by Charing Ball
Last week, the city of Philadelphia was rocked by accusations of police brutality and misconduct.
The victim, Askia Shabur, was a well-known community activist. On the night of Friday, September 3rd, he found himself at the wrong end of a police baton. His crime? Waiting for his food outside of a Chinese take-out restaurant.
The entire incident had been caught on a camera phone, taken by one of the dozens of witnesses, who happened to be out that night. The nearly 3 minute video shows three officers – two females and one male – holding down and wrestling with Shabur on the ground while a fourth male officer beat him repeatedly upon the head and back. At one point in the video, one officer is seen pulling out his firearm and waving it aggressively at the crowd of onlookers, who begged mercifully for the officer to stop his brutal beating.
Sabur, who would be charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, was left with a fractured arm, a sore back and a severe gash across his head, which required stitches. The officers involved in the incident remain on active duty.
After much public outcry, the police department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs announced that it would be investigating. Needless to say, the incident has sparked outrage both within and outside the West Philly community, who have taken to the street in a series of marches and rallies, which seek to demand justice not only for Shabur but for the countless other nameless victims of alleged police brutality, who didn’t have the benefit of dozens of eyewitnesses or video camera.
Reading and watching the video of the Shabur beating by police reinforces my notion that that these incidents of alleged police brutality – or at the very least misconduct – are neither isolated or unusual. And while some of the incidents make national headlines, most barely scratch the folds of local news media.
Moreover, rarely are there any thoughts given to the possibility that these reports of police misconduct and abuse could reflect a larger pattern being played out on the national level.
Time and time again, we witness incidents of police using excessive force against not only the resisting alleged offender but also those who offer little resistance. From the elderly grandmother to students, blacks and whites – no one is spared. Of course, the vast majority of interactions between Joe-citizens and law enforcement do not lead to brutality and/or misconduct. But when it does, those incidents are disturbing enough that many folks, from all walks of life, have come to view law enforcement officials as no different than the criminals that they are suppose to serve and protect us from.
Some of these incidents of police misconduct result in wrongful convictions. According to a study on prisoner exonerations, police misconduct was a factor in half of all convictions, which had eventually been overturned using DNA evidence. Moreover, a Justice Department study had revealed that out of the more than 2,000 criminal suspects who have died in police custody between 2003 and 2005, 55 percent were due to homicide by state and local law enforcement officers.
While more extreme incidences of police brutality have resulted in death such as the much publicized January 1, 2009 murder of Oscar Grant, who was unarmed and had laid non-resistant face-down on the ground and was fatally shot in the back and killed by a transit officer.
And shall we not forget the murder of little Alana Jones, the nine-year old who made the tragic mistake of falling asleep on her couch during a police raid, which resulted in her being burned by tear gas and shot in the head.
According to Injustice Everywhere, a website founded by the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project between April 2009 and December 2009, there were 4,012 law enforcement officers alleged to have engaged in misconduct- however these statistics come with a disclaimer as many, if not most, of these instances are never reported due to fear of reprisal.
The site, which chronicles daily reports of police misconduct through the mass media, showed that on Monday, September 13th alone, there were 15 reports of police misconduct and/or abuse including a case of a Pennsylvania officer accused of punching a store clerk in the face for carding him; two California officers fatally shooting an unarmed 15 year old and a Texas police officer, whom has been sentencde to 90 days in jail after a plea agreement for 3 counts of indecency with a child.
The results of these incidents are depressingly predictable. The code of silence, from the street cop up to the court system, means that more often than not, officers accused of brutality are treated with kid gloves and other considerations not given to average citizens [tag: hrw.org link].
And the stunning lack of changes we see after each incident of brutality and misconduct suggests more needs to be done than organizing protests. We have to seek out change, not just on an individual basis but systemically as well. We need to prioritize the issue of police brutality and misconduct on the same level nationally as we do healthcare, jobs and education.
We need our activists, victims of brutality and our politicians to demand better police training on alternatives to excessive force when a “suspect” is unarmed. We need better documentation of all incidences by the Department of Justice and fair and equal treatment through the court system for those officers accused and convicted of civil rights violations.