High School Senior Writes Essay About the Myth of Police Brutality
Conor Gough, a high school senior out of Michigan was tasked with writing an essay about a controversial topic. His father being a State Trooper inspired him to write a paper that dismantles the myth of a society plagued by police brutality. Conor writes:
“Police Brutality: Society’s New Stance
America has reached a period of internal turbulence, and it has spread like a wildfire throughout the nation. Citizens are losing faith in the ones who are supposed to protect them when they need it most, and expect that the job will be done right. Technology has changed the way that society views the police. It is making police officers lose faith in their administration, and the country that they love, as their reputation is being demolished by false truths in the media. It is easy to see which view that the majority of society holds. They are no longer standing behind the police, especially in urban areas. The government is no longer making law enforcement a priority and officers are thinking twice before acting when they should only have to worry about doing their job. People react quickly to these radical news broadcasts, without questioning anything that the media shares. Citizens need to consider if this is a case of police brutality or a tragic cultural misunderstanding (Fitzgerald). The same thought applies to social media sites that are frequently used, leading to uprisings that often become violent. The Michael Brown shooting in 2015 led to a nationwide conflict between certain communities and the police. It did not matter what had happened to lead up to his death, the media portrayed an unarmed black man being killed by unreasonable police action, so these communities rioted and looted entire cities. The American police force is not seen as it once was, however nothing regarding the job that they do has changed; what has changed however is the way that society sees, and ultimately reacts to what is going on in police work. The explosion of these people leads to making the police look much worse than they really are by portraying them as overly brutal.
Police brutality is not a new idea, and it is not a localized issue. This unfortunate incident happens around the world, in many different countries. Police brutality has been around since before America was even a country, and has been recorded from the days of the Pilgrims. It seems that today in the United States, society is behaving differently than other nations. It is giving the police force a bad reputation not only on our own soil, but also by other countries from around the world. This lack of support from society and the American government is effecting the way that police can do their jobs on a daily basis, leading to loss of control of entire cities, such as Baltimore, Maryland after the Freddie Gray incident.
What police brutality is now has not changed from when it was first recorded in the history books. “Brutality can be defined as the use of some type of excessive force” (Dolan, Scariano 97-98). The definition is the same as it was over three hundred years ago. So what has changed? Did they have a news station that disguised the truth, or social media to make rumors run rampant throughout their colonies? No. People today rely on these news stations to tell them what they want to hear. It might have happened, but they do not give detail of why the officer was forced to do what he did. “Some regard any incident in which they are stopped by police to be a form of bullying, brutality, or harassment” (Dolan Scariano 98). Respect for the police has diminished because of the way that technology has grown. Certain groups of people immediately react, thinking that it will change things, or make a difference, when actually it is damaging their cause. Violence usually does not help. Overall, the way that news is displayed has changed, and with it, the reactions of people is dramatically exaggerated.
The advancements of technology have both helped and hurt the police force. Law enforcement officers can do their jobs much more efficiently due to these advancements, but at the same time, the media is hurting their morale. How many people question these news providers today? If the true story is not known, then probably not many ask questions. The fact of the matter is, news stations want to appeal to their viewers, and to do this, they need to make the broadcast how the people want their news to be (Doyle). In order to do this, stories are often jumbled, and the facts are lost. For instance, the in the Michael Brown shooting, the news portrayed an innocent, caring, unarmed black man who was carelessly shot in the back. From the newscast, it looks like a terrible case of police brutality. However, they omitted multiple details. Yes, Brown was unarmed, but he was not innocent. He had just violently robbed a convenience store, assaulting the clerk, then fled the scene. When confronted by Officer Darren Wilson, Brown fled from him. Michael Brown then proceeded to attack Wilson, and repeatedly struck him in his patrol cruiser. He then reached for Wilson’s holstered firearm, and at this point, Wilson fired, striking Brown in the hand. Once outside of the patrol car, Brown, who was six- foot four- inch and two-hundred ninety two pounds, bull rushed Wilson, in which Darren Wilson was in a fight for his life. At this point, he (Brown) was then shot and killed. With no backup and his life on the line, Wilson did what he needed to do to take control of the situation, as police officers are trained to do, and survive. When the media hides the whole truth from the public, and the people fail to research what actually happened and then the situation is blown out of proportion. This overreaction is what leads the police to get such a bad name, but the news is not the only source of these people’s information.
Along with news stations, many forms of social media are making communication much easier, spreading the word faster, and mutating the actual story, similar to a game of telephone.
