- by Graham Holton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2058
On 16th June the US Justice Department announced that the Minneapolis Police Department needed to be reformed. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division had launched its investigation in April 2021. The 89-page report vindicated the community’s complaints of rampant abuse by the police force.
US Attorney General, Merrick Garland said, “the Minneapolis Police Department routinely uses excessive force, often when no force is necessary, including unjust deadly force and unreasonable use of Tasers.” Police officers used deadly neck restraints (now banned) and shot at people despite no immediate threat. Officers failed to intervene when their colleagues used excessive force. They discriminated against those with behavioural and health disabilities, and racially discriminated against Black and Native Americans. Police officers retaliated against protesters and journalists, who were following up on cases of police brutality.
Gleason Glover of the Urban League found that, “police brutality is nothing new to the city of Minneapolis. It almost gives the impression that if you are black and poor, it doesn’t really matter if you lose your life.”
Racial minorities, who make up 14 per cent of the city’s population, have complained about mistreatment for years. Wanting greater accountability, they set up the Civilian Police Review Authority in 1990. The brutal racist behaviour continued.
In May 2020 George Floyd, an African American, was killed by white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck, while handcuffed, until he died. People filmed the incident and the shocking footage went viral on social media. In June 2021, Chauvin was convicted of unintentional second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty-two-and-a half years in prison.
The video footage so outraged the public that protests and riots spread across the US, attacking the systemic racism embedded in the police force. Up to 26 million people called for the shutdown of the police force. The slogan, “defund the police,” called for police budget reductions and to delegate certain police responsibilities to other organisations. It demanded the cessation of the militarisation of the police force, in which the public are the enemy, in its “War on Drugs.”
The filming of police officers abusing innocent citizens, saw the birth of social movements against the police. In July 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting to death of African-American Trayvon Martin, in February 2012, was followed by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
In 2014 street demonstrations following the police killing of African Americans, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, led to the “Hands up, don’t shoot” movement.
It was not just innocent African Americans who were brutally gunned down. In 2017 Australian woman, Justine Damond Ruszczyk, was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer. She had had called 911, and when the police arrived, she was shot dead. Ruszczyk was wearing pyjamas. In 2019 the police officer Mohamed Noor, who killed Ruszczyk, was sentenced to twelve-and-a-half years for murder. He was Sudanese. On 16th September 2021 the ruling was overturned and Noor was freed in June 2022.
Even age does not stop police shootings. A recent study has shown that black children are six times more likely to be shot to death by the police than white children. On 22nd November 2014, Tamir E. Rice, a 12-year-old African American, was killed in Cleveland, Ohio, while carrying a replica toy gun. A police dispatch call had told the responding officers that a juvenile was carrying a pistol that was “probably fake.” The City of Cleveland filed a claim for the cost of Rice’s ambulance ride, which was withdrawn after a public outcry. The lawsuit filed by the Rice family, against the two officers and the City of Cleveland, settled for US$6 million. On 28 December 2015, the grand jury returned its decision declining to indict the white police officers.
The Washington Post’s police shooting database shows that between 2015 and 2021 the police had killed at least 245 people, who were in possession of a toy gun. If the replica “looks like a real gun,” the police responded with violence.
Many gun manufacturers license their designs and brand names to toy companies, which create replica weapons virtually indistinguishable from the real weapon. More than two dozen gun companies, including Colt, Beretta, and Glock, allow airsoft companies to use their guns’ likeness to manufacture gel blasters, that fire balls of liquid.
In 2022 law enforcement killed 1237 people, making it the deadliest year since 2013. Despite local efforts to curb police brutality, there has been an intensified backlash to criminal justice reform, with a lack of federal legislature to override state legislature that supported police violence.
Police shooting unarmed civilians has become part of American pop culture. TV programmes show unarmed people being shot in the back with the police officers excusing it as “resisting arrest.” Samuel Sinyangwe, founder of Mapping Police Violence, says that in 32 per cent of cases, the victim was fleeing when killed, making lethal force unnecessary.
The only legal avenue to get justice is to use the civil, rather than criminal courts. Such cases have resulted in massive payouts to victims and their families. In Mississippi, on 30th May 2023, Aderrien Murry, a 11-year-old African American, made a 911 call and the responding police officer shot him in the chest. Aderrien’s mother filed a US$5 million lawsuit in the federal court. In September 2022 the Chicago city council approved US$25 million to settle lawsuits against its police. Austin City Council, Texas approved the US$10 million lawsuit filed by two men injured by police officers in the 2020 George Floyd protests.
Despite the recent DOJ report, police violence will continue, as it is embedded in police training. The state overrules the rights of the human rights of individuals, making any changes to federal legislation unlikely.