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What, if any, changes have occurred in the nation’s police departments 21 years after the Rodney King beating? To answer this question, this study examined findings provided by the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP). An additional goal of this study was to examine how the public generally perceive police and how race and racism shape this discourse. To answer this secondary question, we examined narratives provided by 36 contributors to the NPMSRP site. The following two questions were foundational to this study: (1) What do findings from the NPMSRP suggest about the rate of police brutality in America? (2) How do individuals perceive the police department, and what implications do these perceptions hold for Black men in America? In general, fatalities at the hands of police are higher than they are for the general public. Grounded theory analysis of the data revealed that individuals perceive members of law enforcement in the following ways: (a) contempt for law enforcement, (b) suspicion of law enforcement, (c) law enforcement as agents of brutality, and (d) respect for law enforcement. Supporting qualitative data are presented in connection with each of the aforementioned themes.
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1 23
Journal of African American Studies
ISSN 1559-1646
Volume 17
Number 4
J Afr Am St (2013) 17:480-505
DOI 10.1007/s12111-013-9246-5
Racism and Police Brutality in America
Cassandra Chaney & Ray V.Robertson
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ARTICLES
Racism and Police Brutality in America
Cassandra Chaney & Ray V. Robertson
Published online: 12 January 2013
#
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
Abstract What, if any, changes have occurred in the nations police departments
21 years after the Rodney King beating? To answer this question, this study examined
findings provided by the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project
(NPMSRP). An additional goal of this study was to examine how the public generally
perceive police and how race and racism shape this discourse. To answer this secondary
question, we examined narratives provided by 36 contributors to the NPMSRP site. The
following two questions were foundational to this study: (1) What do findings from the
NPMSRP suggest about the rate of police brutality in America? (2) How do individuals
perceive the police department, and what implications do these perceptions hold for
Black men in America? In general, fatalities at the hands of police are higher than they
are for the general public. Grounded theory analysis of the data revealed that individuals
perceive members of law enforcement in the following ways: (a) contempt for law
enforcement, (b) suspicion of law enforcement, (c) law enforcement as agents of
brutality, and (d) respect for law enforcement. Supporting qualitative data are presented
in connection with each of the aforementioned themes.
Keywords Black
.
African-American
.
Critical race theory
.
Discrimination
.
Police
brutality
.
Race
.
Racism
.
Rodney King
What, if any, changes have occurred in the nations police departments 21 years after
the Rodney King beating? To answer this question, we examined findings provided
by the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP). In
addition, we examine how the public generally perceive police and how race and
J Afr Am St (2013) 17:480505
DOI 10.1007/s12111-013-9246-5
C. Chaney (*)
College of Human Sciences and Education, School of Social Work, Child and Family Studies,
Louisiana State University, 323 Huey P. Long Field House, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-4300, USA
e-mail: cchaney@lsu.edu
R. V. Robertson
Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminal Justice, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, USA
e-mail: rvrobertson@my.lamar.edu
Author's personal copy
racism shape this discourse. To answer this secondary question, we examined narra-
tives provided by 36 contributors to the NPMSRP site.
The topic is important for two reasons. First, although several scholars have
examined the increasing rate of police brutality against Blacks (Dottolo and Stewart
2008; Elicker 2008; Kane and White 2009; Smith and Holmes 2003; Tomaskovic-
Devey et al. 2006; Staples 2011), we are aware of no studies to present findings from
the NPMSRP nor discuss the implications of these findings in light of the Rodney
King beating by members of the LAPD, which occurred in 1991. This endeavor is
especially important given the negative stories related to bad cops that have come
to light within the last decade (Boyer 2001;Savali2012). Second, this study
examines how the public general ly perceive the police, per the findings presen ted
by the NPMSRP. Given Kings position as being the face of police brutality in
America and thus influence how the public generally perceive the police, the
following two questions were foundational to this study: (1) What do findings from
the NPMSRP suggest about the rate of police brutality in America? (2) How do
individuals perceive the police department, and what implications do these percep-
tions hold for Black men in America?
In the section that follows, we place the goals of our study within the empirical
literature. We begin by discussing the effects of racism and discrimination on Black
men in America. Next, we discuss police brutality against Black men. After this, we
discuss the general portrayal of Black men in the media. Then, we discuss the
relevance of Derrick Bells critical race theory (CRT) to our current discussion.
Lastly, we will provide a conceptual framework that integrates racism, police brutal-
ity, and the CRT on which this study is built.
Review of Literature
Racism and Discrimination According to Marger (2012), racism is an ideology, or
belief system, designed to justify and rationalize racial and ethnic inequality (p. 25)
and discrimination, most basically, is b ehavior aimed at denying members of
particular ethnic groups equal access to societal rewards (p. 57). Defining both of
these concepts from the onset is important for they provide the lens through which
our focus on the racist and discriminatory practices of law enforcement can occur.
Since the time that Africans were forcibly brought to America, they have been the
victims of racist and discriminatory practices that have been spurred and/or substan-
tiated by those who create and enforce the law. For example, The Watts Riots of 1965,
the widespread assaults against Blacks in Harlem during the 1920s (King 2011), law
enforc ement violence against Black women (i.e., Malaika Brooks, Jaisha Akins,
Frankie Perkins, Dr. Mae Jemison, Linda Billups, Clementine Applewhite) and other
ethnic women of color (Ritchie 2006), the be ating of Rodney King, and the deaths of
Amadou Diallo in the 1990s and Trayvon Martin more recently are just a few public
examples of the historical and contemporaneo us ways in which Blacks in America
have been assaulted by members of the police system (King 2011; Loyd 2012; Murch
2012; Rafail et al. 2012). In Punishing Race (2011), law professor Michael Tonrys
research findings point to the fact that Whites tend to excuse police brutality against
Blacks because of the racial animus that they hold against Blacks. Thus, to Whites,
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Blacks are viewed as deserving of harsh treatment in the criminal justice system
(Peffley an d Hurwitz 2013). At first glance, such an assertion may seem to be
unfathomable, buy that there is an extensive body of literature which suggests that
Black males are viewed as the prototypical criminal, and this notion is buttressed in
the media, by the general public, and via disparate sentencing outcomes (Blair et al.
2004; Eberhardt et al. 2006; Gabiddon 2010; Maddox and Gray 2004;Oliverand
Fonash 2002; Staples 2011). For instance, Blair et al. (2004) revealed that Black males
with more Afrocentric features (e.g., dark skin, broad noses, full lips) may receive longer
sentences than Blacks with less Afrocentric features, i.e., lighter skin and straighter hair
(Eberhardt et al. 2006).
Shaun Gabiddon in Criminological Theories on Race and Crime (2010) discussed
the concept of Negrophobia which was more extensively examined by Armour
(1997). Negrophobia can be surmised as an irrational of Blacks, which includes a fear
of being victimized by Black, that can result in Whites shooting or harming an African-
American based on criminal/racial stereotypes (Armour 1997). The aforementioned
racialized stereotypical assumptions can be deleterious because they can be used by
Whites to justify shooting a Black person on the slightest of pretense (Gabiddon 2010).
Finally, African-American males represent a group that has been much maligned in the
larger society (Tonry 2011). Further, as victims of the burgeoning prison industrial
complex, mass incarceration, and enduring racism, the barriers to truly independent
Black male agency are ubiquitous and firmly entrenched (Alexander 2010;Chaney
2009;Baker1996; Blackmon 2008; Dottolo and Stewart 2008;Karenga2010;Martinet
al. 2001; Smith and Hattery 2009). Thus, racism and discrimination heightens the
psychological distress experienced by Blacks (Robertson 2011; Pieterse et al. 2012),
as well as their decreased mortality in the USA (Muennig and Murphy 2011).
