The tragic news of George Floyd’s death rocked the world recently, leading to waves of protests around the world and we are still witnessing protests in the U.S. and the subsequent crackdown on the protestors by the police as well.
Within less than a month’s time, there was the tragic demise of two civilians, father son duo Jayaraj and Bennix under the police custody in India.
The issue at hand is of police brutality which is almost as old as the British, or maybe earlier.
We have seen multiple cases in the past and outraged. But mostly the outrage was short lived and more importantly we are not sure of what real changes have preceded in the police administration.
To solve the problem, we need to look at the causes. And we need systemic and categorical evaluation of the things which could be done differently to prevent such tragic incidents in the future.
A Broken Policing System?
Looking into the trends of people getting killed by the American police, it can be drawn out that, there is huge racial prejudice against the Black Community in the seemingly progressive America.
In 2019, 1098 American citizens were killed by the American police out of which 256 were black Americans.
And that is a big number when compared to a country like Spain where the police brutality is lowest.
That apart, at first glance the numbers might not seem wrong because one would come to the conclusion that more whites are killed by the police and there is nothing wrong with that.
But in a country where blacks constitute around only 13%, the numbers are really disproportionate.
In fact, getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America.
It shows the seriousness of the problem.
Actually, in fact getting killed by anyone without a proper trial reeks of injustice, whether you’re black or white.
But before we just continue to repeatedly talk about the problem of police brutality, we need to look into the periphery of it.
The Issue Of Rising Crimes
Looking at the statistics, the trends here shows that crime is a really huge issue, big time.
United States is having the highest crime rates among the developed countries and the homicide rate stands at 5.1 as compared to 0.8 in Germany.
Also it is having the highest incarceration rate in the world with 2.2 million American citizens in jail. It is followed by countries like Thailand, and Turkmenistan.
The statistics draw up a picture showing that there is a huge crime problem in the U.S. and the police is not doing its job properly. But we also have to acknowledge that policemen have high risk in their job as they are on the line of fire.
The problems stems at the relative poverty which is leading to crimes and the social segregation just worsens the situation where neighbourhoods with higher poverty are known to be more violent.
Adding on to the fact that criminals are having advanced weapons like assault rifles, that just becomes the best recipe for violent crimes.
Gun ownership might be one of the reasons that contribute to the problem to some extent but the numbers are incomparably higher than a country like Switzerland where gun ownership is mandatory.
And in such situations, police officers are at high risks when they are having to deal with these crimes.
In 2019 only, 48 law enforcement officers lost their lives as a result of felonious crimes.
That figure, if taken for a time span of 15 years (from 2000-2014) is 2400 policemen; and that is a lot.
Is Police Training Has Anything To Do With The Increase In Number Of Brutality?
This scenario dictates how they are supposed to be trained.
In police training they are trained to be on their guards to prevent a crime from happening.
So, where 129 hours are dedicated to weapons and combat trainings, only 8 hours are dedicated to conflict de-escalation training.
That seems hugely disproportionate when we consider that it is only about maintaining order in a neighborhood and not a war zone.
The police training in the U.S. is only about 3-4 months as compared to countries like Norway with 3 years of training or Finland with 2 years of Master’s degree.
And lack of training is a pertinent issue.
In George Floyd’s case, what the police did was a knee restraint which is supposed to be a highly practised tech technique in which the police officer restrains the criminal by putting his knee on the criminal’s back and it is done for 40 seconds to around 1 minute until the criminal is handcuffed.
But what happened here is that the police office put his knee on his neck. This was gross negligence at the least.
However, that is not the sole reason of the problem. The elephant in the room is the qualified immunity that police officers in the U.S. have.
It is a legal doctrine in United States federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions within their official capacity.
In addition, the police unions in the U.S. have huge influence in the administration.
Police departments have also been known for trying to do cover-ups in the past and that might be one of the reasons why the trial and conviction of police officers for such incidents are so low.
In fact, the police officer who killed George Floyd was previously accused of brutality.
But is the Problem Really That Bad That It Cannot Be Solved?
The simple answer would be, “No!”
For example, the principle of gradual force might work. We can draw inspiration from a law like ‘Organic Law 2/1986’ of Spain which set out guidelines on how the police would retaliate.
It has three key principle, which are – opportunity, congruence, and proportionality.
It might be familiar to someone practicing law in the U.S.
In the operational intervention the police officers can gradually increase the force based on circumstances. Like, from verbal warnings, to hand to hand combat, to percussion, to use of fire arms.
In other words, a police officer won’t hit you until there is clear indication that you are going to harm them, or the police officer won’t use fire arms until there is clear indication that you are armed as well.
Other than that there can be more focus on sensitization of the police force and police officers could be held accountable for their actions.
These changes might seem small but have the potential to reduce the incidents of police brutality.
Now we cannot shy away from the fact that in India there happened the custodial death of Jayaraj and Bennix because of police brutality.
However we cannot jump to the conclusion that the problems and the causes are the same for both the U.S. and India because both the countries have totally different in terms of functioning and we are looking at the cases of George Floyd and Bennix & Jayaraj in particular.
We can look at this case in isolation at least.
Coming to the case, arrestees have rights too.
Section 49 of the Criminal code and procedures (CrPC) suggests that force should be used only if the arrestees try to escape.
The force also has to be reasonable.
Section 57 suggests that after the arrest a medical examiner has to ascertain that the arrestees are physically fit and healthy to face their term but in Jayaraj and Bennix’s even this wasn’t done and a local government hospital was asked to a provide a certificate declaring the duo as fit.
Even after arrest the accused have rights to legal aid and the right to remain silent until a case hearing.
The case of violence here is unlawful ironically done in the hands of the khaki clad keepers of morality and law themselves.
Sayantan Mitra writes about society with touches of polity and politics. His main focus is on providing informative content with a unique perspective, but never at the cost of providing just mere entertainment.
Graduate from B.Sc Mass communication. Interested in everything under the sun.
This Write-up Has Been Written in Collaboration With Other Writers.