Draft:Race and police brutality in the United States

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Unfortunately, race and police brutality have a close relationship in the United States. Overall, people of color and economically disadvantaged people are more likely to experience killings at the hands of police.[1] While the subject has gained a significant amount of media and political attention for the past half-decade, police brutality has always been a problem in the US as long as policing has existed there.


In the South, the contemporary institution of law enforcement is partially descended from patrols that were organized to capture and brutalize enslaved people running for freedom. In fact, the first municipally funded police department in the US was created in Charleston, South Carolina in the 18th century and was meant to control and surveil enslaved people.[2] A similar observation can be made about the Texas Rangers, who enabled "westward expansion" in Texas territory; in just five years between 1915-1920, the Rangers were responsible for the killings of up to 5,000 Mexicans who were “innocent of any crime but the one of being Mexican”.[3]

During the Civil Rights Movement, Black demonstrators were attacked with firehoses and police dogs and physically attacked by officers.

Black Panther Party

See the main article on this topic: Black Panther Party

Anti-Black police brutality in the city of Oakland was the focus of the Black Panther Party when it was originally founded in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. In fact, the seventh point in the Party's Ten-Point Program states, "We want an end to police brutality and murder of black people" and advocates for the formation of Black self-defense groups, citing the Second Amendment. [4] Party members would follow Oakland police on their duties, watching arrests and informing Black individuals of their legal rights when dealing with police, and would even jump out of their cars with their firearms ready when police made traffic stops, predating citizen CopwatchWikipedia organizations by decades.[5][6] The Party also advocated for community control of policing; for instance, the Portland chapter of the Black Panther Party participated in a demonstration at Portland's federal courthouse in favor of community-controlled policing.[6] (Importantly, the Panthers' objective to work against police brutality was just one element of their activism against large-scale structural violence against Black lives.)

Panthers both in the original Oakland party and in chapters across the United States faced police harassment, likely influenced by the negative media portrayal of the Black Panthers as threatening and "out of control", especially in regards to their monitoring of police. Conversely, police were framed as preserving order that the Panthers threatened. The Portland Panthers' survival programs (such as free breakfasts for schoolchildren and its public health clinic) were also targeted by local police. Notably, Kent Ford, the co-founder of the Portland chapter, was beaten by the Portland police and charged with inciting riots in 1969.[6] Moreover, the Chicago Police Department, along with the FBI, played a significant role in the 1969 shooting that killed Fred Hampton, a leader in both the Illinois Chapter and national structure of the Black Panther Party, at his home.[7]

While the original Black Panthers disbanded in 1980, groups that can be classified as "Panther-like" organized around police brutality. For instance, the Black Panther Collective in New York founded the Brutality Prevention Project, which promoted community observation of police by Black and Latino people.[8]

Role of police brutality in prominent protests

Police brutality against people of color was a structural factor that, in conjunction with other examples of racism and poverty, led to protests throughout the history of the United States, even if these protests weren't always immediately preceded by textbook instances of police brutality. For instance, the Harlem riot of 1935Wikipedia was acutely caused by the arrest of a young Latino teenager for allegedly stealing a penknife; fortunately, the teenager was not brutalized by the police, but nearby Harlem residents suspected that the police would beat or kill him due to their violent experiences with the police. In this sense, police brutality, along with general racist behavior from the police, was certainly one factor responsible for these riots.[9]

Similarly, in Detroit a few decades later, racism by police and police brutality were two significant factors that brought about tumultuous protests in the summer of 1967Wikipedia. Early in the morning on July 23rd, Detroit police raided an after-hours, unlicensed bar (known as a "blind pig") in a predominantly Black neighborhood and arrested patrons, including two Black veterans who were celebrating returning home from the Vietnam War. While the arrests were not acts of brutality per se, they did bring Detroit to a metaphorical boiling point in riots that lasted five days. The Michigan National Guard was deployed, and President Johnson later sent the Army; the mayor ordered a lockdown in the neighborhood where most protests were taking place. Police were responsible for killing or injuring protesters (including people suspected of "looting") or people caught in the crossfire. Forty-three people died, 1,189 were injured, and thousands of people were arrested. In the aftermath, Johnson created the Kerner Commission to investigate why the event happened. The Commission reported its findings in 1968; notably, the findings connected Detroit police with white racism against Black Americans and highlighted that Detroit police expressed racist attitudes. [9]

