt. Milton Mulholland and Patrolman John Vojtas with 3rd degree murder, official oppression, and involuntary manslaughter. He charged Patrolman Michael G. Albert with involuntary manslaughter.

Allegheny county judge James R. McGregor ordered the three officers to stand trial for the misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter. This is the lowest form of homicide. He dropped the third degree murder and official oppression charges against Mulholland and Vojtas.

During the trial a witness said that he witnessed a fight that lead to Gammage’s death. He contradicted the story told by the police and said that the officers started the fight. The judge ruled a mistrial saying that coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht “tainted the jury” when he said to the defense attorney “Its not for me to tell you what your client did. It is for the client to tell me, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what he did.” (Fact Sheet on the Murder of Johnny Gammage).

Finally after the re-trial the officers were acquitted. Judge Cashman ruled that the death was an accident.

This is proof that police can get away with murder. You can not suffocate somebody to death by accident. When the officer was restraining Gammage, he knew that he was using too strong of a force.

On June 13, 1996, in Brooklyn, two white plains clothes officers killed Aswan Keshawn Watson, a 21-year old black male. They fired 18 bullets into him. Watson was not armed. A jury acquitted the officers though. The jury said that they were justified in believing themselves to be in danger. The officers said that they mistook Watson’s car steering-wheel lock for a gun. The policemen sure did not have to shoot him 18 times. Two or three times would have been sufficient.

Baseball hall of fame Joe Morgan won a $540,000 lawsuit against the Los Angles police department. A city policeman accused him of being a drug courier. Morgan was grabbed by the neck and thrown to the floor and handcuffed.

Actor Blair Underwood was stopped by the Los Angles police for no reason. When Underwood copped an attitude when the officer asked for his license. So the cop pointed a gun to his head. The policeman said, “If you’re a young black male who drives a nice car, you’re automatically a target for the cops because it’s assumed you must be doing drugs,” (Detroit News p. 1B).

Another incident that shows that police think that they can get away with anything is the Abner Louima case. Abner Louima is a 30-year-old Haitian immigrant, who was arrested. At the police station he was brutally assaulted. The police, our protectors, sodimized Mr. Louima with a toilet plunger. They then shoved the plunger in his mouth, breaking his teeth. Louima was hospitalized and released in critical condition. One of the officers that assaulted him said that if he said anything he would kill his family.

Several officers were arrested in this savage beating. The officers and their supervisors were both transferred and suspended. The arrests were made possible because of one good policeman. Officer Eric Turetzky turned in the names of the people who did this crime.

To many, Turetzky is viewed as a hero. To many cops, he is viewed as a rat. He violated the “blue wall of silence”. The police are not supposed to tell on each other. Eric has received many death threats from other officers. This man received death threats from other policemen for doing what was right.

Instead of getting rewarded for turning in the other officers, him and his family gets protective custody. Hubert Williams of the Police Foundation says, “If he wasn’t in jeopardy, if they didn’t believe the perceived threat is real, he wouldn’t be in protective custody.” (Christian Science Monitor p. N.P.).

There are many things a person has to do to become a police officer. They have to go through training and testing to make sure that they will not do anything illegal on the job. All of the training and testing processes still does not weed out all of the bad police. Forty percent of the candidates for police academy are not let in due to psychological testing and background investigations. (Policing the Police p.23). The commission’s review board said “the initial psychological evaluation is an ineffective predictor of an applicant’s tendencies toward violent behavior and that the background investigation pays too little attention to a candidate’s history of violence.” (Policing the Police, p.24-25). Screening potential officers is not enough. Police work changes behavior. An officer may develop some emotional and psychological problems. Some experts say that policemen should be tested every once in a while to make sure that they are well.

Many people believe that community-oriented policing would stop some of the problems between the citizens and the police. This forms a bond between the police and the community. If an officer knows a person, he or she is less likely to harass them. There are many policemen who do not like this. They think that they are the experts and the job should be left up to them. There are many different ways in dealing with complaints against the police department. Some departments refer to an internal affairs division within the department. Others have independent review boards made up of citizens and senior police officers.

A problem in reviewing police behavior is a resistance by the police themselves. They do not want to be investigated by regular citizens who do not understand the demands of police work. The review boards made up of officers don’t work well. The police have a code of silence, which is that they do not testify against each other.

Review boards started up in the 1960’s. They were formed because there was a lot of police brutality caught on the news because of the anti-war demonstrations. Many cities around the country set up review boards in the 1960’s to provide a forum for citizen complaints. Local police unions almost always opposed these boards. Many of these boards lacked any real authority and soon went out of existence.

In 1991 the New York Civil Liberties Union set up a new review board. This board included former employees of the police department and citizens. The review board has jurisdiction over complaints. It also has a staff of investigators. After investigating a complaint, the board could recommend a punishment to the police commissioner. The commissioner would to make punishments to the officers. The boards make the recommendations, but the punishment is left to the head of the police department. This policy is used in almost all of the cities that have a review board.

Another issue that concerns police brutality is that innocent people forced into confessing to crimes that they did not commit Robert Moore had confessed to killing a New York City taxi cab driver with two other acquaintances. Three weeks later prosecutors had revealed that they had caught the real killers. The real killers possessed the murder weapon and had never heard of Robert Moore. More said that he had falsely confessed to the murder because investigators interrogated him for 22 hours. They had threatened him with the death penalty and brought his cousin in to urge him to confess. Robert Moore was tired, lonely and scared. He stated that “I just wanted to go home.” (New York Times p. A1& A17).

Once a suspect voluntarily enters an interrogation room, it is legal for prosecutors to use tricks, deceptions and lies. They can not use threats of violence or promises of lenience though. Thousands of guilty criminals have been caught this way, but in many cases there have been false confessions from innocent people. “Although the number of false confessions is in dispute, their prevalence is shaking the confidence of both prosecutors and juries in the reliability of confessions, which have long been the crown jewel of criminal prosecutions.”(Jan Hoffman, p.17).

Many police departments are trying to restore the credibility of the confession. In at least 2,400 sheriff’s and police departments there are audio taping and video taping during confessions and interrogations. In New York video taping of interrogations is rare. Prosecutors fear it will make detectives as well as suspects self-conscious and give defense attorneys more targets to attack.

Many others have found video and audio taping useful. T. Brett Swab, a former prosecutor says that “It will shore up our case at trial: if there is any doubt about an investigator’s ethics, we can say ‘Hey let’s look at the video tape’,'” (New York Times p. A17).

Recent trials show that juries are not likely to be persuaded by cases that rely heavily on confessions. In 1997 in Long Island, jurors acquitted a man who confessed to two murders, after he testified that the police physically and psychologically abused him into confessing. In September of 1998 Suffolk County jurors acquitted Gairy Chang of first-degree murder even though he signed a six-page confession. He testified that police interrogated him naked, handcuffed him, and squeezed his testicles.

There is even video surveillance in the patrol cars now. Since the Rodney King beating cameras have been installed into many patrol cars. This way the police will think twice before trying to abuse their power.

I believe that there needs to be more done to stop police brutality. The video cameras in the interrogation rooms and in police cars are a good idea, but many times when a brutality case goes to trial the police are acquitted. This is because they have the courts to back them up.

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