Police Brutality Against Black Males According to Walker (2011), police brutality is
defined as the use of excessive physical force or verbal assault and psychological
intimidation (p. 579). Although one recent study suggests that the NYPD has become
better behaved due to greater race and gender diversity (Kane and White 2009), Blacks
are more likely to be the victims of police brutality. A growing body of scholarly
research relate d to police brutality has revealed that Blacks are more likely than
Whites to make complaints regarding police brutality (Smith and Holmes 2003), to be
accosted while operating a motorized vehicle (Driving While Black), and to underre-
port how often they are stopped due to higher social desirability factors (Tomaskovic-
Devey et al. 2006). Interestingly, data obtained from the General Social Survey
(GSS), a representative sample conducted biennially by the National Opinion
Research Center at the University of Chicago for the years 1994 through 2004,
provide further proo f re garding the acceptan ce of force against Black s. In
particular, the GSS found Whites to be significantly (29.5 %) more accepting
of police use of f orce when a citizen was attempting to escape custody than Blacks
when analyzed using t he chi-squared statistical test (p<0.001) (Elicker 2008).
Police brutality is improper and unjust. So a plausible concern becomes how in a
society that ostensibly emphasizes egalitarianism, can a milieu exist which allows police
malfeasance to thrive? Myrdal (1944) as cited in Greene and Gabbidon (2013,p.232)
presents information on the historical legacy of the less than collegial relationship
between Blacks and law enforcement by stating the following:
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The average Southern policeman is a promoted poor White with a legal sanction
to use a weapon. His social heritage has taught him to despise the Negroes, and
he has had little education which could have changed him.The result is that
probably no group of Whites in America have a lower opinion of the Negro
people and are more fixed in their views than Southern poli ceman. (Myrdal
1944, pp. 540541)
Myrdal (1944) was writing on results from a massive study that he undertook in
the late 1930s. He was writing at a time that even the most conservative among us
would have to admit was not a colorblind society (if one even believes in such
things). But current research does corroborate his observations that less educated
police officers tend to be the most aggressive and have the most formal complaints
filed against them when compared to their more educated counterparts (Hassell and
Archbold 2010; Jefferis et al. 2011).
Tonry (2011) delineates some interesting findings from the 2001 Race, Crime, and
Public Opinion Survey that can be applied to understanding why the larger society
tolerates police misconduct when it comes to Black males. The survey, which
involved approximately 978 non-Hispanic Whites and 1,010 Blacks, revealed a
divergence in attitudes between Blacks and Whites concerning the criminal justice
system (Tonry 2011). For instance, 38 % of Whites and 89 % of Blacks viewed the
criminal justice system as biased against Blacks (Tonry 2011). Additionally, 8 % of
Blacks and 56 % of Whites saw the criminal justice system as treating Blacks fairly
(Tonry 2011). Perhaps most revealing when it comes to facilitating an environment ripe
for police brutality against Black males, 68 % of Whites and only 18 % of Whites
expressed confidence in law enforcement (Tonry 2011). Is a society wherein the
dominant group overwhelming approves of police performance willing to do anything
substantive to curtail police brutality against Black males?
Police brutality is not a new phenomenon. The Department of Justice (DOJ) office of Civil
Rights (OCR) has investigated more than a dozen police departments in major cities across the
USA on allegations of either racial discrimination or police brutality (Gabbidon and Greene 2013).
T o make the aforementioned even more clear , according to Gabbidon and Greene (2013), In
2010, the OCR was investigating 17 police departments across the country and monitoring five
settlements regarding four police agencies (pp. 119120).
Plant and Peruche (2005) provide some useful information into w hy police
officers view Black males as potential perpetrators and could lead to acts of
brutality. In their research, the authors suggest that since Black people in
general, and Black males in particular, are caricatured as aggressive and crim-
inal, police are more likely to view Black men as a threat whi ch justifies the
disproportionate use of deadly force. Therefore, it is not beyond the realm of
possibility that police officers decisions to act aggressively may, to some
extent, be influ enc e d by race (J effer i s e t al. 2011).
The medias portrayals of Black men are often less than sanguine. Brysons(1998)
work in this area provides empirical evidence that the mass media that has been
instrumental in portraying Black men as studs, super detectives, or imitation White
men and has a general negative effect on how these men are regarded by others. Such
characterizations can be so visceral in nature that prototypes of criminal suspects
are more likely to be African-American (Oliver et al. 2004). Not surprisingly, the
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more Afrocentric the African-Americans facial features, the more prone he or she is
expected to be deviant (Eberhardt et al. 2006). Interestingly, it is probable that less
than flattering depictions of Black males on television and in news stories are
activating pre-existing stereotypes possessed by Whites as opposed to facilita ting
their creation. According to Oliver et al. (2004), it is important to keep in mind that
media consumption is an active process, with viewers existing attitudes and beliefs
playing a larger role in how images are attended t o, interpreted, and remem-
bered (p. 89). Moreover, it is reductionist to presuppose that individual is
powerless in constructing a palatable version of reality and is solely under the
control of the m e di a and exer ci se s n o agency.
Lastly, Peffley and Hurwitz (2013) describe what can be perceived as one of the
more deleterious results of negative media caricatures of Black males. More specif-
ically, the authors posit that most Whites believe that Blacks are disproportionately
inclined to engage in criminal behavior and are the deserving on harsh treatmen t by
the criminal justice system. On the other hand, such an observation is curious because
most urban areas are m oderate to highly segre gated residentially which would
preclude the frequent and significant interaction needed to make such scathing
indictments (Bonilla-Si lva 2009). Consequently, the aforementioned racial animus
has the effect of increased White support for capital punishment if questions regard-
ing its legitimacy around if capital punishment is too frequently applied to Blacks
(Peffley and Hurwitz 2013; Tonry 2011). Ultimately, erroneous (negative) portrayals
of crime and community, community race and class identit ies, and concerns over
neighborhood change all contribute to place-specific framing of the crime problem.
These frames, in turn, shape both intergroup dynamics and support for criminal
justice policy (Leverentz 2012).
Critical Race Theory Critical race theory is a useful theoretical approach when
examining the situations encountered by marginalized groups in a hierarchal society.
The father of critical race theory, the late legal scholar Derrick Bell, opined in his
classic Faces at the Bottom of the Well (1992) that writing in critical race theory
stresses that neither neatly divorceable from one another nor amenable to strict
categorization (pp. 144145). Further, according to (Solorzano et al. 2000), a critical
race approach is open to intense scrutiny of the experiences of subordinated groups
because of its reliance on five areas of focus. The tenets of critical race theory are: (1)
the primacy of race and racism and their interconnectedness with other forms of
subordination, (2) a questioning of the d ominant belief system/status quo, (3) a
commitment to social justice, (4) the centrality of experiential knowledge, and (5) a
multidisciplinary perspective (Crenshaw 2011, 2002; Solorzano et al. 2000; Zuberi
2011). Moreover, critical race theory is used in this paper to assess the medias
coverage of the passing of Rodney King who was brutally beaten on tape by the
Los Angeles Police Department in 1991. It was the beating of King, and the
subsequent acquittal of some o f the officers involved in his beating, that served as
the spark that brought to light police brutality against minorities and served as the
catalyst for Los Angeles riots of 1992. Finally, the less than sympathetic coverage of
Kings death will be analyzed within the larger framework of Black men being
maligned in the media and as the victims of racial oppression, the prison industrial
complex, mass incarceration, and the ill-conceived and ineffective war on drugs.
