How Did Police Violence In The U.S. Get This Bad?

For years, groups in and outside of the United States have been calling for significant police reform, in respect to the disproportionate targeting of minorities, excessive force, and multiple police shootings of unarmed suspects In 2015 Human Rights Watch said that the US had quote “largely failed” to address numerous UN recommendations to improve its judicial system over the previous five years

So, why and how has police violence gotten so bad in the United States? Well, one of the largest reasons for the rampant increase in aggressive police tactics is the blurring of lines between law enforcement and the military Since the 1970s when Richard Nixon introduced the “War on Drugs”, overall arrests have dramatically gone up Using the Drug War as a catalyst, Ronald Reagan passed a federal law allowing police to cooperate with the military, and use their military equipment This militarization ramped up by the 21st century, and following the September 11th terror attacks, both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense contributed funding to local police around the country During the war on terror, more and more police received surplus military equipment, with some holding weapons such as grenade launchers and armored vehicles with mounted guns

Moreover, multiple reports, including one from the Department of Justice, note that police are better trained in self-defense than they are in community building, and the use of nonviolent solutions For much of the country, there simply is not enough adequate training focused on de-escalation In fact, a 1981 court case, Warren v District of Columbia, found that while police are held responsible to the public at large, they are were not actually required to assist individuals, and can’t be sued negligence as a result A similar ruling by the Supreme Court in 2005 dismissed a claim against police for not acting to keep several individuals out of harm

The court found that the lack of action did not violate the victim’s constitutional rights This lack of accountability to the public, coupled with a lack of internal accountability have led to widespread abuses in power Not only are the standards for police brutality different across the board, but even when police brutality is clear, it is almost never prosecuted One study of New Jersey brutality complaints in 2014 found that only one percent was ever investigated, and the national average of complaints investigated by internal units was less than ten percent in 2006 In an effort to curb such abuses, a 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act allowed law enforcement agencies to be sued in civil court

But this ultimately did little to address the problem, since it is most often the local tax-funded government and not the police department which ends up paying civil settlements In a nutshell, the past few decades of police reform have seen law enforcement agents equipped with military surplus while not only untrained in the use of that equipment, but also untrained in non-violent tactics Moreover, abuses go unreported, uninvestigated, and unpunished, and punitive measures only hurt the community, not the police While there are plenty of law-abiding, committed police officers, as a whole their presence resembles more of an occupying military force than law enforcement

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