Police officers have also reacted violently to Indigenous-led protests. For instance, the Morton County Sheriff's Department attempted to end a November 2016 protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline close to the Standing Rock ReservationWikipedia with an hours-long standoff with the firing of rubber bullets, tear gas, grenades, and water cannons despite below-freezing temperatures. As a result, at least 300 protesters required medical treatment, with twenty-six being transported to a hospital for emergency treatment. Injuries included hypothermia, bone fractures and internal bleeding from projectiles, and cardiac arrest. The violence occurred after protestors attempted to remove burned vehicles that functioned as a roadblock on the highway to their protest camp. Law enforcement described the protesters as "threatening officers" by throwing rocks and logs and accused them of starting fires, but all protesters were unarmed and were separated from law enforcement by a barbed-wire fence. A physician from the University of California, San Francisco who traveled to Standing Rock to help provide medical treatment expressed, "If the police are going to be there actively spraying people with water in 27-degree weather, [it's] putting people at tremendous risk for death from hypothermia. They might be calling this non-lethal forms of crowd control, but these are lethal forms of violence". The sentiment was also expressed by the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council. [10][11][12][13]

War on crime and the War on Drugs

See the main article on this topic: War on Drugs

Sexual violence

One notable example of sexual violence as police brutality comes from Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was convicted in 2016 of raping twelve women and one teenage girl while on the beat in 2014. Holtzclaw chose victims whom he thought were "vulnerable"; all thirteen were Black. Holtzclaw threatened the thirteen that it was his word (a police officer's) against theirs and that nobody was likely to believe them. In response, the Associated Press (AP) launched a journalistic investigation of rapes committed by police officers on duty. The AP's report notably found that many law enforcement jurisdictions either neglect to or are outright unwilling to make known the names of officers who were fired because of sexual misconduct. Holtzclaw is not the only police officer to sexually abuse Black women, as the #SayHerName project demonstrates by including the stories of Black women who are sexually assaulted by law enforcement in its campaign. For instance, from 2014 to 2017, three Washington, DC police officers were charged with the sexual assault or trafficking of Black girls.[14]

The International Association for Chiefs of Police (IACP) explains that law enforcement who are sexual predators choose their victims based on a perceived vulnerability and lack of credibility (as exemplified by Holtzclaw). Noteworthy examples of groups of women at risk are sex workers, immigrants (and specifically undocumented women), and women who are incarcerated, on parole or probation, or otherwise under the control of the criminal justice system. Due to racial bias, Black women may also be perceived by predatory officers as being "vulnerable" due to assumptions made about sex work, drug use, or another category.[14]

Notable victims and survivors

Rodney King

See the main article on this topic: Rodney King

On March 3rd, 1991, Rodney King, a Black man, was pulled over for speeding by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). He got out of his car and was surrounded by both CHP and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, who kicked him, beat him with batons, and Tased him. King was hospitalized due to his injuries. A few days later, videotape of King's beating was released and received news coverage both locally and nationwide. Four police officers were charged with criminally excessive use of force but acquitted in 1992. [9]

Michael Brown

Sandra Bland

Freddie Gray

After Gray's death, the Department of Justice (DoJ) investigated the Baltimore Police Department and found a pattern of violence from the Department. One notable example of this violent pattern included the carrying out of over sixty illegal strip searches; on one occasion, a Black woman who was stopped for driving with a broken headlight was strip-searched by police in public.[14]

Botham Jean

On September 6, 2018, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, preoccupied with calling and texting the person she was having an affair with, walked into the apartment of her neighbor, 26-year-old Botham Jean, thinking it was her own. She saw Jean, a Black person sitting on the couch eating ice cream and watching TV, and assumed he was a burglar. She shot him twice, and he died. The Dallas Police Department placed Guyger on administrative leave and then fired her on September 28.[15]

According to prosecutors at her trial, Guyger's police training should have caused her to seek safety and call for backup. The sentencing phase of her trial also revealed some damning evidence against her, such as text messages where she advised shoving and pepper-spraying participants at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, and a pin on Pinterest that depicted a Navy SEAL sniper with the caption, "Kill first, die last. One shot, one kill. No luck, all skill". On another social media post, she said of owning a gun, "I wear all black to remind you not to mess with me, because I'm already dressed for your funeral". Guyger was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in state prison in 2019.[16]

Alton Sterling

George Floyd

See the main article on this topic: George Floyd

On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned down George Floyd, a 46-year old Black man living in Minneapolis. Two police officers placed their body weight on Floyd's legs and back as one held his knee on the back of Floyd's neck until he died eight minutes later. He was unarmed and repeatedly said, "I can't breathe". The police were called because he may have used a counterfeit $20 bill. His death was recorded by bystanders and circulated on social media, and weeks of protests took place in response.[17] The next day, the Minneapolis PD claimed that Floyd had died due to a "medical episode", which Chauvin's attorney in his 2021 trial argued was cardiac arrest caused by drug use.[18]

After an approximately four-week long trial, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on April 20, 2021 of all three charged pressed against him (third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, and second-degree unintentional murder) and was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison on June 25.[19]. The trials for Chauvin's three colleagues, who stood by and did not intervene to prevent Floyd from being killed, is scheduled to begin in August.[18]

