World wide outrage.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, caused by actions of a police officer pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, leaving him struggling to breathe before his untimely death has sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and is loudly shouting out for policing reform in the United States. Congress is currently creating legislation to address inequities in the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court may soon join into the national conversation on the protections that current legal doctrine shields law enforcement from regarding lawsuits for constitutional violations. Even when valid civil lawsuits are brought against government officials, including law enforcement officers, for civil rights violations, the US Supreme Court and federal courts have ruled  that officers can claim immunity if they did not violate “clearly established” laws or constitutional rights that a “reasonable” officer would be aware of at the time.

In contrast, color of law refers to an act done under the appearance of legal authorization, when in fact, no such right existed. The term is used in the federal Civil Rights Act, which gives citizens the right to sue government officials and their agents who use their authority to violate rights guaranteed by federal law and states:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.”

Allowed use of force.

Police officers allowed “use of force” including hands, batons, tasers, or other weapons when necessary, and in accordance with officer training and department policy, is among the many misinterpreted powers placed upon government employees, and a topic prevalent in our daily news.  The broad-based authority given to police to use force while apprehending criminals, utilizing both physical and psychological methods, to deter and reduce crime is based on policy that dictates what is considered “reasonable” force in any given situation and is often difficult to clarify and measure.

Force and peaceful protests.

Reasonable force was replaced by the police’s “wanton use of force,” as they aimed their weapons at people’s heads and groins in order to “inflict maximum damage, pain and distress to their target is some of the language used in a Denver legal complaint where several people state they were hit in the eye by rubber bullets, claiming officers were not properly trained on the use of such devices, and that tear gas, pepper balls and flashbangs should not have been used on peaceful crowds. It highlights that the police were not interested in public safety and used their weapons to silence criticism of police brutality dominating protestors, medics, and the press corps.  This Denver suit alleging that officers violated the first and fourth amendments of the U.S. will probably not be the only legal action resulting from the protests.

Rubber bullets.

Rubber bullets are intended to be a relatively harmless crowd-control technique, but they can be extremely harmful, leading to fractures, severe skin injury, blindness, and death, as demonstrated this past week at many of the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd.  Sometimes the “rubber” bullets are not completely made of rubber and are made of another material like steel and coated in rubber.  Law enforcement professionals use them to disperse crowds to minimize harm, and their weight and shape allow them to lose velocity quickly so they do not break the skin, and were meant to be shot at protective muscle and fat portions of a person to be less damaging, leaving only bruises.  The police did not use rubber bullets appropriately, while shooting them at close range and causing significant damage to protestors’ eyes, facial structures, foreheads, and other sensitive regions of their body.

Accountability.

Police must be held accountable even when they must act under often tense and volatile situations, to maintain actions of a “reasonable person” while apprehending a suspect. Officers must perform their duties under these intense hazardous conditions with all eyes upon them, leaving no margin for error in judgment, as they strive to preserve peace as the end goal to their prescribed mission.  The determination of the appropriate level of reasonable action is often measured by the civilian interpretation and not the officer’s interpretation. This begs the question of, “When does “use of force,” as part of the job description for preserving peace and maintaining a safe environment for most persons, switch gears into full out police brutality to individuals who may, or may not be acting against the law?

Excessive force.

Excessive force is the term used to describe continued force, even after a criminal has been subdued and the situation is being controlled to eliminate danger to others and oneself.  It has often been justified in high intensity situations where the potential for serious bodily harm, mass bodily harm, and death were present, leaving some unethical police officers to carry this over to encounters where no or low force is necessary.  Many police departments across the United States engage in “de-escalation training” and “bias-based profiling education for their officers to avoid situations where undue injury and death occur, causing mistrust in communities that have been injured by repeated police brutality actions.  Policy brutality occurs when officers overstep their prescribed duties in accordance with training and policy and act alternately to cause physical harm through beating, taser use or firearms.  Situations may require the use of force, but excessive force may cause serious injury, and sometimes death as seen in many cases across the United States.

Police brutality is illegal.

Policy brutality is an illegal and actionable offense to affected persons, when misguided police officers overstep the boundaries of their “allowed use of force” as defined by individual State and local policy, based in part, upon the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Sources.

https://www.usconstitution.net/xconst_Am4.html

https://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment14.html

Featured Image Photo credit: Jake Vanaman This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. No changes were made.

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