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Methodology
Research Design The methodology utilized in this study involved two steps. The first
step involved examining the statistical findings presented in the NPMSRP (Police
Brutality Statistics, April 13, 2011). The second step involved thoroughly reading the
comments provided by contributors on the NPMSRP site and looking for recurrent
themes within the narratives. To identify the themes that were presented within this
paper, all narrative responses were content analyzed using grounded theory and an open-
coding process (Holsti 1969; Strauss and Corbin 1990; Taylor and Bogdan 1998), and
themes were identified from the narratives. In order to clearly abstract themes from the
written responses, words and phrases were the units of analysis. Specifically, coding
involved examining all responses, keeping track of emerging themes, assigning words
and symbols to each coding category, and examining how the themes presented are
specifically related to the publics perception of the police. In cases where the narrative
provided by a respondent was compatible with two different themes (this was the case
for the two narratives provided by Karin Wildeisen), the researchers made the decision to
place the narratives with the category with which they best fit. To assess the reliability of
the coding system, a list of all codes and their definitions along with the written
responses was given to an outsider who then coded the transcripts based on this pre-
determined list of codes. The outside coder was selected due to their experience with
coding and analyzing narrative data. After a 98 % coding reliability rate was established
between the first author and the outside coder, it was determined that a working coding
system had been established. In order to sufficiently control for reliability, a second
outside coder was selected to code and analyze the narrative data after the initial coding
reliability had been established. The reliability established between the second author
and the two outside coders was 97 %.
Presentation of the Findings
Research question 1: What do findings from the NPMSRP suggest about the rate of
police brutality in America?
Statistics from the NPMSRP were compiled between the months of April 2009 and
June 2010. During this time, there were 5,986 reports of misconduct, 382 fatalities
linked to misconduct, settlements and judgments that totaled $347,455,000, and 33 %
of misconduct cases that went through to convictions and 64 % of misconduct cases
that received prison sentences. The average length of time convicted officers spent in
prison was 14 months (Police Brutality Statistics, April 13, 2011). (See Table 1 for
National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project on police brutality cases
that happened between April 2009 and June 2010).
Research question 2: How do individuals perceive the police department, and what
implications do these percept ions hold for Black men in
America?
Grounded theory analysis of the data revealed four emergent themes: (a) contempt
for law enforcement, (b) suspicion of law enforcement, (c) law enforcement as agents
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of brutality, and (d) respect for law enforcement. The contempt for law enforcement
theme was indicative of individuals who used words and/or phrases that represented
their disdain (dislike) for law enforcement. The suspicion of law enforcement
theme is words and/or phrases related to thoughts, feelings, or beliefs that members
of law enforcement directly or indirectly engage in police brutality and/or condone
the brutal actions of other members of law enforcement. The law enforcement as
agents of brutality theme was related to words and/or phrases related to members of
law enforcement directly or indirectly witnessing acts of brutality perpetrated by one
or more members of law enforcement against citizens. The respect for law enforce-
ment theme is related to words and/or phrases related to the belief that law enforce-
ment contributes to order in society and that the members of law enforcement have
good, altruistic, and benevolent intenti ons (see Table 2 for themes, definitions, and
supporting commentary).
Theme 1: Contempt for Law Enforcement
Five individuals (0.14 %) used words and/or phrases that represented their disdain
(dis like) for l aw enforcement. Interestingly, the narratives ranged from insulting
sarcasm (regarding the sexuality orientation of law enforcement) to indignation
regarding the individuals that have been victims of police brutality. For example, a
respondent by the name of Scott wrote the following on May 18, 2011 at 1:31 p.m.:
COPS SUCK! I like this website because it exposes the assholes that protect us, for
who they really are. Scotts comment was supported by John who wrote this on
October 21, 2011 at 12:39 p.m.: Police are some hoes. Another respondent who
identified himself/herself as T expressed anger at another blogger by the name of
Carolyn who believed police are the backbone that keeps sanity and security in our
homes, neighborhoods, and the world at large. The blogger T used these words to
express their indignation on May 23, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.:
We are all entitled to our opinion but Carolyn, thats bs. Google police brutality
and see the number of people affected. Then you tell me what you think.
Although the narratives provided by most of these respondents expressed a strong
contempt for law enforcement, one narrative juxtaposed the role of law enforcement
Table 1 National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project on police brutality cases that
happened between April 2009 and June 2010
Reports of
misconduct
Fatalities linked
to misconduct
Related settlements
and judgments
Police officer convictions
5,986 382 $347,455,000 Percent that went through to convictions
(33 %)
Percent convicted that received prison
sentences (64 %)
Average length of time spent in prison
(14 months)
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Table 2 Theme, definition, and supporting commentary
Theme Definition Supporting commentary
Contempt for law enforcement Words and/or phrases that represent a strong disdain (dislike)
for law enforcement
COPS SUCK! I like this website because it exposes the assholes that
protect us, for who they really are.
Suspicion of law enforcement Words and/or phrases related to thoughts, feelings, or beliefs
that members of law enforcement directly or indirectly
engage in police brutality and/or condone the brutal actions
of other members of law enforcement
What about their buddies who watched, covered for them, or looked
the other way? The % of bad cops goes through the roof.
Law enforcement
as agents of brutality
Word and/or phrases directly or indirectly related to witnessing
acts of brutality perpetrated by one or more members of law
enforcement against citizens
LOL at Ryan!!! These stats are for CONVICTIONS! Why dont you
do some research and find out the rate of convictions of OBVIOUS
police abuse? Go ahead, start with the videos, there are hundreds of
cops out there beating and robbing people on video that get no
punishment Now think to yourself, how many of these things are
actually caught and cameraand the camera survives with video
intact? Typical moron who cant do simple objective thought that
worships cops as heroes.
Respect for law enforcement Words and/or phrases related to the belief that law enforcement
contributes to order in society and that the members of law
enforcement have good, altruistic, and benevolent intentions
Wow, this is pathetic. The people who go out every day, to protect
you, are so disrespected in todays society. Say that cops dontdo
shit when they save you from someone with a gun, or stops you
from killing yourself, or worse, someone else, when you are driving
drunk. Go watch How Not to get your ass kicked by the Police, on
YouTube by Chris Rock. Itll show most of you what to do.
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in society against Emergency Medical and Trauma Services (EMTS) workers and
firefighters. For this individual, members of the former group were douchebags,
while members of the latter group (EMTS workers or firefighters) were praised by
being referred to as good guys. One respondent by the name of gabriel escobedo
expressed himself in this way on June 18, 2011 at 6:06 p.m.:
SHOUT OUT TO ALL THE EMTS AND FIREFIGHTERS EVERYWHERE
THEY ARE THE GOOD GUYS. COPS ARE PRETENTIOUS DOUCHE
BAGS. OFFICERS MAY HAVE A DANGEROUS JOB BUT Y CHOOSE A
LINE OF WORK WHERE MOST OFF HATES YOU.
In contrast to the other four respondents, one blogger insinuate d that some
members of law enforcement are inclined to become cops due to latent homosexual
inclinations and/or tendencies. Such was the case for Pig killer who wrote the
following on May 18, 2012 at 11:43 p.m.:
Why do cops shower together after work? They dont get dirty Maybe it
explains why they all have moustaches, for the tickle effect?
Clearly, these five individuals have a strong contempt for members of law en-
forcement and used derogatory terms or labels (e.g., assholes,”“hoes,”“douche
bags,”“Pig killer) to express their opinions about cops that they deem less than
honorable. Essentially, these individuals expresse d delight that the NPMSRP on
police brutality cases (and other Internet forums) exists as these exposes law
enforcement whose goal is to protect others. Thus, statistics related to incidents
of reporting misconduct of law enforcement and the actual stories of individuals that
have been victims of police brutality shed light on an ugly truth:thatsome
members of law enforcement are perpetrators of brutality against citizens.
Theme 2: Suspicion of Law Enforcement
Eight individuals (0.22 %) used words and/or phrases that represented thoughts,
feelings, or beliefs that members of law enforcement directly or indirectly engage
in police brutality and/or condone the brutal actions of other members of law
enforcement. A closer examination of the responses related to suspicion regarding
law enforcement revealed four subthemes: (a) the acknowledgement that if members
of law enforcement do not personally engage in acts of police brutality, they are
complicit in these acts by covering them up or ignoring them; (b) the need to be
proactive by protecting the rights of citizens; (c) the double standard enjoyed by
members of law enforcement that is not afforded to citizens; and (d) the need for
members of law enforcement to be respected while not affording this same respect to
others.