Tanisha Anderson

Walter Scott

Philando Castile

Breonna Taylor

Jacob Blake

Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23, 2020 during a domestic disturbance. Fortunately, the shooting was not fatal, but Blake was in serious condition and was paralyzed as a result. Blake's shooting also prompted days of local protests, with marches occurring nightly. Some protests did involve damage to vehicles and property. In response, an emergency curfew from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM was ordered. On August 25, Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two protesters. As of August 30th, at least 175 people had been arrested in protests. [20]

Eric Garner

Rayshard Brooks

Elijah McClain

Adam Toledo

On March 29, 2021, Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latino boy, was chased through an alley by a Chicago police officer. After chasing him through the alley, the officer commanded him to stop and show his hands. Adam did so while turning around to face him and was shot once in the chest, causing his death. Chicago police claimed that Adam was armed at the time of his killing. While a gun was later found in the area where he died, his family and lawyers point out that the fact that he was armed doesn't matter since Adam followed the officer's demands. Adam's death was widely reported on by the media due to both Adam's young age and its coinciding with the trial of Derek Chauvin; the coverage of his death is one of the few examples of a Latino victim of police brutality that experienced widespread media coverage.[21]

Daunte Wright

On April 11th, 2021, which coincided with one of the last days of Derek Chauvin's trial, Daunte Wright was shot and killed in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis, during a traffic stop. Wright was pulled over for having air fresheners dangling from his rearview mirror (illegal in Minnesota); police report that he had an outstanding arrest warrant. He was fatally shot by an officer when he got back in his car after police tried to arrest him. The fact that yet another Black person died at the hands of police during a trial where a different police officer did the same thing resulted in more protests. On the night of the 11th, a group of 100-200 protesters demonstrated in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department; when they were ordered to disperse and refused, police fired rubber bullets and chemical dispersants, and protesters threw objects.[22]

More recent protests


When the officers involved in King's beating were acquitted of criminal charges, protests began in Los Angeles and lasted for days, culminating in the arrest of thousands of civilians and sixty deaths. The situation was especially hostile in Koreatown and South Central Los Angeles. For context, South Central Los Angeles, which was mostly Black and Latino, began suffering from serious loss of industrial jobs and high unemployment rates, which caused the growth of Los Angeles' crack market. In response, the LAPD began using militarized equipment such as tanks and SWAT teams.[8] Fifteen days after Rodney King was beaten by police, 15-year-old Latasha HarlinsWikipedia was shot and killed by a Korean shopkeeper after being accused of shoplifting.[8] These existing problems, combined with racism in the criminal justice system and gang violence, in conjunction with the acquittal were responsible for a metaphorical explosion.[9]

In response, the mayor of LA organized a commission to examine the operations of the LAPD. The commission released a 300-page report with recommendations to address issues, such as excessive force commonly employed by officers and "issues of racism and bias".[9]


May 2020

The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor caused massive protests across all 50 states and caused many to support the causes of police defunding or abolition. Some participants who were arrested were later summoned to court on minor offenses, such as participating in an unlawful assembly or blocking traffic. New York City experienced some of the most attended protests beginning on May 28 with over 1000 arrests made. Mayor de Blasio implemented an 11 PM curfew beginning on June 1; the same night, looting occurred in some neighborhoods. Despite law enforcement claims to want to establish order, some anecdotes involve police officers targeting peaceful protesters while allowing looting to occur. The curfew was expanded to 8 PM for the next week.[17]

At numerous demonstrations, law enforcement arrested and acted violently towards protesters, using tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. Some even slammed the doors of police vehicles into protesters. In Mott Hill on June 4, a majority Black and Latino neighborhood in the South Bronx, the New York Police Department (NYPD) used a tactic known as "kettling" (forming a wall to prevent forward movement and simultaneously pushing in the same direction) to trap protesters. After the city's curfew began, NYPD proceeded to assault protesters with batons and pepper spray, shoving people to the ground and restraining them. Protesters were arrested or detained on the street for hours. The NYPD's commissioner described the demonstration in Mott Hill as as an attempt by “outside agitators” to “cause mayhem,” “tear down society,” and “injure cops.” However, according to Human Rights Watch, no police officers were injured in the protest. Huh.[17]

Law enforcement even assaulted and harassed journalists, legal observers from human rights organizations, and street medics, even while being videotaped.[17]

As a result of the protests and other forms of activism in response to Floyd's death, some attention was also given to non-Black victims of police brutality. For instance, while Antonino Valenzuela, who was Mexican-American, was killed in a chokehold from police in Las Cruces, New Mexico in Feburary 2020, the officer was charged with murder in July 2020.[23]


