Public unrest on police brutality on the rise

Aaron Oechsner, Visual Media Editor

Police brutality is a growing concern among many citizens in the United States.

Online videos published and shared by citizens interacting with police have been flooding social media. Such videos have captured excessive force and have acted as the sources for millions of people when this subject surfaces, leading to and fueling allegations of excessive police force, which continues to headline all major news outlets around the country and the world.

Two decades and much law enforcement reform have passed since the Rodney King video—in which King was beaten by police, who were later charged with and acquitted of excessive force, contributing to the 1992 Los Angeles riots—yet we still have division, rioting and protesting across the country. In the years to come there would be many other iconic cases: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and more.

These recent incidents spark the question: is police brutality on the rise in the United States?

There is no widely agreed definition of ‘use of force.’ The International Association of Chiefs of Police has described use of force as the “amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.”

Richard Lemke, assistant professor of criminal justice, states, “Ultimately, the ability to critically discuss law enforcement’s use of excessive force/brutality is limited by the scarcity of good data that exists. Without valid national level data, claims of exaggeration and minimization are equally plausible.”

There are a lot of variables to consider when discussing police brutality in the United States. The information that the Department of Justice and the FBI collect is not all of the information regarding police interaction with citizens. Some police departments are not required to submit information regarding “justified homicide,” therefore, we may have cases that have been undermined.

The Office of Justice Programs states, “Context counts. No two situations are the same, nor are any two officers. In a potentially threatening situation, an officer will quickly tailor a response and apply force, if necessary. Situational awareness is essential, and officers are trained to judge when a crisis requires the use of force to regain control of a situation. In most cases, time becomes the key variable in determining when an officer chooses to use force.”

There are many different cases involving an officer using force, many of which differ in nature; all have their own context and individual differences which make it almost impossible to compare one with the other.