Regarding the capacity for members of law enforcement to cover up or ignore acts
of police brutality, doug provided this comment on May 12, 2011 at 6:33 p.m.: What
about their buddies who watched, covered for them, or looked the other way? The %
of bad cops goes through the roof. Another blogger, Ccoltmanm encouraged others
to discuss police ignorance in an attempt to defend citizen rights by writing this
on May 21, 2011 at 9:26 p.m.: Discuss police ignorance here, need help defend-
ing citizen right s and then provided the following link to facilitate this dialogue:
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http://forums.officer.com/forums/showthread.php?165493-Video-Taping-a-Cop.A
few bloggers drew attention to the double standard that allows law enforc ement
to freely get away with behaviors that most people cannot. A respondent by the name of
Christina shared her perspective on June 17, 2011 at 5:32 p.m. in these words:
If it was me doing the same things the cops were doing I would get thrown
under the jail and key thrown away!
In support of C hristinasviewthatcopsdothingsto hurt pe ople, another
respondent by the name of Nick suspect law enforcement would go to great lengths
to commit murder and even expose of the body. To support this, Nick sa id the
following on July 18, 2011 at 7:58 a.m.
Yeah James the FBI would spend all these years looking for you if they wanted
you dead they wouldve taken you in thei r van and dumped your body in a lake.
Rob felt the need to be proactive in helping others who were suspicious of law
enforcement by offering assistance. He provided this comment on September 17,
2011 at 6:46 p.m.: I lived up in Alaska, Homer actually. Any way we could help?
Another blogger, Miz , who was also suspicious of the police, drew attention to the
date of the statistics and recommended that recent ones be provided. This blogger
provided this simple statement on January 28, 2012 at 12:45 a.m.: I would like to see
this updated. Another respondent by the name of Lady Luck felt it ironic that
members of law enforcement demand respect from others, but do not afford others
this same respect. This female shared her feelings on March 19, 2012 at 4:39 p.m.
through these words:
COPS KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING WHEN THEY SIGN THEIR
SIGNATURE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAPE R THAT SAYS YES I
KNOW THAT MY LIFE WILL AND CAN BE IN DANGER BUT I TAKE
THAT RESPO NSIBILITY. AND NOW THEY WANT TO GO BALLS TO
THE WALL AND HAVE EVERYONE HONOR AND RESPEC T THEM.
Interestingly, even after providing this narrative that highlighted her suspicion of
and frustration with law enforcement, Lady Luck responded to Ashley, a law student
who wrote on February 29, 2012 at 7:47 p.m., that there are so many laws out there
to protect our rights that it makes it almost impossible for cops to do their job, on
March 19, 2012 at 4:43 p.m. by reminding her: @AshleyLAW AND JUSTICE
ARE AND WILL FOREVER BE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS ENTIRELY! Like
the previously mentioned respondent, Ccoltmanm, do nna hoover was another blog-
ger that was suspicious of law enforcement and encouraged others to stop police
brutality in RCSD by signing a petition. This female encouraged other bloggers to
do this on August 29, 2012 at 11:35 p.m. when she wrote: Please sign this petition to
stop police brutality in RCSD.
Clearly, these eight men and women have doubts that law enforcement consistent-
ly work in the best interest for citizens. In addition to acknowledging that members of
law enforcement may directly (personally engage in acts of police brutality) or
indirectly (cover up or ignore the acts of police brutality), other respondents com-
plained about the privileged standing in society that law enforcement enjoy that is not
afforded to citizens. Furthermore, several respondents felt the need to take a pro-
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active approach by encouraging others who need help defending citizen rights to
freely and openly dialogue about police ignorance, their negative experiences with
law enforcement or sign a petition that would stop police brutality in a particular
area of the country.
Theme 3: Law Enforcement as Agents of Brutality
Sixteen individuals (0.44 %) used words and/or phrases that directly or indirectly
related to witnessing acts of brutality perpetrated by one or more members of law
enforcement against citizen s. A closer examination of the responses relat ed to
suspicion regarding law enforcement revealed four subthemes: (a) the acknowledge-
ment that members of law enforcement directly (personally engage in acts of police
brutality) or indirectly (cover up or ignore acts of police brutality by fellow officers),
(b) the double standa rd enjoyed by members of law enforcement that is not afforded
to citizens, and (c) the hypocrisy involved when members of law enforcement
demand respect, yet show little respect to citizens.
To help put each of these subthemes in perspective, a respondent by the name of
George Sand drew attention to the statistically high percent of murders by police who
make up a small subset of the general population. He used these words to express
himself on May 11, 2011 at 1:29 p.m.:
According to the FBI website, there were about 13,000 murder victims in 2009
(2010 data not available yet it seems). Now compare that to police. The chart
above indicates 13 % were fatality-type misconduct. That comes out to be about
330 misconduct-fatalities. There are 415,000 officers. That would indicate
police are 16 times more likely to murder. Or, of you add the police killings
(330 people) to the 13,000 murders, police account for 2.4 percent of the
murders, whereas they account only for 0.2 percent of the population.
In support of the comment provided by George Sand, a woman by the name of
Christina recounted an incident where her husband was physically abused by a police
officer. This woman used these words to tell her story on May 30, 2011 at 7:37 p.m.:
My husband was really abused by an officer last week. He got out of the truck
put his hands up and got on the ground. While he was on the ground the officer
tazed him. It was stuck in his skullthen the officer continued to taze him 2
more timesWhile he was having a seizure. I am at a loss. I dont know who to
report this to.
christinastills@ymail.com
Sadly, Christinas story of physical abuse at the hands of police officers was not the
only one. Another male by the name of James Murphy recounts that his nightmare
began when he witnessed a murder and thereafter becam e a target of the FBI. This
man wrote the following on June 10, 2011 at 1:50 p.m.:
My nightmare. I have witnessed so much crime since I was born it is not funny.
I was 7or 9 years old I witnessed one building blow up and a man killed other
man then that man followed us to the train station where he was shot by a
NYPD officer. One week later a white van pulls up across the street from where
we were walking, a man in the van called a man to hes van a gave him money
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and a gun they followed me and my grandm other to the check cashing place and
inside the store there is the same cop very nerves and scared 10 minutes later the
man who was in the van open fired on me the NYPD officer took a bullet for me
as he laid there dying he told me who did this and my nightmare began. The
FBI wants me dead.
In contr ast to the previous narratives, a respondent who went by the identifier
whatgoesaroundcomesaround expressed indignation that members of law enforce-
ment become captain kill who I want and do what I want but the complicity by
which individuals who serve in this way cover for the actions of their fellow officers,
even when they know they are wrong. This poster provided this extended narrative on
April 9, 2012 at 5:58 p.m.:
I am not sure exactly why some people still feel the need to say it is ok for COPS to
do the things they do. Yes there about 5 good cops in each town, and I am only
saying this because thats what I have seen and I have also seen the rest of them so
full of crap that an Ex-lax will not help! You know what you sign up for so shut up
with all the whining. So is it ok for every person who joins the Military to go and
beat someone because they are stressed out? If you cannot handle your job the way
you are supposed to then leave the job! Officers feel that since they have on that
uniform and badge that they are captain kill who I want and do what I want
because I know my buddies will back me up. I think any officer who covers up for
their so called buddy should face punishment as well. I have seen police do things
that are dead wrong and nothing has happened to them.