Unfortunately, there are no government databases that track police brutality. While agencies such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI count arrest-related deaths, and the CDC collects figures on deaths from "legal interventions", there is no federal-level effort to count victims and survivors of police brutality. This is partially due to the unreliability of crime statistics and the varying forms of police brutality.[24] In response, civilians have founded several open-contribution and public access projects to collect data, such as the US Police-Shooting Database, the Stolen Lives Project, and the Fatal Encounters Database.[25] A lack of sufficient data is also true of sexual abuse from police officers; even the Cato Institute's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, where sexual misconduct is the second most frequent type of complaint after use of force, does not collect data about the races of victims and survivors.[14]

According to the organization Mapping Police Violence, US police have killed 1,066 people in 2020 alone. Furthermore, the police homicide rate (number of killings by police per 100,000 population) for Black people in the US is 6.6; in comparison, the rate for Hispanic people is 3.8, and the rate for white people is 2.5. Interestingly, while the rates of police homicides in cities have decreased, those for suburban and rural areas have increased. There also appears to be no correlation between the rates of violent crime and police killings. [26]

Campaign Zero's California Police Scorecard gave the LAPD a ranking of F. According to their analysis for 2016-2018, Black and Latino people were 5.7 and 1.8 times as likely as a white person to experience deadly force by the LAPD those years. Los Angeles is 9% Black, 49% Latino, and 28% white; yet among the people killed or seriously injured by police, 28% were Black, 51% were Latino, and 16% were white. Of the civilians seriously injured or killed that year, 42% were unarmed. Perhaps the statistics for the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) are more convincing: in a city 6% Black, 31% Latino, and 41% white, out of those killed or seriously injured by the SDPD during the same period, 21% were Black. 31% of this group of people were unarmed.[27]

In case you were wondering, "But what do statistics from two places in California have to do with a country with over 300 million people?", well, the same patterns are true of national-level data. Take data from 2017: that year, 1,147 people were killed by police. Furthermore, 729 out of 1,147 cases (63.6%) happened as officers responded to suspected non-violent or traffic crimes. At least 149 (13%) were unarmed. While the US population is 13% Black, 27% of all people killed by police in 2017 were Black. Additionally, Black people made up 35% of unarmed people killed by police that year.[28] According to another analysis of 2011-2014 data from the US Police Shooting Database at the county level, the median probability ratio for armed people of color being shot by police compared to armed white people was 2.94 times higher for Black people and 1.57 times higher for Hispanic people. Moreover, for unarmed people of color, Black and Hispanic individuals were respectively 3.49 and 1.67 times more likely to be shot than unarmed white people. [25]

Importantly, Latino people may be undercounted in criminal justice-related statistics since some states' authorities release only racial but not ethnic data and thus may be counted as Black or white in reported data.[3][21] For instance, the Raza Database project analyzed the names and racial data in eight national databases of police killings from 2014 to May 2021 and estimated that about 500 Latino victims may have been mis-categorized, which corresponded to an increase in the number of of Latino victims represented in the data by 24%.[29]

To put the racial disparities in more human terms, an analysis of citizen-collected and independently analyzed data from 2012-2018 estimates that, if current rates do not change, 1 in 1000 Black men will die at the hands of police. Moreover, during this same time period, police-related fatalities killed more Black men in their twenties than diabetes, flu, pneumonia, chronic respiratory diseases, and cerebrovascular diseases.[1] A 2020 study calculated that the overall years of life lost due to fatal police shootings in the US 31,960 per year on average, which is in the same range as other common causes of death such as road injuries and maternal mortality.[30]

170 of the 1,147 victims in 2017 were allegedly armed with a knife; in 117 of these cases (68.8%), police did not attempt to use less lethal force before shooting them. Additionally, 617 people (53.8%) reportedly had guns, but 130 of these people (21% of victims purported to have a firearm) were not threatening anyone.[28]

While the average age of victims of fatal police shootings is 34, when broken down by race, victims of color die at younger ages. For Black victims, the average age is 30; for Hispanic and Native American victims, the average ages are 34 and 31. In contrast, the average age of white victims in officer-involved shootings is 38. [30]

In regards to where police killings take place, a group of researchers from Harvard used data (minus any deaths that could be interpreted as having a purely accidental cause, such as vehicular collisions) from 2013-2017 weighted by racial demographics to estimate rates of police violence for every metropolitan statistical area. They found that metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest exhibited the greatest racial gaps in the rates of police-involved fatalities. From their analysis across all areas, Black people were 3.23 times more likely than white people to be killed by police during this period.[1] The analysis of 2011-2014 data also found that a higher proportion of Black residents and lower median income are associated with higher rates of police shootings of Black unarmed civilians compared to white civilians. Importantly, the analysis also did not find a relationship between these disproportionate probabilities and crime rates at the local level (either total or race-specific).[25]

