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“But they didn’t have to beat me this bad. I don’t know what I did to be beat up.” Rodney King, March 3, 1991. Police Brutality has been a long lasting problem in the United States since at least 1903 when police Captain Williams of the New York Police Department said the phrase, “There is more law at the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.” In the 1920’s the Wichersham Commission had a number of instances of police brutality. Many of these included the use of the “third degree” (beating to obtain a confession). This is a very effective way to get a confession out of somebody. However, beating the accused could easily elicit a confession from a scared and innocent person. Also, this puts the accused person’s life in danger. Police officers must make snap life and death decisions daily. Officers’ work in an environment where death (theirs, their partners, and an innocent or guilty person) is one decision away. How does that constant fear effect an officer’s perception? Unfortunately, many that are attracted to law enforcement are aggressive and prone towards violence as a solution. Police officers have a lot of power. With this power comes responsibility. Police brutality can be defined as the excessive or unreasonable use of force in dealing with citizens, suspects and offenders. A nationally known example occurred on the morning of March 3, 1991. Rodney King was pulled out of his vehicle and beaten by two Los Angeles police officers. The LAPD had originally given chase to Mr. King’s vehicle due to a failure to yield. Officers fired a 50,000-volt Taser electric dart gun at Mr. King. They also hit King with batons. Mr. King, according to police officials, was hit approximately 56 times. Mr. King had 11 broken bones at the base of his skull. Also, the bones holding his eye in the right socket were broken (LA Times March 19, 1991 p. A20). The policemen reported that Mr. King appeared to be on PCP at the time he was pulled over. Subsequent tests indicated Mr. King had no drugs or alcohol in his system (Serrano, 1991 p. A1). The Rodney King incident was however, captured by a private citizen on videotape. This videotape was subsequently broadcast nationally and the ensuing trial against the police officers involved captivated our nation.(LA Times March 19, 1991 p. A20). Twenty-seven uniformed officers witnessed thi.

. .h 19). Los Angeles Times, p. A20. 2. DeSantis, J. (1994). The new untouchables. Chicago: The Noble Press. 3. Herbert, B. (2000, February 14). What’s going on. New York Times. 4. Houppert, K. (2000, February 2). Jailhouse shock. Village Voice. p. 40. 5. Kerstetter, W. (1985). Who disciplines the police? Who should? In Police Leadership in America: Crisis and Opportunity. (p. 160). New York: Praeger Ed. 6. McDonald, C.P. (1991) Blue truth. New York: Donald I. Fine. 7. Rockwell, R. (1997, August 14). Police brutality: more than just a few bad apples. Available: HTTP: http//www.walrus.com/users/resist/ndp/282497rockwell.html. 8. Saari, K. (). Police brutality is on the rise. Available: HTTP: http//www.sonomacountyfreepress.org/police/brutality.html. 9. Serrano, R.A. (1991, March 20). L.A. police downplay beating. Los Angeles Times, p. A1 10. U.S. Department of Justice. (1994). National Institute of Justice Research Report: The Role of Police Psychology in Controlling Excessive Force. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 10. Walker, Samuel (1999). The Police in America: An Introduction (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

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