In support of the perspective provided by whatgoesaroundcomesaround, another
poster by the name of samantha expressed disgust with the polices inclination to be
self-absorbed (being so in their own little world), conceited (thinking theyre so
high and mighty), and selfishness (being more help to us). This woman used these
words to share her emotional state on June 6, 2012 at 3:23 p.m.:
The police are freaking stupid for not seeing whats going on and maybe some
of them should quit being so in their own little world and thinking theyre so
high and mighty, and being more help to us. They are supposed to be around to
help our community and all they do is beat up people to make them feel like
they actually did something good which in reality all they did was hurt some
person. I also think that if youre going to be a police officer, do it the right way
not your way. or maybe you should talk to people before jumping to conclu -
sions for real
In response to a comment made by a blogger who believed the findings from the
NPMSRP ignore the contributions of the majority of men and women of law
enforcement who protect and serve the community (Ryans entire comment will be
provided in the next section), a male respondent, by the name of Ian, reminded Ryan
that the stat istics provided by this website were only for convictions, and not obvious
cases of police brutality. Ian used the following words to make this point clear on
June 27, 2011 at 9:35 p.m.:
LOL at Ryan!!! These stats are for CONVICTIONS! Why dont you do some
research and find out the rate of convictions of OBVIOUS police abuse? Go
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ahead, start with the videos, there are hundreds of cops out there beating and
robbing people on video that get no punishment.
Another female respondent used the phrase out of control to refer to the amount
of police brutality that occurs in Alaska, her state of residence. Jewels shared her view
in this way on September 17, 2011 at 12:44 p.m.:
The cops up here are so out of control!!! They think they do have extra rights
just one incident.. after a guy was detained in a cop car they had to take him to
the hospital for the damage they had done to him.. he made the mistake of
saying law suit and while they were at the hospital and he was in handcuffs they
emptied pepper spray on him in the back seat.
To extend the specific incidences of police brutality that were provided by other
respondents, another woman shared with others that the police in her community
were part of a gang, she was arrested based on a false report, was not read her
Miranda rights, and was personally battered by the police. The 63-year old
Lorraine said this on September 28, 2011 at 12:34 a.m.:
I reported to the police that there is a gang in my community. Then I found out
that the police were part of the gang. They arrested me based on a false police
report. I was all black, blue and swollen when I was released to my family after
they raised 5K$ cash.
A few days la ter, a blogger who identified himself/herself by the handle, The
Beginning is Near, responded to a post provided earlier by Carolyn who believed
that the police keep sanity and security in our homes (Carolyns entire narrative will
be provided in the next section) by providing a strong argument that belies this claim.
To further support this indiv iduals view, he/she provided a YouTube video that
provides visual proof that the police are agents of brutality. The Beginning is Near
provided this perspective on October 2, 2011 at 1:30 p.m.:
the police are the backbone that keeps sanity and security in our homes,
neighborhoods, and the world at large
Response: Then that explains why our society is in such bad shape.
Note: the police force in this video is considered one of the BEST police forces
in the country. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v =Zgr3DiqWYCI&featur e=
player_embedded
Sadly, other respondents were physically assaulted by law enforcement. Similar to
the trauma experienced by the 63-year-old Lorraine, Travis Wilkerson was also
physically abused by the police. In his narrative, he called law enforcement s use of
excessive force an understatement, shared that his civil r ights were 100 %
neglected as none of us were read our rights [Miranda Rights], asked for help with
securing good legal representation, and even provided his email contact information.
Travis Wilkerson expressed his frustration with the way that he was treated by the
police in this way on December 4, 2011 at 11:03 p.m.:
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I was assaulted by the SDPD after I got sucker punched from some guy trying
to talk to my wife. Right after I got hit from that guy the SDPD ambushed all of
us like we were criminals. Got cuffed right away then picked up by two officers
and slammed into the ground head first. I blacke d out and then they pepper
sprayed me while I was already on the ground. I need some great representation
so if anyone interested can help contact me here travis.wilkerson87@gmail.com
Another poster suggested that technological advances that members of law en-
forcement curren tly enjoy are inconsistent with an antiquated code of professional
conduct. Essentially, while the police are given the best that technology has to offer,
they are not held to a standard that is appropriate for this day and time. This was the
view expressed by Karin Wildeisen on February 11, 2012 at 5:26 p.m.:
The reality is that this country has armed our law enforcement with 21st century
technology, yet continues to hold them to a 19th century code of conduct. We
make excuses for the damage they cause, while we look the other way and hope
nobody embarrasses us into actually doing something about their behavior.
Either you conduct yourself with some personal control, or you dont.
Interestingly, after providing this narrative, Karin Wildeisen responded to a blog-
ger by the name of Andrew (on June 17, 2011 at 1:30 a.m. and will be provided in the
next section) who shared that he would not run to the chief to get his friend locked
up for years, even if his friend shot a child. Karin simply said this on February 11,
2012 at 5:34 p.m.: P.S. Andrew, you are frightening. Like other respondents, an
individual who identified himself/herself by the identifier, fdgfdg , also condemned
police officers that use the difficulties involved with their job as a reason to abuse
their power in this way on March 19, 2012 at 7:44 a.m.: Some pretty weak argu-
ments from cop-apologists here. Mostly played-out defenses like But you civies
[civilians] just dont KNOW! Its so HARD! Cry me a river.
Another male blogger, saul roashan, used the NPMSRP website to help him write a
school report on the negative effects of police brutality. He wrote this on May 1, 2012
at 2:06 p.m.: I have to write a report on police brutality and this has helped a lot. I
was just wondering if you guys had anything I could use to write a persuasive essay
on how police brutality is bad? Thanks guys and james murphy stfu.
Six days later, a respondent who used the initials BRK was irritated at the view that
police brutality is rare by stating that it shouldnt happen at all. This individual
expressed their feelings in this way on May 7, 2012 at 9:12 p.m.: It doesntmatterif
itsrareornot,itshouldnt happen at all, get your head out of your ass. Less than 24 h
after BRK provided their perspective, another blogger felt impelled to use logic to
break down each of the false arguments provided by individuals that felt the need to
defend the inappropriate actions of some members of law enforcement. This person,
who used the initials aj, used the following words on May 8, 2012 at 2:47 p.m. to
debunk the arguments provided by individuals that support law enforcement:
Ok, time for logic. Cops are people too: false argument and irrelevant.
Criminals are also people, but still need to be punished for their crimes.
Giving
someone some slack is a stupid statement that has nothing to do with law. Its
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a tough, dangerous job. False argument. Lots of jobs are tough and dangerous.
That doesnt give anyone leave to violate the legal constraints of their authority.
The most recent comm ent on this thread was provided by a poster that used the
identifier cops have bad days too sarcastically to demonstrate that although they
may have a bad day, this is not an excuse to use weapons against or beat citizens.
To make this point clear, this individual believes that a zero-tolerance policy should
be in place for law enforcement that physically abuse others and even insinuates that
he/she was abused by the police. This individual expressed their opinion in this way
on September 19, 2012 at 8:59 a.m.:
Police officers are trained to handle the law, not abuse it. Having a bad day is
not an excuse for brutality, and obviously the people saying this have never
experienced forms of police brutality. If you are a police officer that has a bad
day every now and then and senselessly beats citizens, sometimes using
weapons against them, and in some cases killing them, you SHOULD NOT
be a police officer.
The comments provided by these 16 men and women demonstrate their conviction
that law enforcement are agents of brutality on citizens. Although some individuals
were aware of the heightened rate of brutality among members of law enforcement, or
were angered by the double standard that gives members of law enforcement the
freedom to do things that civilians could never get away with, others recounted
personal, traumatic experiences with the police that involved the use of excessive
force, stripped them of their dignity, violated their civil rights, and, in some cases, put
their lives in danger. For individuals in the latter group, this website was a forum by
which they could freely tell others about their negative experiences wi th law enforce-
ment, have their feelings validated, and possibly get the help that they need.