Everyone always wants to be the first one to spread the news. This leads to the message at the end being totally different than when it had first been told. When the story is changed like this, the facts are not correct, and although they may be close to what happened, leaving out key parts of an incident can change self defense into police brutality, like in the Michael Brown situation. If Michael Brown had not have reached for Wilson’s gun, assaulted Officer Wilson, and listened to his commands, the outcome could have been completely different. When key facts are left out and the story sounds like it favors the criminals side, the police are looked upon poorly, and police brutality is the only reasonable justification from the media’s side.
The way that the news is being displayed is affecting the reactions of people around the country. Ronald Weitzer writes, “Research shows that public confidence in the police typically erodes after a controversial incident or incidents are publicized in the news media… incidents of apparent police misconduct gain added significance when they resonate with other factors that condition an individual’s perception of, and experiences with the police.” Minority groups feel targeted by police, and they do not think that the events that are taking place are fair. They do not think about the officer who is doing his job. They only see a violent, out of control person who takes advantage of the power they have. What they do not understand is that the officer does not target anyone who is not doing anything wrong. They do not see that the policeman or woman is taking crime off the street, and how dangerous their job truly is. “African Americans, and young black males in particular, comprise a higher percentage of citizens arrested or killed by police because they comprise a higher percentage of those who have negative police encounters” (Hinton “Deep Roots”). These officers who work in these high-crime areas know the risk, and they do it to get these bad criminals off the streets for the greater good of society. The officers know that sometimes they may need to use force. It might be necessary to take control of a situation. If an officer’s life is in danger, and he has no other option but to protect himself, he or she might have to use lethal force. Society cannot see this action as police brutality. The whole story needs to be studied before judging an officer’s decision, not based on a short clipping from a body camera, which may not not depict the circumstances leading up to the event. The majority of the time, a law enforcement officer will follow the golden rule (Lesinski). They will treat you with the same amount of respect that the suspect gives to them.
When a possible police brutality situation is first shown in the news, rallies of people throughout the nation take to the streets. During the Civil Rights Movement, despite being faced with very strong prejudice and force, the black community protested peacefully. More recently, despite already equal treatment, the black community and other minority groups storm the streets. “Rallies for Trayvon Martin,… protests drew diverse crowds…” (There). They fail to survey the actual situation and see that the suspect is actually guilty of a lot more than the news shows. The “unarmed black male” is not so innocent when the truth comes out, but that does not stop organizations such as Black Lives Matter, the Rainbow (PUSH) Coalition, and the Black Panthers from stirring up situations to “raise awareness” throughout the country. These people
are calling for reforms, and advocating “hands up, don’t shoot,” which is great if they would actually put their hands up and listen to the commands of the police officer. When Michael Brown was shot, his hands were not up. He was assaulting Officer Wilson very violently, but this did not stop the black community in Ferguson, Missouri from rioting, robbing, and destroying most of the city as well as damaging local businesses, store owners, and their innocent community that they lived in. Police shootings are over 99% justifiable, known as ‘good-shoots’ to the police, where the officer is not charged with any crime (Lesinski and 10). Also, crime rates per one hundred thousand police officers are significantly less than non-police citizens, at 245 per hundred thousand (Smith). These criminals do not get shot for unjustifiable reasons, and the police are doing the unfortunate part of their job necessary for survival.
The biggest misbelief some people hold is that all of the police force abuse their power. If they believe everything the media says, then this could be a logical conclusion. Unfortunately as stated above, the media does not always give the whole truth, instead, “media gives us the impression that all police officers are brutal. Every time the police use their authority to use force it becomes police brutality” (Police Brutality). The news portrays all these violent police officers when they are actually not like that at all. They do countless unseen acts of servitude that would be shocking to many people. These news stations do not display the good news because that fails to attract viewers. It is upsetting, because if the media would tell more of these positive stories, the overall opinion and support for the police would be dramatically increased. However, these news broadcasters are more concerned about their ratings, and viewers are more attracted to the violent headlines than the pleasant ones. Policing styles have changed in attempt to bring these minority communities closer to the police, all while increasing trust. Where is the media coverage of that? Hopefully this is enlightening to the style of the media’s operation today. Policing has not become more brutal, and the police officers are not bad people. This does not mean that there are not bad cops out there, because, sadly, this does happen. This does not support the conclusion that all of the police are brutal, and abuse their power because that is a false stereotype.
In today’s day and age, the streets that the police work are a very dangerous place. Sergeant Mark Lesinski, a Michigan State Police Officer says, “There is more fear in younger people today. In highly urbanized areas, children are taught to fear the police, despite the intervention and attempts to reach out and connect to these communities.” In his almost twenty years as an officer, Lesinski has experienced the bad side of police work, including being run over by a vehicle, being in serious fights nearly one hundred times, being shot at multiple times, all of which occurred in the city of Detroit, Michigan. Criminals are typically armed and do not always make the best decisions. Terrorism is spreading to our soil, and guns are getting into the wrong hands. These are only some of the many threats an officer could deal with on a daily basis. Also, consider the threat of being on a road side with possible reckless, drunk or drowsy drivers. Being a police officer is an extremely dangerous career.