Notably, very few cases of police brutality involve the officers being charged with a crime. In 2017, only 13 of the 1,147 deaths resulted in officers being charged with a crime (1.1% of cases). Nine of the thirteen cases involved video evidence.[28]


Law enforcement themselves

Fatal shootings are not the only part of racist police brutality. Police also engage in widespread less lethal acts, such as use of police dogs, Tasers, and pepper spray, and stops and searches disproportionately against Black and brown citizens.[17] Inherent racial bias in policing is a major factor behind the phenomenon of racist police brutality; for instance, the enforcement of anti-drug laws and "broken windows" policing (the idea that cracking down on minor crimes like loitering or public intoxication will prevent major crimes) end up targeting Black communities and other communities of color (which would explain the over-representation of Black and brown people in the criminal justice system).[14] This is exacerbated by police departments generally being far whiter than the communities they serve, which makes it easier for police to form an identity for themselves separate from and in opposition to the local residents. Police forces that are unrepresentative of the areas they serve have also been shown to increase crime, which in turn increases cop paranoia, leading them to engage in more rash and violent behavior.[31]

Additionally, an officer's belief that their authority, legitimacy, or masculinity (if applicable) is being threatened by accusations of racism can actually cause aggressive behavior in a phenomenon referred to as the "legitimacy threat". This, in conjunction with implicit bias held by police officers (e.g. stereotypes of "aggression" or criminality, or the stereotype of Black women being "loud"), would explain why seemingly minor interactions, such as a Black driver getting a ticket for not using their turn signal, end up in officer-caused deaths. More specifically, the adultification of Black children (that is, either unconsciously or consciously assigning adult characteristics to Black children and treating them more like adults than children)[notes 1] could also explain why Black children are not exempt from acts of police brutality.[14]

Furthermore, the way that police are trained provides an explanation for frequent violent behavior from police. According to Mapping Police Violence's 2017 report, police recruits spend 58 hours on firearm training but only 8 hours on crisis intervention and 8 hours on de-escalation.[28] Interestingly, even though the NYPD Patrol Guide bans chokeholds and encourages officers to intervene against and report excessive force, the Guide does not command officers to de-escalate situations "unless [de-escalation is] appropriate and consistent with personal safety”.[17] This would explain the story of Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old Black woman living with paranoid schizophrenia whom an NYPD sergeant fatally shot in 2016. The NYPD were called after Danner was ranting and tearing down posters in the hallway of her apartment building; for a few minutes after the police arrived, she refused to come out of her bedroom while holding a pair of scissors. After she left her bedroom, the sergeant tried to grab her, and she swung baseball bat from her bedroom at him. In response, he fatally shot her. [32] Of course, the death of Danner also highlights that police are not suited to handle incidents that arise from mental illness.

The culture of law enforcement also contributes to the lack of accountability that perpetrators usually face; through laws, contracts negotiated by police unions, and policies at the local, state, and federal levels, investigation of misconduct is often internal. For instance, an analysis of NYPD complaints from 2011 to 2015 revealed that 319 officers kept their jobs despite being conduct serious enough to warrant being fired. Furthermore, even if cops do lose their jobs, they are usually able to find a law enforcement jobs elsewhere without their new employers being aware of their previous behavior. In regards to officer-involved sexual misconduct, many jurisdictions (such as the District of Columbia) do not have rules that make it mandatory to report the names of officers fired for sexual abuse to a de-certification database.[14][17]

External investigations and the legal system

Prosecutors also rarely press charges against police officers for misconduct; prosecutors rely on a close working relationship with law enforcement to work effectively, which creates a conflict of interest.[17] The same pattern also holds true at the federal level: after investigating the fatal shooting of Miriam Carey in 2013, the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia released a statement of less than three pages and concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that officers used excessive force; however, a report by The Washington Post pointed out several inconsistencies between the narrative presented by police and facts reported by witnesses. The Attorney's Office also did not address that police acted in violation of the department's policy prohibiting firing into moving vehicles. [14]

Police departments have also been observed hampering external investigations into officer-caused deaths; for instance, after 18-year-old Andrés Guardado was shot and killed by a Los Angeles County deputy, the county sheriff's office put a "security hold" on the release of his Guardado's autopsy report, ordering the coroner's office not to release it.[3]

Moreover, inside police departments, individual officers fail to hold one another to ethical standards of behavior. In one egregious example, the LA County Sheriff's Office was accused of having a group of neo-Nazi, white supremacist deputies in Lynwood whose racist behavior was quietly allowed by authorities.[3] A federal judge in 1991 ruled that a group of deputies called "the Vikings" routinely violated civil rights of citizens by engaging in violent acts such as shootings, killings, and trashing the houses of Black and Latino community members, seventy of whom filed a civil rights lawsuit. The deputies' superiors failed to intervene and “tacitly [authorized] deputies’ unconstitutional behavior”; department officials depicted the Vikings as "a harmless social group" and insisted that plaintiffs in the suit were just criminals who wanted to discredit deputies. [33]

