Police power: The good, the bad, and the ugly
Luke Chouinard, Staff Writer & Derek Martinez, Guest Writer
If you’ve checked the news in the past few months, you know that police all over the country are encountering a substantial amount of scrutiny. The recent failures to indict police officers who have used lethal force on civilians committing non-violent crimes have stirred corporate media into a frenzy.
Is this media frenzy justified? Of course not.
Regardless, we must ask ourselves where the relationship between civilians and police ruptured. The circumstances surrounding recent trials are worth revisiting when searching for an answer.
The circumstances of the trial of the Michael Brown case are suspicious, regardless of what perspective one approaches from. Over 10 eye witnesses, including Dorian Johnson, testified that Brown did not turn around and engage Officer Darren Wilson until he was shot at when running from the scene.1 It is somewhat alarming that Johnson’s testimony, and the testimonies of several other witnesses, contradict what allegedly occurred.
The most surprising aspect of the case was the manner in which it was tried by Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney. Legal experts across the nation noticed the irregularity of the case, in which Wilson would not be available for cross-examination. In any police-related homicide, the officer is usually required to provide their perspective to the grand jury.2
James A. Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, expressed his dissatisfaction with the trial: “A prosecutor has the obligation to ask questions and clarify testimony for grand jurors. This prosecutor did worse than abdicate his responsibility.”2
The Brown case was not the only controversial trial in recent months. In a horrific and condemning case, NYPD escaped severe punishment in the Eric Garner homicide. Several videos of the incident were leaked online from witnesses that videotaped the chokehold-takedown of Garner its aftermath.3
Several times throughout the video, Garner yells to police, “I can’t breathe.”3 Eventually, officers release their hold on Garner and prop him up on his side-hand cuffs still in place- eventually calling emergency services.
Garner would be officially pronounced dead less than an hour later.3 A medical examiner determined Garner’s death was caused by “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”3
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer responsible for the chokehold, escaped with no major punishment despite the video evidence and condemning medical report. The Brown case was a muddled picture, admittedly, but the outcome of this case appeared inevitable. Police officers used excessive force on a citizen, suffocating the individual and overstepping their boundaries as law enforcers.
Something worthy of consideration and introspection, is role reversal. In the Brown case, if the police officer was African American, and the victim Caucasian, would the police officer be cross-examined? Concerning the death of Garner, if a regular citizen put a chokehold on Garner, would they not be convicted of a crime? I understand the need to elevate police officers above certain laws, but where do we draw the line as citizens?
One could argue that police officers should be required to receive higher education. Police officers are a symbol of authority and power in American culture and society. Politicians, physicians, and attorneys all go through years of vigorous educational training and residencies before they are allowed to practice on their own.
Police officers arguably have more power and authority than any of the aforementioned careers. A cop has the authority to take your rights away based on his or her sense of judgment. Therefore, a thorough education on the rights and freedoms of the average American citizen seems like an obvious prerequisite for a career in law enforcement.
Research has shown that educational attainment reduces the rate at which police officers use force on citizens. William Terrill, associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, authored the study.
“We found that a college education significantly reduces the likelihood of force occurring. The difference is real. It truly is because the officer was more educated, not because the suspect was more resistant,” he said.4
A lengthy educational course would most likely also deter bullies like Donald Sadowy from pursuing a career in a noble field like law enforcement. Sadowy is a Brooklyn cop who has been involved in over 10 lawsuits in the past two years, some including excessive force.5
In what other career could you be sued 10 times and still be allowed to practice? A higher educational standard, a process of three to four years, similar to an undergraduate degree, would also provide police recruits with a chance to study sections such as culture in America, race relations, sociology, and philosophy.
Law enforcement serves the community dutifully in most cases, committed to values like faith and honor. However, without any form of higher education, many officers fail to fully understand the system they are upholding. This class of enforcers, mildly educated on the American system, are the epitome of false consciousness; believing they are associated with governmental power, when in reality there is a large void separating law enforcement and law makers.
The officers are tasked with enforcing the laws of the elitist class, comprised of corporate leaders and wealthy congressmen, the individuals responsible for governing the American system. The false-association police officers buy into leads to a sense of entitlement, furthering the gap of ideology between citizens and law enforcement.
It is important to recognize a lot of these cases are outliers fed by the ever-growing social media. There are many police officers that are respectable and responsible law enforcers that take pride in their work. However, it does appear that these instances of police brutality are growing in number and severity. It is a social problem that needs to be addressed.
Perhaps further educational requirements are the answer, perhaps not.
Regardless, police officers have a responsibility to the public. Their main function is to protect citizens, not abuse them. When you are pulled over by a police officer, or approached by campus safety late at night, remember that their primary responsibility is to keep you safe. If that function is not fulfilled, we have a major social issue in modern America.