Theme 4: Respect for Law Enforcement
Seven individuals (0.20 %) used words and/or phrases related to the belief that law
enforcement contributes to order in society a nd that the members of law enforcement
have good, altruistic, and benevolent intentions. The three subthemes related to this
primary theme were related to: (a) the small percent of law enforcement that are
reported for or convicted of misconduct, (b) the need for citizens to avoid run-ins with
law enforcement by a dhering to the law, and (c) the need for members of law
enforcement to exercise self-control in their line of work yet be seen as human beings
by citizens. A blogger by the name of Ryan pointed to the miniscule number of law
enforcement officers that are reported for misconduct. On May 11, 2011 at 2:58 a.m.
he wrote this:
There are nearly half a million (Approximately 415,000) cops in the United
States. According to this graphic, police brutality is extremely rare. According
to this graphic, 0.012 percent of our nations law enforcement officers were
even reported on misconduct, let alone found guilty of it. 99.98 percent of the
police that protect our nations people are well trained profession als that simply
have the desire to serve our community.
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Nine days later ( on May 20, 2011 at 3:24 p.m.), a woman by the name of
Carolyn further reiterated Ryans comment regarding t he small percent of law
enforcement that are reported for or convicted of misconduct by highlighting
that the men and women who serve in this capacity are the backbone that
keeps sanity and security in our homes, neighborhoods, and the world at large.
Carolyn wrote this at 3:24 p.m.:
The average person such as myself doesnt have what it takes to be a police or
be involved in any type of law enforcement. We complain and most of the time
we have terrible things to say about officers, but in all actuality (outside of
almighty GOD) the police are the backbone that keeps sanity and security in our
homes, neighborhoods, and the world at large.
The small percent of law enforcement that are reported for or convicted of miscon-
duct, a subtheme that was introduced by Ryan, was reiterated by another male by the
name of Andrew, who shared this view on June 17, 2011 at 1:30 a.m.:
Cops are people.people who everyday are put into volatile situations, and
they are trained to be able to kill.their jobs are dangerous a bad day could end
in the accidental shooting of someone who they thought had a weapon. Give
them some slack statistically they are really good if theyre not fucking up.
In contrast to the other bloggers that drew attention to the small percent of law
enforcement that are reported for or convicted of misconduct, or the ability of these
men and women to be the backbone that keeps sanity and security in our homes,
another male believed that citizens should take person al responsibility and avoid run-
ins with law enforcement by avoiding stupid actions that would cause them
problems. To support this view, a male by the name of John Dohoe provided this
statement on September 14, 2011 at 2:13 p.m.:
Want to get rid of the need for cops??? Heres the key: DONT DO STUPID
THINGS. If youre having problems with cops, it probably means you just need
to swallow some pride and admit that you were doing something wrong.
Like Carolyn, another blogger who used the identifier Cry more, was appalled at
the perceived lack of respect that sev eral individuals had for members of law
enforcement. In addition, t his individual even recomm ended that others view a
YouTube video provided by Chris Rock that makes it clear how to avoid a confron-
tation with law enforcement. This poster expressed himself/herself in this way when
he/she wrote the following on November 12, 2011 at 3:54 p.m.:
Wow, this is pathetic. Go watch How Not to get your ass kicked by the Po lice,
on YouTube by Chris Rock. Itll show most of you what to do.
The following two narratives, which were both provided by wom en, support the
views offered by previous bloggers, yet provide a nuanced way of looking at law
enforcement as a potential agent for bad, but primarily one for good. Ashley, a law
student, provided an extended narrative that acknowledges the cops that should just
not be officers, with the 85 % of officers that keep your neighborhoods safe, or
keep your daughter from being raped, or save your grandma from getting her purse
stolen. Ashley wrote this extended narrative on February 29, 2012 at 7:47 p.m.:
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Ok so I am guessing that not many of you people are cops. I am currently a law
student and there are so many laws out there to protect our rights that it makes
it almost impossible for cops to do their job. Yes I will admit that there are some
cops that should just not be officers, but what about the other 85 % or so of the
officers that keep your neighborhoods safe, or keep you daughter from being
raped, or save your grandma from getting her purse stolen. Police officer
statistics for brutality is high, but if you look at the statistics of the divorce
rate, alcoholism, an d suicide that comes from being an officer you may change
your mind. It is a crazy stressful job and most officers do the best they can.
Less than 48 h after Ashley provided the aforementioned narrative, a woman by
the name of Karin Wildeisen felt it important to remind Ashley that although an
abundance of laws makes it almost impossible for cops to do their job, members of
law enforcement must adhere to a certain code of behavior, even when they are under
duress. Karin Wildeisen wrote this extensive commentary to Ashley on March 1,
2012 at 11:40 p.m.:
I am completely in support of GOOD law enforcement. However, I believe that
support should include a civilian mechanism to cull those who dont maintain
the standard of professionalism met by the ave rage officer, in a fashion similar
to the reasonable person standard. Its a standard that s common to many of
todays high-stress professional arenas. As a nurse, no matter how bad my day
may be, egregious personal injury to those I was assigned to serve and protect
will be punished both by law and by the moral codes of my society. There is a
civilian mechanism in place for those injured parties, or even concerned pro-
fessionals who see a coworker in distress, to seek help.
When a soldier returns to society from battle, regardless of the battlefield
trauma he may hav e witnessed, or even participated in, he is expected to
conduct himself with a certain degree of self-control. Egregious damage to
the citizens he had been sworn to protect and serve will be punished both by law
and by the moral codes of his society, whether that is military or civilian. There
is a civilian mechanism in place through which a soldier, or others concerned
for him , may seek help.
Only law enforcement is supposed to stoically endure and BE endured,
everybody bound and gagged behind the Blue Wall. How is perpetuating
that lack of support helping ANYBODY? It sure didnt help the cop i n
Jefferson County, KS who, because he felt unsupported, blew the lower
half of his face off with his own weapon on my father-in-lawsfarm.It
didnt help the local cop in the news tonight who assaulted his ex-wife
and her new boyfriend with a knife. The news quotes him, Call the cops
and see what happens.
These seven comments speak to the need for members of society to have greater
respect for the men and women of law enforcement . For these individuals, these
individuals deserve respect because they make up such a small percent of the larger
body of law enforcement that are reported for or convic ted of misconduct, citizens
need to avoid ru n-ins with law enforcement by adhering to the law, and while
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members of law enforcement need to exercise self-control in their line of work, they
must be seen as individuals, and not just as badges.
Discussion
This paper had two primary goals. The first goal was to examine what findings from the
NPMSRP suggest about the rate of police brutality in America. The second goal was to
examine how individuals qualitatively perceive law enforcement, as well as what those
implications hold for Black men in America. This study contributes to the growing body
of scholarly work that has examined perceptions regarding law enforcement by giving
attention to the numbers as well as what anonymous men and women say about those
numbers. Essentially, these perceptions directly speak to the feelings that individuals
within society individually and collectively create regarding law enforcement. Thus, this
research contributes to the narrative of the lived US experiences of African-descended
people, post-enslavement. However, before responding to each of the research ques-
tions, the limitations of this study should be noted.
Although grounded theory is compatible with the novel aims of this research, there
are two limitations regarding the data that should be noted. First and foremost that the
data are extracted from a public websit e makes it impossible to determine the
demographic characteristics of the participants. In particular, a public website makes it
impossible to determine whether gender, age, sex, marital status, education, occupation,
and sexual orientation of the individuals commenting. Another possible limitation is that
even though other forms of data collection such as interviews, surveys, and focus groups
allow individuals to provide false information, the anonymity of a public website could
considerably increase this risk. In other words, people may be more likely to falsify or
embellish their experiences. Given these limitations, the anonymity of a public website
makes it possible for individuals to more openly share their views, feelings, and
experiences and could thus decrease the risk of social desirability. More clearly, the
anonymity of a public website could facilitate a greater level of honesty, especially
among individuals who would not ordinarily share their views publicly or have lived
through traumatic experiences that few people know about. In addition, that individuals
are allowed to share their perspectives in real time and agree and disagree with the
perspectives of others can further increase the validity of the findings presented herein.
