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Nov. 17, 2014

Militarization leads to increased use of excessive force

By Jaychelle Willis

On Aug. 9, 2014, 18-year-old black man Michael Brown was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were walking down the middle of the street when Wilson drove up and ordered them to move to the sidewalk. Brown and Wilson struggled through the window of the police vehicle until Wilson's gun was fired, either intentionally or as a result of the struggle. Brown and Johnson both fled in different directions, with Wilson in pursuit of Brown.

Brown was shot six times by Wilson, killing him. Wilson’s report of the altercation and eye witness reports differ as to whether Brown had his hands raised, or whether he was moving toward Wilson, when the final shots were fired.

According to the leaked autopsy conducted by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner, Brown had suffered wounds to the head, upper body, arm and hand. The findings closely correlate with an autopsy performed at the request of Brown’s family in late August by forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden.
However, the latest autopsy report shows that the wound to Brown’s hand was inflicted at a much closer range then reported by Baden, who said Wilson had been one foot to 30 feet away when Brown was shot.

The autopsy findings support Wilson’s story that he had first shot Brown during a struggle at his vehicle when Brown reached for his gun. These findings put into question whether Brown reached for Wilson’s gun during the altercation and whether he was the aggressor or if Wilson was using unnecessary force.

More recently, citizens are seeing similar types of cases in the media of individuals being killed by the hands of police using lethal force.

However, lethal force may sometimes fall along the border of legality.

Illegal force by an officer is defined as police brutality – the use of excessive and/or unnecessary force when dealing with civilians.

“Excessive use of force” means a force well beyond what would be necessary in order to handle a situation.

As many factors come into play, the question arises – when does the line of normal force exceed to excessive, illegal force?

Normal force accounts for the amount of strength under police discretion required for a particular situation.
By the 1989 Supreme Court ruling, by reasonable individual standards, officers have the right of self-defense if he or she feels they or others around them are in harm’s way. In other words, it is under the police officer’s discretion whether he/she reasonably believed that the force they used was necessary in the situation.

The problem with this law is that there is no clear accepted definition of “excessive force” among police and the judicial system, therefore each situation has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
James Chriss, Sociology professor at Cleveland State University, said many of these police brutality cases arise due to emotions and quick response decisions.

“A lot of this stuff happens in the emotion of the upswing of the event,” Chriss said. “As professionals, also, you’re supposed to maintain a professional demeanor toward their work, but as human beings it means they are fallible and they make mistakes and they get caught up in it and sometimes bad stuff happens.”

Chriss explained that police officers, as agents of the state, have to feel that they are in charge.
Maintaining authority is required of them. So, if a suspect is not acknowledging that authority then tension emerges.

“If [officers] have any inkling for a suspect that they are resisting on some level or not acknowledging authority it will lead to an escalation of tensions.”
As a result of the suspect’s incompliance to authority, officers tend to use street justice to get “payback” at the suspect.

Street justice is the punishment or payback rendered at the hands of a vigilante or any other punishments given outside of official channels.

Street justice often leads to officers using excessive force. One popular example of this is a car chase. During the heat of a car chase, officers are tensed, scared and full of adrenaline.

“The issue in Philadelphia and in Georgia are similar situations; this whole post-chase adrenaline and anger situation that happens with a lot of police officers... your heart gets racing, you get scared, it’s very, very tense, and that’s when a lot of abuse happens,” said Alison Collins, who wrote a report on police brutality in the U.S. for the group Human Rights Watch, and was quoted by Sascha Segan in a story — What is excessive force? — on ABC News website.

Collins is instancing the incidents that were caught on videotape of Philadelphia police beating and kicking a suspect who engaged in a chase and a shootout with officers, as well as the videotape released in July that showed police in Lawrenceville, Ga., punching and kicking a drunken driving suspect.
Clevelanders witnessed an example of this in the 2012 23-minute car chase, that ended in 13 officers firing 137 shots into the car of two unarmed suspects believed to had fired shots out their vehicle close to a police station in Downtown Cleveland.

While many of these similar cases are prevalent in society, Chriss insists that these type of actions are not done by the majority and are frown upon.

“The clearly illegal excessive force, officers by in large do not accept,” Chriss said. “They reject because of how badly it reflects on police officers.”

However, Chriss said officers do accept a force beyond legal force, which they call the plus one theory.
The plus one theory is the notion that the officer has the right to give a little more force than the amount of resistance the suspect has to control the situation. For example if the suspect is resisting at a .30 resistance level, the officer has the right to use the amount of force of .40.

If an individual feels they were a victim to unnecessary force by a police officer, the individual can file charges only after the police misconduct has taken place.

Though, the victim must provide concrete proof in criminal court that the officer showed force beyond normal means, making the likelihood of prosecution low.

In 1982, the federal government funded a “Police Services Study” in which over 12,000 randomly selected citizens were interviewed in three metropolitan areas. The study found that 13 percent of those surveyed had been victims of police brutality the previous year. Yet only 30 percent of those who acknowledged such brutality filed formal complaints.

The forensic pathologist hired by the family of Michael Brown testified before a St. Louis County grand jury Thursday Nov. 13, an indication that the proceedings might be nearing their final stages, lawyers of the Brown family said.

Awaiting the decision, reports are indicating Wilson will not be indicted on neither murder or civil rights charges.