Police Brutality

I live in a large town transitioning into being a small city. When we moved here over twenty years ago, murders were so rare, generally less than one a year, as to be remarkable. Now we have them far too often. The minority population was low, less than ten percent, but now it’s approaching twenty percent, and those minorities are almost entirely Hispanic and Native American. We also have a definite drug problem, although some of it is fueled by the fact that we’re located on I-15, which has become a major highway transport link from both Mexico and Southern California so that every week there are drug arrests by the Highway Patrol involving significant amounts of hard drugs. There is also a continual effort to weed out [pardon the pun] illegal marijuana “plantations” concealed in the neighboring and extensive national forest lands, and the amounts grown and confiscated have been in the hundreds if not thousands of pounds.

So far, at least, we’ve had no cases of anything remotely resembling police brutality, even with law enforcement agencies that are largely white, but we have had quite a few attacks and assaults on law enforcement personnel. One officer took a shotgun blast to the chest and despite his vest, almost died. Another in a neighboring county was shot and killed by a drug dealer, and on at least three occasions I know of, lawbreakers shot at and wounded law enforcement personnel responding to reports – before the officers even were within yards of the lawbreakers. And a local senior law enforcement officer said bluntly, and very much off the record, that the combination of these events with the national negative publicity about law enforcement was making it harder and harder for law enforcement agencies in Utah to obtain the quality of new officers that they’re striving to maintain… and that more and more senior police are looking forward to retirement – which wasn’t the case a decade ago.

By comparison, nearly seventy percent of the population of the city of Baltimore consists of minorities, the largest component of which are blacks, at roughly 64%. The mayor, the chief of police, the prosecuting attorney, and three of the six officers charged with homicide in the Freddy Gray case are black. Police brutality issues and charges have also been a problem in other cities with high levels of black populations and black mayors, just as they have been a problem in cities with white mayors and large white populations.

The point that is in danger of being overlooked is that police brutality can occur regardless of whether the political authorities are black or white, and whether the police officers involved are black or white or brown. While correlation does not prove causation, police brutality seems to be linked in some fashion to high crime areas and areas with high levels of minority populations, regardless of who is in charge and who is patrolling.

Is it that the stress of patrolling such areas wears down officers? Or that officers strong enough or moral enough won’t accept jobs in such cities? Or that political pressures to make arrests and “find someone guilty” eventually brings out the worst in some officers. Are we as a society asking too much of police officers? I’m not about to offer an answer, but it’s very clear to me that there’s far, far more involved than just the simple explanation of “racism,” much as racism is certainly a contributing factor. And it’s also equally clear that slogans and politics as usual won’t contribute much to the solution, either.

6 thoughts on “Police Brutality”

  1. bob452 says:

    This is why a lot of people are describing this as not a race issue per se, but as a class issue (with a significant racial component, of course).

  2. Jeff says:

    You’re giving us much to ponder. When you ask if part of it is the pressure to make arrest and prove guilt, it seems this may be beyond just a police problem as there have been prosecutors involved (and recently the report of the FBI labs) that makes one wonder what we can do to make the criminal justice system “just”.

  3. Bob Vowell says:

    I alway feel like there is something missing when anyone looks at examples of police brutality. I’m not talking about questionable shootings. Those can usually be mostly attributed to training and adrenalin. You almost never hear of police brutality in small departments. Not that the cops are better or worse in small departments But i think its that the individual officers can’t get lost in the larger organisation. They become effectively anonymous. Without social controls a certain type of person will gravitate towards certain bad behaviors.

    1. That’s a very good point.

  4. Country Lawyer says:

    I would partially agree with Mr. Vowell, however, I feel that while racism and classism have some bearing, it’s more likely to the great deference given to law enforcement officers a particular community gives. If law enforcement is treated like a superior ‘class’ they begin to act like it. I would refer to a libertarian lawyer/blogger Ken White at “Popehat” for better documentation than i can provide:


    I’ve noticed in my own (mostly rural) jurisdiction that we have an unusually high level of arrest related injuries during arrests and detainments, often from fairly aggressive arrests for little or no provocation, and a very pro-law enforcement population that never believe law enforcement might be mistaken. (these are mostly white-on-white arrests, for some reason the cross-racial arrests have much lower incidents of injury)

    I would note in the Salt Lake City area a recent arrest that made the news contained a unpleasant injury from a K9 unit – and my jurisdictions is very nearly identical in demographics to SLC, although a much less dense population base. If there is no ‘oversight’ of these abusive individuals, regardless of big or little police departments, you’re going to have problems.

    Law enforcement is a stressful profession, and sometimes the participants begin to take that stress out on the citizenry, lack of accountability makes it the norm, the culture, not the outlier.

  5. Joe says:

    I hypothesize that whether the police practices in Indoor or outdoor firing ranges will be a factor: lead dust from lead bullets causes lead poisoning. Lead poisoning makes people stupid.


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