Racial profiling and illegal searches from police run rampant in large cities, not to mention these unsolicited actions often end in police brutality. There have been countless stories in the news recently involving the police force mistreating many individuals by targeting their racial background or mental capabilities. According to a civil rights attorney, African American males between the ages of 15-34 accounted for 15% of all police deaths in the system. Black males in this age range make up 2% of the population, yet they are 5 times more likely to be killed by police than white males. The issue of police brutality and the violation of civil rights is a continually growing tragedy that is becoming far too common in the news.
According to Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, excessive force reports made up over 23% of all police misconduct in 2010 and 57% of those cases were categorized as ‘physical force’ which were things like chokeholds, strikes with batons, and violent physical attacks. Along with a strikingly high percentage of physical harm from police, the disproportion number of African American males being killed along with the number of disabled people murdered is unsettling. According to a study conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation, researchers say approximately one-third to one-half of those killed by police had a disability.
The Shooting of Daniel Harris
In late August of 2016, Police Officer Jermain Saunders put his police sirens on and attempted to pull Daniel Kevin Harris over for a traffic stop violation at on a Thursday evening in North Carolina. The issue arose when Harris, a deaf and mute middle-aged man, did not stop his car, possibly because Harris could not hear the police siren.
According to the State Highway Patrol, “While on Seven Oaks Drive, the driver exited his vehicle and an encounter took place between the driver and the trooper causing a shot to be fired.” Although officer Jermain Saunders claims there was an altercation between him and Harris, there were a few neighbors who witnessed Harris simply getting out of his car, trying to communicate with the officer, and then being gunned down. The witnesses, Harris’ neighbors were horrified and appalled by what they saw take place on their street.
A State Highway Patrol statement claims: “While on Seven Oaks Drive, the driver exited his vehicle and an encounter took place between the driver and the trooper causing a shot to be fired.” According to neighbors, Harris could have been trying to communicate with the police officer prior to his fatal shooting. This attempt at sign language communication could have been the ‘encounter’ that police claim took place. This encounter lead to Harris dying just feet from him home- Harris was unarmed when he was killed.
When police reports hit the media, the cop responsible for the shooting didn’t fail to mention that Harris had a record of ‘resisting arrest’, which could also be attributed to confusion with understanding orders being deaf and mute. Although the death of Harris is being investigated, the likelihood of Office Saunders facing any charges are rare. While citizens are indicted 90% for their killing crimes, police officers are indicted in around 1% of murders.
Neglect for Our Human Rights
One of the biggest issues with police brutality is the neglect for human rights. Not only is our civil liberty supposed to protect our human basic rights and keep our society equal, but police officers find themselves in powerful positions which is often abused without punishment. It is scary to think that some people on the police force truly view themselves as “above the law” in the sense that their cruel and unusual punishment towards others is “justified under the law.” Not only are police officers who abuse their power in the incorrect mindset about their actions, they are reassured of their behavior because most police officers involved in killings do not face any consequences.
Where is the Accountability?
The Supreme Court protects police officers of the risk of being civilly sued due to their line of risky work. The supreme court has ruled that, “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Essentially, this is where police officers are offered leniency by the court- since they are in a risky and heroic line of duty, they are typically given the benefit of the doubt through the Qualified Immunity Doctrine.
For example, a police officer shot and killed Jamar Clark, who was unarmed and handcuffed at the time according to witnesses. The police said he was reaching for his gun so he shot Clark in the back of the head and killed him. The two officers involved in this murder were place on a short administrative leave and quickly returned to the force after. To win a case against a police officer who violated your rights, you must not only prove your rights were violated, but you must prove that the specific act in question was known to be a constitutional violation by the officer.
The job of an ethical police officer is to keep our streets safe by keeping the peace, and protecting and serving the community. Police officers can save lives and act as heroes for those in need- it is when the power of the position in society overrides the duty to serve others where the police force has been called into question.