Police brutality

Policing is one of the more easily justifiable roles of government in society, since its purpose is to uphold personal freedom by ensuring that violations either do not occur, or result in appropriate consequences. However, in the process of carrying out this role, numerous incidents have occurred involving police brutality.


Within many police forces across the world, a distinct militarization can be observed, such as SWAT teams in the U.S. and armed response units in Europe. Unfortunately, instead of upholding the non-aggression principle, there is much evidence to suggest frequent abuse of power, overstepping of boundaries, and misuse of authority. Even though only a minority of officers are involved in reprehensible behavior, this undoubtedly still reflects negatively on police forces in general.

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Issues with Police Brutality


Those who enforce the law must not be, or be seen to be, above the law. Heavy handed policing often actually incites violence and creates tension, especially of a racial nature. Therefore, abuse of power is an extremely serious problem in modern society.


Attempts at greater accountability have been introduced in many countries, with statistics often highlighting particular issues. This has been the case for the London Metropolitan Police which, since April 2017, has been required to record all instances of force being used.


Their published figures from May 2018, show that they used force 62,000 times, with black people being the subject of more than a third of these incidents, despite only accounting for 13% of the city’s population.


Proportionally, a black person is four times more likely than anyone else to have force used against them by the Metropolitan Police. Despite law enforcement efforts to deter violent crime through force, 132 people died violently in London in 2018, with a further 99, so far, in 2019.


Looking into the beating of Rodney King, which sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots, as well as the 2014 shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, it is clear that racism is regularly a prime factor in police brutality in the U.S.. An analysis, carried out by the Guardian in 2015, found that in the United States, racial minorities made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police, even though they accounted for only 37.4 percent of the population. Unfortunately, this is what can be expected if police are armed with military grade weapons and sent into economically and socially deprived areas to enforce drug seizures.


Recent developments in Hong Kong serve as an example of a police force that is being used to aggressively restrict civil liberties, directed by a government intent on controlling all aspects of citizens’ lives.


The police enforce many laws concerning victimless crime, for example, the never-ending war on drugs, prostitution, and controversial speech. These illiberal laws are not set by the police, simply enforced by them, which can create conflict.


Possible Solutions


Privatization of police forces could be a key factor in eradicating brutality and abuse of power. Many large amusement parks, malls, and other public places use private security firms who are held responsible on many levels. A private police force can be more accountable, since they are personally and financially interested in ensuring that crime figures remain low.


Escalations of violence could result in them being sued, fired or accepting liability. Such answerability rarely happens within police forces around the world, where much reliance is simply placed on managing damage limitation from media attention, which can be a very inconsistent approach.


Genuine accountability should exist, with the compulsory use of body cams by all forces, independent observers, and external arbitrators to deal with contentious incidents. Other factors which may help promote transparency and restore trust in law enforcement would include the demilitarization of the police, the reinforcing of civil liberties and the process of law, carrying out thorough background checks on all police officers, an end to no-knock searches, and a return to the basic principle that the police role is primarily to protect people and property. Police forces around the world are resistant to change and the brutality is likely to continue without these changes being accepted at a fundamental level.


Clearly, it would greatly help to reduce tensions, and thus brutality, if sensible laws were in place. This is the responsibility of government and the judicial system.




Why ending police brutality is important to SFL


At Students For Liberty, we believe that those in positions of power should always be held to the highest possible standards. A very serious and intolerable betrayal of trust occurs when anyone holding the immense responsibility of ensuring the protection of people’s rights abuses this position. It is of vital importance, in a free society, that law enforcement officers are never allowed to be above the law.


Often, another unfortunate consequence of high-profile acts of police brutality is the damaging of community trust in the many dedicated officers who serve in a professional and respectful manner. Greater police transparency and accountability would be a welcome step towards a freer future.

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