As you may have guessed based on this shitshow of a country we live in, racial bias in the judicial system also plays a role in the lack of convictions and other legal consequences. For instance, if a Black woman is sexually assaulted by a police officer and her case goes to trial, the stereotype of Black women as promiscuous may cause her jury to doubt the credibility of her allegations. [14] A Black victim of police brutality may also be portrayed as "aggressive" by the defense in order to make the argument that extreme force was "justified".

News coverage of police killings

Latino communities have also been left out of discussion on police brutality despite the fact that police brutality is experienced disproportionately by both Black and Brown people. While issues with the racial categorization of Latino victims and survivors plays a role in this, a more significant explanation is that the history of anti-Black police brutality is better known and well documented.[21]

Mainstream news coverage generally also reports the narrative given by law enforcement. Take, for instance, the death of Miriam Carey, a Black woman who was was fatally shot by US Capitol Police in Washington, DC in 2013 with her (unharmed) toddler in the backseat of her car. News reported that Carey was involved in a high-speed police chase after attempting to break through a traffic barrier near the White House, yet this is not consistent with facts revealed by an investigative report by The Washington Post, which found that witness statements and video footage did not back up the story. What had happened was that Carey attempted to make a U-turn out of an area she entered by mistake; the barrier was closed in front of her as she tried to exit. Despite the police's claims that they never saw Carey's child in the backseat, the report noted that the police had at least three opportunities to notice them. Furthermore, the police chase was not high-speed.[14]

What about Black women?

With a few exceptions, most of the coverage of Black victims of police brutality depict Black men, despite the fact that police brutality is very threatening to Black women and, of course, Black people of all genders. (Kimberlé Crenshaw points out the lack of attention that female Black victims of police brutality receive in an exercise at the beginning of her TEDTalk on intersectionality.) The #SayHerName project attempts to make more stories of female Black victims and survivors wider public knowledge. One explanation for the media's failure to cover violence against Black women from law enforcement is that the media usually does not discuss violence against Black women in general; to exemplify, intense media coverage of missing people largely focuses on white women, leaving out Black womenWikipedia.[14]

News agencies are not the only institutions guilty of erasing the violence that Black women face at the hands of police; final reports from DoJ investigations of police departments have avoided discussing brutality against Black women. For example, the DoJ's report of the Baltimore police department did not specify the race of any of the female brutality victims unless it was made obvious from police's use of epithets or insults such as "Black bitch". In fact, it was a blog, not the report, that made clear that the Baltimore woman who was strip-searched after being pilled over for a broken headlight was Black. Other DoJ reports are also guilty of these omissions, such as in the findings of the DoJ's investigation of the Chicago Police Department opened after the 2015 death of Laquan McDonald.[14]


Black Lives Matter movement

See the main article on this topic: Black Lives Matter

While Black Lives Matter (often referred to with the abbreviation BLM) originated in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman (which was not an incident of police brutality), combating police brutality has become a major focus of the movement. In 2014, the movement organized a Freedom Ride to Ferguson in response to the shooting of Michael BrownWikipedia. After the end of the march in Ferguson, BLM affiliates went on to develop local chapters across the country and the Black Lives Matter Global Network.[34]

Beginning in July 2016, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLM-LA) organized a 56-day-long camp-in at City Hall to demand the firing of former LAPD chief Charlie Beck for managing the deadliest police force in the US. The police commissioner had just ruled that a police officer who shot and killed Redel Jones, a 30-year-old woman who struggled with homelessness, was fleeing from police, and alleged had a knife, had not violated LAPD's use-of-force rules. [35] This demonstration saw the membership of BLM-LA double.[34]


Political pundits have taken advantage of the fact that homicide rates have increased since 2014 (while other violent crimes have become less frequent) to fearmonger. However, the important caveat about any crime statistic is that they are reported by law enforcement; as well, not all crime, violent or not, is reported. [36]

The right-wing media has had a field day with Black Lives Matter protesters. In December 2014, the Fox-affiliated channel WBFF (serving the Baltimore area) was caught editing footage from a march in Washington DC to make it sound as if protestors were chanting "We won’t stop, we can’t stop, so kill a cop"...the chant actually said "We won’t stop, we can’t stop, ‘til killer cops, are in cell blocks". They claimed it was a "mistake".[37]

Unsurprisingly, the person you might suspect has called Black Lives Matter protesters "thugs".