Furthermore, an examination of these data revealed that many used this forum as an
opportunity to seek and give help to others. So, in essence, this website created a strong,
sensitive, and safe community by which individuals could freely and openly share their
feelings and experiences and request help for themselves or others. Clearly, while social
desirability is an inherent risk of any form of data collection, we believe that the
anonymity of a public website allows for a higher degree of honesty and self-
disclosure than may be afforded in an interview, survey, or focus group. This represents
a major strength of the current study.
Findings from the NPMSRP and Police Brutality in America
As previously mentioned, the findings from the NPMSRP were compiled between the
months of April 2009 and June 2010. In particular, there were 5,986 reports of
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misconduct, 382 fatalities linked to misconduct, settlements and judgments that
totaled $347,455,000, and 33 % of misconduct cases that went through to convictions
and 64 % of misconduct cases that received prison sentences. There are several
aspects that we found disturbing about this report. First, these findings were compiled
and released 18 years after the nationally publicized Rodney King beating. Therefore,
one cannot help but wonder about the number of cases of police miscon duct that went
unreported and did not secure prison sentences. Second, we are currently in 2012 and
quickly approaching 2013, so these statistics are outdated (28 months old) and do not
accurately speak to the current rate of reports of misconduct and sentencing of law
enforcement. Interestingly, while the average length of time convicted officers spent
in prison was 14 months, the average length of post-conviction incarceration for the
general public was 49 months (National Police Misconduct Reporting Project 2011).
How Individuals Perceive the Police Department and the Implications
of These Perceptions for Black Men in America
The narratives from the 36 respondents on the NPMSRP reveal that the majority of
individuals have a negative view of law enforcement. In particular, most had a strong
contempt for members of law enforcement, are suspicious of them, or see them as
perpetrators of police brutality.
Theme 1: Contempt for Law Enforcement Although the narratives provided by these
five respondents expressed disdain for law enforcement, the comm ent provided by
gabriel escobedo su ggests that the public does not ha ve the same view of all
government workers. In particular, this blogger makes a clear distinction between
EMTS workers, firefighters, and members of law enforcement. Although he referred
to members of law enforcement as douchebags, he percei ved EMTS workers and
firefighters as the good guys. This may be due to the fact that individuals in these
professionals are generally known to save lives, while the former generally take lives,
frequently in the line of duty.
Theme 2: Suspicion of La w Enforcement These eight respondents had doubts that
members of law enforcement would act honorably, and Miz shared that he/she wanted
to see these stat istics updated. In particular, they believed that even though the
police are aware that their actions are inappropriate, they are likely to use excessive
force (even when unnecessary) and conceal the actions of other members of law
enforcement who act inappropriately. An example to support this is dougs suspicion
that if one were to include statistics related to the number of cops that watched,
covered for them , or looked the other way, the percent of bad cops goes through the
roof. A more disturbi ng example is Nicks view that if they wanted you dead they
wouldve taken you in their van and dumped your body in a lake. Interestingly, some
bloggers, such as Ccoltmanm, donna hoover, and Rob believed it was their personal
responsibility to discuss police ignorance and protect the r ights of citizens b y
encouraging them t o stop poli ce brutality in RCSD by signi ng a petition. In
addition to merely listening to the stories of those who provided them, Rob offered
to help those who needed it. Thus, these individuals saw themselves as catalysts for
positive change for the disenfranchised in society. Added to the negative feelings
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experienced by these men and women is the belief that the rules that apply to citizens
do not apply to members of law enforcement. Thus, respondents like Christina
objected to cops ability to hurt people as well as the double standard that allows
members of law enforcement to be held to a different standard of conduct from those
of citizens. In addition to this, several respondents like Lady Luck noted that the
police demand respect from others, but rarely afford others the same dignity and
respect. For this woman, law and justice are and will forever be two different things
entirely.
Theme 3: Law Enforcement as Agents of Brutality Although the videotaped beating
of Rodney King was for many Blacks in America the defining moment that provided
undeniable proof that the police use excessive force (brutality) in their dealings with
Black citizens, several individuals revealed personal stories of horror when dealing
with members of law enforcement. In fact, 16 of 36 bloggers (44 %) made statements/
posts that re flected a belief that law e nforcement officers were agents of police
brutality. Five of the most succinct narratives that were illustrative of respondents
sentiments will be discu ssed. These narratives varied from a more general or macro
discussion of police officers of purveyors of unchecked violence to personal
accounts of violence that were perpetrated against them directly or to someone that
they were acquainted with or lived in their community. For example, Ian,who
presents a more general account, was responding to a statistically inaccurate
estimation of the frequency of police malfeasance made by another blogger. Ians
comments poke fun at the statements made by a previous blogger who spoke on his
opinion that police officers have a difficult job and should be treated with a degree of
deference and leniency. Ian retorted that officers are frequently abusive and these
instances are often caught on video tape, but yet are often unpunished.
George Sand gave a more general, and very accurate, statistical analysis of the
frequency of police brutality when he drew attention to the fact that police are 16
times more likely to murder than members of the general population. To help further
bring this statistic into perspe ctive, George Sand acknowledges that although police
comprise only 0.2 percent of the population, they are account for 2.4 percent of the
murders. Conversely, several of the bloggers gave more personal or micro
accounts of police brutality. These explanations can be perceived as examples of
how police brutality intimately touches the lives of its victims. One respondent,
Lorraine was shocked to learn that after she reported gang activity in her neighbor-
hood, the police were actually part of the gang. To make matters worse, the phone
call of this disabled woman to police caused her to be falsely arrested, not read her
rights, and battered by police. Thus, the likelihood of this woman (and others like
her in the nation
s communities) turning to police when suspicious gang activity
presents in their neighborhoods is highly unlikely and may heighten their physical,
emotional, and psychological stress. While Lorraine was antagonized by the police
individually, another blogge r was part of a group that was assaulted. Such was the
case for Travis Wilkerson, who was part of a group that was ambushed,”“slammed
onto the ground, and was awakened in the back of a paddy wagon when he began to
choke on his own vomit. This man was denied care, voiced that his civil rights were
100 % neglected, as neither he nor any of the members in this company were read
their rights. A particularly interesting fact to note in this story is that not only did this
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man request help to secure great representation that could help him obtain the
justice that he feels he deserves but provided his personal email address so that others
could directly contact him. The use of his first and last name suggests that Travis
Wilkerson, and individuals who have shared the same or similar experiences, may be
more likely to turn to a website due to its widespread exposure and may have faith
that they will receive the help that they need.
Another example to support this theme was provided by Jewels. This Alaskan
resident recounted an inci dent where a man that publicly shared that he would sue the
police department had an entire can of pepper spray emptied on him in the back seat
of a police car. In this case, it seems that the police viewed this mans threat (whether
real or perceived) as a rationale for increased anger. Thus, even the public mention of
a law suit from individuals in police custody may increase their likelihood of being
assaulted, rather than diminish it.
Obviously, the examples included in theme 3 clearly indicate that police brutality
is a problem. Even more important it is a problem, along with police misconduct in
general, that has come to the attention of larger government agencies such as the DOJ
(Gabbidon and Greene 2013). The respondents presented accounts that were statis-
tical examples of police brutality in terms of its frequency of occurrence along with
accounts that were more personal and direct examples of police misconduct.
However, when compared with the prevailing literature which shows that majority
of Americans appear to have confidence in the ability of police to perform their jobs,
this massive social problem will probably continue (Alexander 2010 ; Tonry 2011).
Theme 4: Respect for Law Enforcement Seven individuals had a high regard for
members of law enforcement. In particular, these individuals believed that this
agency is necessary to societal order and that the members who are part of this
system have good, altruistic, and benevolent intentions. To support thei r views, Ryan
drew attention to how extremely rare misconduct in law enforcement is and
complained that this websit e should highlight the number of officers that are daily
killed in the line of duty. For Carolyn, outside of almighty GOD, the police are the
backbone that keeps sanity and security in our homes, neighborhoods, and the world
at large, and due to this position, they are supermen, God manifest in flesh that
magnifies their mistakes. In fact, Andrew thought so highl y of law enforcement even
if his friend on a bad day shot a child, he would not get his friend locked up for
years.
