Society has formulated a system in which certain people have been given a position of authority in order to serve and protect its people. These select few are put through rigorous training tactics and methods as to keep our cities and towns safer for all to live in, however what happens when this thirst for power gets out of control? The authority, police officers, that society has put in place to protect social order now has recognized the ability to become above the law. When this occurs the system is not very safe for its citizens, as well as the members of authority that disobey. One specific example of authority believing they are above the law occurred in March of 1991, in a horrific event now known as the Rodney King beating. This paper will look in depth at the Rodney King beating, along with another more recent, the Oscar Grant beating, as well as the beating that occurred at the University of Western Ontario in 2009, and the outcome of these unlawful acts by police officers. It is the responsibility of the society to begin to recognize the travesties at hand and; show the lawmen and women that they are not above the oath they took to abide by and to protect the innocent.
The first and one of the most vicious cases of police brutality caught on film was that of Rodney King. In the footage, it can be seen that a man is lying on the ground, being struck repeatedly by a group of police officers, supposedly trying to control King as he was resisting arrest. “The blows continue – 56 of them total captured on film” (Lawrence R.G., 200) details exactly how much force was used on King and how very unnecessary this beating was. King was later transported to the hospital with several rib fractures, a bruised body and face, and several other unwarranted injuries. Some of the police officers on the scene were also apprehensive about the amount of strikes King was receiving as one officer did attempt to end the mercilessness “At this point, the video comes into focus, showing both Powell and officer Timothy Wind striking King, then showing officer Theodore Briseno grabbing Powell’s arm, clearly attempting to stop further blows.” (Lawrence R.G., 2000). This malicious attack on King by the police officers was later brought to court, after the examination of King and the release of the soon to be viral video. However unjustifiable the act was, in court, all of the police officers were soon enough acquitted and release with no charges.
Rodney King was one of the first acts of police brutality caught on camera, spiking the interest of society in the case against the officers. Without the viral video, the horrific actions of the officers may have gone unnoticed and, more likely than not, unmentioned by society. In this case, an innocent man violently beaten was left with no justice for vindictive actions taken against him. Society responded with outrage and initiated a set of riots, now better known as the Rodney King riots. This goes to show that society acknowledges that the beating of this man was wicked, and that they believed the amount of force used was excessive. Through the aftermath of the trial, it is evident to see that society disagrees with the actions led by the police officers, but does not have a proper outlet to express these notions. In 1991, the force exerted by police had began to take notice, and would soon be the focus of many people in society, putting the problem of excessive force out in the open to be soon dealt with.
A second case of extreme police brutality would be the case of Oscar Grant that took place in 2009. On new years day, early in the morning in the BART train station, police attempted to arrest a man named Oscar Grant for fighting. Grant was supposedly resisting arrest, so the police officers present found it appropriate to restrain his head with a knee, while continually forcing him to the ground. “A cell-phone video broadcast on local television station KTVU on January 23 showed what appeared to be Pirone rushing towards Grant and punching him in the face several times two minutes before he was shot” (Wikipedia, 2010). Even before Grant was forced to the ground it is seen that a police officer felt that it was a ‘sufficient’ amount of force to punch a civilian in the face repeatedly. At that point, one officer pulled out his gun and shot Grant in the back. Grant was soon after dead, but not before yelling “You shot me! I got a four year old daughter!” (Wikipedia, 2010) The officer was later sent to court and charged for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Oscar Grant.
The Oscar Grant case received some justice for the unlawful act displayed by the officer. In court, the officer pleaded not guilty, and claimed that he believed he had a taser in his hand and not his gun. “I’m going to taze him, I’m going to taze him” (Wikipedia, 2010). A question to consider in this specific case would be why would a man, apparently not significantly resisting arrest according to witnesses, need to be tasered by an officer when there were five on the scene? The police officers involved in the shooting did not need to resort to such measures, and were just exerting their given power over a civilian. The police officer went to jail soon after the jury found him guilty of manslaughter, (Judd A., 2010) however thanks to the police union, he posted bail for $3 million. The reaction to the Oscar Grant shooting was similar to that of Rodney King. Many riots broke out, some peaceful, others not so. This shows to the police officers and the city that citizens are no longer willing to sit back and take police brutality as it comes. Oscar Grant should not have died that new years day, and society recognizes this fact. The out break of riots after Rodney King and Oscar Grant resemble struggles for control, as well as a concern to get the police under control and decrease the brutality exerted.
A third and last case this paper will explore would be a case that is very close to home as it occurred at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) in 2009, better known as the Social Science arrest. In this case, a student was seen running around the social science building at UWO on the seventh floor and tried to force a person out of an office. (Thompson S.A., 2009) When this failed the student barricaded himself in a different office when campus police officers arrived. He then proceeded to run down to the main level of the building when he was restrained by six police officers. This incident, once again, may have gone more unnoticed if not for a video taken by an observer in the building.
These cases are just three specific examples on a wide range of police brutality cases. They scale from somewhat smaller to a much larger audience involved. As outlined by the third case, it can be observed that even with campus police and a smaller venue to patrol, the thirst for power can become out of control. Police brutality can also be seen to create an outcry from a smaller group of people, for example a university, with the same desire for police violence to end. This aggression from the police can be seen on a much wider scale as noted in the Rodney King and Oscar Grant cases. Though the police officers in these cases were acquitted or made bail, it shows that the public is now taking more responsibility and is more willing to give consequences to those that believe they are above the law. Police brutality has gotten out of hand, and now society is attempting to make it right, and soon, we can hope for a safer justice system. The above cases are clearly malicious and vindictive and result in great harm, and death. However, due to these horrific events, it is clear that people will no longer sit back and watch, and will be active in formulating the end of police brutality.
Judd A. (2010). Oscar Grant verdict July 8th: Johannes Mehserle found guilty, Crowned Power Media. Retrieved from: http://www.nowpublic.com/world/oscar-grant- verdict-july-8-johannes-mehserle-found-guilty-2638311.html
Lawrence R. G. (2000). The politics of force: media and the construct of police brutality. 62-85.
Pelley L. (2009). ‘Police Brutality’: Facebook group denounces SSC arrest. The Gazette, pp. A2
Thompson S.A. (2009). Arrest in the SSC. The Gazette, pp. A1
Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (2010). BART police shooting of Oscar Grant. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BART_Police_shooting_of_Oscar_Grant