Law enforcement

The DoJ provided a grant in 2009 to the IACP to study sexual assault by police officers; the IACP, in a lackluster response, released a report in 2011 merely acknowledged that sexual assault in police departments was a problem and offered voluntary guidelines on how to handle allegations of sexual abuse against officers. Despite the authority of the IACP and the DoJ to intervene, as of 2017, no other action has been taken by these offices.[14]

The NYPD's unions have strongly opposed reform measures by suing over anti-chokehold laws, for the reinstatement of the officer who killed Eric Garner, and to block the release of body cam footage. They also enjoy posting racist shit on Twitter.[17]

Reform, defunding, abolition, and other policy responses

Reforms of police

After the death of Eric Garner, New York's state legislature banned the use of chokeholds. Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in 2015 that designates New York State Attorney General as a special prosecutor for cases involving the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of law enforcement.[17]

Some police departments, the NYPD included, have sought bias and de-escalation training for officers in an attempt to end racial profiling, but there is little evidence to suggest these trainings are effective in preventing tragedy; for instance, the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks had undergone anti-bias and de-escalation trainings just months prior to killing him.[17] Ending the practice of stop-and-frisk, since racial bias frequently motivates who law enforcement decides to stop and frisk.[citation needed] Advocates also propose discontinuing technology used for predictive policing since the data fuelling these predictions is itself biased.[38]

The overall more frequent use of body cameras by police in the past several years also appears not to have changed racial disparities in police shootings, according to a report authored by researchers from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. The report found that the higher representation of people of color among victims in fatal police shootings did not decrease from 2015 to 2020. In fact, while white victims in fatal shootings declined by 1%, there were no statistically significant changes for victims of color.[30]

Handling of misconduct

Defunding the police

Proponents of defunding the police (or police divestment, as it is sometimes called) argue that police do not reduce crime--rather, they just respond to crime after it occurs--and that funding crucial social supports such as housing, education, and mental health resources are effective ways to address the root causes of some crime. Los Angeles in 1992 is a strong example of this, as at the time, funding for the LAPD was prioritized over funding for schools and social services, even in impoverished areas that would have benefited the most from social programs and educational funding. Moreover, there does not appear to be a negative relationship between law enforcement budgets and crime rates[36]. Notably, these proposals for community reinvestment are similar to the suggestions from reports released by historical commissions that were meant to study the causes of riots (such as the Chicago race riot of 1919Wikipedia), which pointed out unequal protection under the law and a lack of social services as major contributors.[9] This is related to the policy suggestion for police to de-prioritize confronting minor crimes--moving away from "broken windows" policing--and not having police respond to mental health crises, since without real support for issues such as substance abuse and homelessness, law enforcement is the entity expected to "resolve" said issues.[38]

There is evidence to support these claims. For instance, research has shown that increasing the number of substance abuse treatment facilities in an area reduces both violent and nonviolent crime rates; similarly, it was discovered that when multiple US states expanded access to Medicaid to low-income adults without children between 2001 and 2008, the rates of both violent and property crimes decreased.[39]

In what a newscaster called "Los Angeles City Council's first step in defunding the LAPD", the budget of the department was decreased by $150 million in 2020; however, after this decrease, the police budget was still a whopping $1.71 billion, so the idea that the City Council made any significant progress in divesting from the LAPD is laughable. This is like claiming you helped put out a massive wildfire by pissing on it.[9]

Several advocacy groups, including both police and drug policy reform organizations, have called for an end to the 1033 programWikipedia, which provides military equipment to law enforcement. The Ferguson Police Department was ordered to return two Humvees it had obtained via this program after county police deployed armored vehicles with snipers in response to 2014 protests, but this appears to have been prompted by political pressure and mistakes in record-keeping rather than proposals or demands from activists.[40]