Criminals have always had a large arsenal at their disposal to show their strength. Fully-automatic large caliber weapons, like AK-47s, are not uncommon to find, along with numerous others. Who is supposed to stop these people from taking over entire cities? Police officers are highly trained to use their weapons effectively, and when dealing with these violent criminals, being outgunned is never a good situation to be caught in. Someone might think that police have too much firepower available to them, and that they have become too militarized. This is very incorrect. The police are the first line of defense in American cities. Take for instance the North Hollywood Shootout on February 28, 1997. The criminals had fully-automatic weapons and had state of the art full body armor. The police rounds were incapable of penetrating the shooters’ protection, and they did not have weapons big enough to eliminate the threat. Civilian lives were endangered. The police were forced to buy large caliber hunting rifles from gun shops in Los Angeles to finally take control of the situation and end the shooting spree. The police may have been able to stop the threat sooner had they a better arsenal. Trooper Kevin Doyle says, “The police need to have the same amount of firepower as criminals plus one to be on top and stay in control.” Nearly 2,000 rounds were exchanged between the police and the two bank robbers in North Hollywood and it was a miracle that no civilians or police were harmed in the shooting. The police need to be armed effectively and trained well in order to be prepared for a situation like this.
Being a police officer is not a job for anyone, and it is a very intense career. “The police are overstressed, overburdened, and underfunded” (Hinton “Baltimore Burning”). Law enforcement officers are faced with countless decisions in short amounts of time in stressful situations. A fraction of a second can be the difference between life and death of a police officer (Lesinski). Hesitation kills. An officer does not know if a suspect is actually reaching for a phone, or if the person is going to grab a gun to endanger his life. A policeman knows himself. He does not know what a suspect is thinking, or what his next move is. The suspect could draw a gun and shoot before the officer could stop him from doing so. A law enforcement officer never knows what the next call will be, but they must be ready. Ready to fight or to help a family whose home just burned. Ready to hold a young girl whose family was just killed in a car accident. They do not know if any given traffic stop will go routinely, or if the person will shoot at him or her. They are prepared to drive an ambulance to the hospital because the patient could die if CPR is stopped and both paramedics need to work on the person. The possibilities are endless, but at the end of every single shift, all police officers want to go home to their own families.
Despite all the poor publicity the police receive from the media, many Americans still support the police. This is important. They need to know that they are doing their job well, and that without them, our country would not be as safe as it is. They need to feel appreciated, because when someone dials 911, looking for help, they need it fast. All police lives matter, and they are important. The year 2016 has been very deadly already for the police with twenty six officers killed, up 250% from 2015 (Honoring). The thought strikes fear in the hearts of every police officer. Hashtags like #thinblueline, #bluelivesmatter, and #policelivesmatter along with others have been created to raise awareness for the deaths of these officers.
Society’s view of the police force have changed because of the way that the media is portraying them in multiple forms. The job of a police officer has not changed, other than the fact that they have more advanced tools and technology available to them, and their goal is to protect and serve the citizens of their country. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and each person thinks differently, but at the end of the day, facts do not lie. The facts about the jobs that police are doing do not hide anything, and they do not leave anything in question. Despite the poor display by the media, the police still have a job to do, and it sometimes escalates into a physical situation. “The police argue that strong force is needed in many arrests, especially in those dealing with violent or strongly resisting suspects; that force may look like brutality but it is really a necessary and legal action in such cases” (Dolan, Scariano 97-98).
Watching the news typically does not give enough evidence to believe that the police are all
brutal people. Of course, there are some bad cops, but that is not enough evidence to blame entire
police departments, let alone an entire nation of law enforcement officers. It is disappointing to see that the reputation of these police officers is being diminished, despite all the good that they do for their communities. When minority groups see their own people being targeted due to their illegal activity, like in the Michael Brown encounter, they destroy entire towns out of rage. in this situation, if the facts were studied, these protesters would have been astounded. Officer Darren Wilson was indicted for legal reasons after the death of Brown. However, after an extensive six month jury trial, Wilson was proven innocent. It is amazing how statistics and hard evidence can turn a police brutality case into an officer who was simply doing his job, serving his community, and trying to go home at the end of his shift. The next time that a minority group is affected by the police and it is portrayed in the media, think twice before blaming police for “brutality” because it typically is not the case at all.”
If a high school senior gets it why can’t the rest of our society? Well done Conor, and thanks for sharing with us.