While the individ uals that pr ovided these respon ses may be members of law
enforcement (not one respondent self-identified as a member of law enforcement),
they may be family or friends of members of law enforcement, or strongly believe
that law enforcement generally act in the best inte rests of society. In addition, these
individuals may be more likely to support the views provided by John Dohoe and
Cry more that the fault primarily lies with citizens who choose to do stupid things
and disobey the law than with members of law enforcement whose mission it is to
uphold it. Moreover, these individuals believed that most individuals in society see
the badge instead of the person behind the badge, who is some ones loved one who
daily puts himself or herself in harms way. Essentially, these individuals believed
that, even though the police are the backbone that keeps sanity and security in our
homes, neighborhoods, and the world at large, the level of disrespect that they
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receive from many members in society is unwarranted and unjustified. Interestingly,
the narratives provided by Ashley and Karin Wildeisen highlight the dangers of police
work, yet these women perceive those dangers through different lens. Ashley, a law
student, utilizes a more sympathetic lens in that she believed members of law
enforcement have a c razy stressful job and have experiences that the average
person could never deal with. On the other hand, Karin Wildeisen completely
supports GOOD law enforcement and believes support for polic emen should
include a civilian mechanism to cull those who dont maintain th e standard of
professionalism met by the average officer, in a fashion similar to the reason able
person standard.
Critical Race Theory, Racism, and Police Brutality in America
Critical race theory served as the intellectual foundation for our study. Cr itical race
theory has applicability to our topic because it draws from a broad body of literature
which extends to the area of law and can be further extend ed to the area of police
brutality (Solorzano et al. 2000). Further, critical race theory captures how race is
structurally embedded within institutional structures, i.e., law enforc ement, exacer-
bating the expression of White hegemony and ostensibly increasing the likelihood of
disparate treatment of marginalized societal groups (e.g., Bl ack males and other men
of color) to keep them subjugated (Bell 1992).
Reflecting upon the four emergent themes from our examination of the
statistical findings and comments presented by contributors to the NPMSRP
revealed that critical race theory holds promise for our current study and subse-
quent studies. More specifically, the first three themes, contempt for law enforce-
ment, suspicion of law enforcement, and law enforcement as agents of police
brutality, can be easily understood by critically probing the racist perceptions of
law enforcement held by pe ople of color, particularly A frican-Americans
(Gabbidon and Greene 2013 ; Staples 2011). In turn, the impact of the first three
aforementioned themes makes the fourth theme (respect for law enforcement)
tenuous at best and virtually impossible.
Skolnick and Fyfe (1994) asserted that the police are an extension of White
supremacy in the field. Accordingly, it should not come as a surprise that increases
in police sensitivity training, higher educational requirements for officer recruits,
community policing, and other progressive approaches have not produced a measur-
able decrease in police brutality against Black males because none of these initiatives
specifically address the larger societal issues of police brutality and White supremacy
of which police are an extension (Alexander 2010; Feagin 2010).
Evidence of the ineffectiveness of the aforementioned contemporary methods to
remedy the issue of police brutality can be found in the large numbers of police
departments that have and are being investigated by the DOJ (no fewer than 17) for
police brutality, shooting and killing unarmed civilians, and other forms of police
malfeasance (Desmond-Harris 2012; Gabbidon and Greene 2013; Lozano 2012). A
critical race approach would suggest that not critically taking race into account
hinders optimal law enforcement practices because when citizens, particularly people
of color, view the police as corrupt and above the law, they are more inclined to
uphold urban subcultural mandates such as stop snitching (Anderson 2000; Jefferis
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et al. 2011). Conversely, it helps us to understand why the police officers view Black
males as potential perpetrators and how race plays in aggressive acti ons against Black
males (Jefferis et al. 2011; Plant and Peruche 2005).
Directions for Future Research
There are several ways that future studies can expound upon the findings that have
been presented here. First, the findings from the NPMSRP were compiled between
the months of April 2009 and June 2010 and are outdated. We are now in 2013. Thus,
in order to better determine the number of law enforcement that have been reported
for misconduct, the number of fatalities linked to misconduct, the number of settle-
ments and judgments related to misconduct, and the amount of time that law
enforcement spend in prison, we strongly recommend that the NPMSRP findings
be updated weekly and that these findings be made available to the public via the
Internet and agencies that typically serve marginalized members of socie ty who are
most likely to be victims of police brutality. Second, the findings of this study beg
scholars to more closely examine the stories of men and women that have been
victims of police brutality. As eviden ced by several of the narratives presented in this
study, these experiences were frustrati ng, demoralizing, and traumatizin g for the
victims because there was no one that could help them. Greater qualitative work in
this area would reveal how these individuals and their families remain resilient in the
face of trauma, as well as the negative physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual
effects of the abuse on the victim s and their families. Lastly, since this study focused
on how law enforc ement is perceived by the public, future scholars should examine
the perspectiv es of these individuals. In particular, such an endeavor would highlight
the duality of the law enforcement experience, namely how members of law enforce-
ment sees themselves, as well as how they believe the public perceives them.
Conclusion
This study contributes to a burgeoning area of scholarly inquiry that has explored
ideas regarding law enforcement by devoting attention to the numbers as well as what
anonymous men and women say about those numbers. Since the police brutality
experienced by Rodney King and other less-famous Black men and women in
America has now become a national phenomenon, the US Department of Justice
should be vigilant in enforcing the law and administration of justice for these victims.
We are not aware of other studies that have incorporated findings from the NPMSRP
as it relates to police brutality in America after the untimely death of an iconic figure
when it comes to the racis t nature of Black men in Am erica, along with NPMSRP
narrative data to capture the extent and structure of assessments of law enforce ment.
A benefit of a study of this nature is that it enables researchers to tap into the true
sentiments of respondents concerning law enforcement that are difficult to tease out
when using qualitative interviews or quantitative surveys.
Prior studies that have delved into the topic police brutality, law enforcement
perceptions of Black men, and general perceptions of law enforcement have empha-
sized such things as Afrocentric facial features of Black suspects, DOJ investigations
of police departments, racial profiling, sentencing decisions, and disproportionate
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incarceration rates, but rarely have studies utilized analysis of NPMSRP statistics and
narratives (Blair et al. 2004; Gabbidon and Greene 2013; Staples 2011; Tomaskovic-
Devey et al. 2006; Walker 2011). Therefore, perhaps this study can begin a new line
of intellectual exploration into the area s of police brutality against Black males,
perceptions of Black males by the general media and law enforcement, and percep-
tions of law enforcement by societal members via major news website headlines and
NPMSRP narrative data.
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International students make up an increasingly large portion of the US student population, especially among graduate students studying the science, technology, engineering and math fields. In this article we analyzed the microaggression experiences of 22 international students in graduate STEM programs at predominantly white institutions. International students, often people of color, may be subject to facing discrimination within their universities. Our results break down the different types of microaggressions that 14 of our 22 participants reported experiencing from faculty, peers and students, on and off campus. These experiences include individuals insulting a participant's country of origin, doubting their academic ability, threatening them, and otherwise discriminating against them. Each event reported by our participants is classified into a type of microaggression and is further discussed using Critical Race Theory to connect how international students' racialized and their intersectional experiences are connected to the larger societal issues of racism in the US.
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In 2012, while returning from a visit at a local convenience store, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a community watch group member, in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman stated that he was being attacked by Martin and shot him in self-defense, and in 2013 Zimmerman was acquitted of the death of Martin. There was a significant public reaction to Martin's death and the subsequent acquittal of Zimmerman. This chapter will describe Martin's death, the news media and social media coverage of the case, and the implications Martin's death brought on the discussion of racial profiling, implicit bias, and police conduct and practices. The chapter highlights the various roles Martin's death and news media and social media coverage played in the mobilization for social movement and activism highlighting racial justice in the United States.