Abolishing the police

See also


  1. For example, Black girls are viewed as more knowledgeable about "adult" topics, specifically sex, and as needing less nurturing or protection than their white peers.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Schwartz GL, Jahn JL (2020) Mapping fatal police violence across U.S. metropolitan areas: Overall rates and racial/ethnic inequities, 2013-2017. PLoS ONE 15(6): e0229686.
  2. American Civil Liberties Union. "How Do We End Racism in Policing?" 2 February 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Arce, Julissa. "It's Long Past Time We Recognized All the Latinos Killed at the Hands of Police." TIME. 21 July 2020.
  4. "October 1966 Black Panther Party Platform and Program", The Sixties Project.
  5. Gross, Terry. "'Policing the Police': How The Black Panthers Got Their Start."
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Jules Boykoff, & Martha Gies.(2010). “We're going to defend ourselves”: The Portland Chapter of the Black Panther Party and the Local Media Response. Oregon Historical Quarterly, 111(3), 278-311. doi:10.5403/oregonhistq.111.3.0278 Interview transcript. NPR 23 September 2015.
  7. Bassett, M.T. No Justice, No Health: the Black Panther Party’s Fight for Health in Boston and Beyond. J Afr Am St 23, 352–363 (2019). https://doi-org.ezproxy.uvm.edu/10.1007/s12111-019-09450-w
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 “There Is No New Black Panther Party”: The Panther-Like Formations and the Black Power Resurgence of the 1990s. George Derek Musgrove. The Journal of African American History 2019 104:4, 619-656
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 American Civil Liberties Union. "What 100 Years of History Tells Us About Racism in Policing." 11 December 2020.
  10. Wong, Julia Carrie. "Dakota Access pipeline: 300 protesters injured after police use water cannons." 21 November 2016. The Guardian.
  11. Stelloh, Tim. Roecker, Molley. Sottile, Chiara A, and Daniel A. Medina. "Dakota Pipeline: Protesters Soaked With Water in Freezing Temperatures." 21 November 2016. NBC News.
  12. Grueskin, Caroline."Police and protesters face off at Backwater Bridge." The Bismarck Tribune. 21 November 2016.
  13. Wong, Julia Carrie. "Standing Rock protest: hundreds clash with police over Dakota Access Pipeline" The Guardian. 21 November 2016.
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 Michelle S. Jacobs, The Violent State: Black Women's Invisible Struggle Against Police Violence, 24 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 39 (2017).
  15. "Dallas officer fired for killing innocent man in his own apartment", BBC News. 24 September 2018.
  16. "Amber Guyger, Ex-Officer Who Killed Man In His Apartment, Given 10 Years In Prison", Allyn, Bobby. NPR. 2 October 2019.
  17. 17.00 17.01 17.02 17.03 17.04 17.05 17.06 17.07 17.08 17.09 17.10 “Kettling” Protesters in the Bronx. Human Rights Watch. 30 September 2020.
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Celebration is laced with warnings after Derek Chauvin conviction.", Quint Forgey and McCaskill, Nolan D. Politico. 20 April 2021.
  19. "Derek Chauvin sentenced to 22.5 years in death of George Floyd". Ray Sanchez and Levenson, Eric. CNN 25 June 2021
  20. "A Total of 175 Arrests Made During Kenosha Protests, Police Say." NBC 5 Chicago. 30 August 2020.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Foster-Frau, Silvia."Latinos are disproportionately killed by police but often left out of the debate about brutality, some advocates say."The Washington Post. 2 June 2020.
  22. Allen, Jonathan. "Protests erupt after police shoot Black man in Minneapolis traffic stop." Reuters. 11 April 2021.
  23. "Police killings of Latinos lack attention, say activists." NBC News. 18 August 2020.
  24. McCarthy, Tom. "The uncounted: why the US can't keep track of people killed by police." March 18, 2015. The Guardian.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Ross CT (2015) A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0141854.
  26. Mapping Police Violence
  27. Campaign Zero's California Police Scorecard
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 Mapping Police Violence's 2017 Police Violence Report.
  29. Chavez, Nicole."An estimated 2,600 Latinos were killed by police or in custody in the past six years, preliminary report says." CNN. 21 June 2021.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Belli, Brita. "Racial disparity in police shootings unchanged over 5 years." Yale News. 27 October 2020.
  31. Dan Keating, Kevin Uhrmacher, "In urban areas, police are consistently much whiter than the people they serve". The Washington Post. 4 June 2020.
  32. Stevens, Matt and Joseph Goldstein. New York City Agrees to Pay $2 Million to Family of Mentally Ill Woman Killed by Police. The New York Times. 13 December 2018.
  33. Tobar, Hector. "Deputies in ‘Neo-Nazi’ Gang, Judge Found : Sheriff’s Department: Many at Lynwood office have engaged in racially motivated violence against blacks and Latinos, jurist wrote." The Los Angeles Times. 12 October 1991.
  34. 34.0 34.1 "Celebrating Four Years of Organizing to Protect Black Lives."
  35. Levin, Sam. "Hundreds dead, no one charged: the uphill battle against Los Angeles police killings." The Guardian. 24 August 2018.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Knowles, Jared and Andrea J. Ritchie."Cops Don't Stop Violence: Combating Narratives Used to Defend Police Instead of Defunding Them." Interrupting Criminalization. N.D. 2020
  37. "After the Death of Two Cops, Right-Wing Media Demonize #BlackLivesMatter Protests", Savan, Leslie. The Nation. 24 December 2014.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Campaign Zero: Solutions.
  39. Doleac, Jennifer L."New evidence that access to health care reduces crime." Brookings. 3 January 2018.
  40. Deere, Stephen. "Pentagon asks Ferguson to surrender 2 Humvees." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 11 August 2015.