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Police Brutality: A Review of Literature

Kayla L. Cosby
Hampton University
Police Brutality is a continuous societal issue that must be resolved through a process of raising

awareness and staying informed. This literature review, containing carefully conducted

interviews and data as evidence & research, will discuss whether racism is a factor in police

brutality cases and why most police officers do not receive indictments after cases. It will also

inform the readers about preventions that can be made to lower the fatality count for police

brutality incidents and ways to increase community involvement.

Police Brutality: A Review of Literature

While conducting an arrest, regardless of whether it is a simple one or one of high

importance, there are certain standards and code of conducts that all police officers must adhere

to. One can define police brutality as the unlawful use of unnecessary, excessive force on a

civilian that is illegal for officers to exhibit during an arrest. While looking back at the history of

police brutality, it is difficult to find a definite start date for the official beginning of these events

taking place. Yet, recently in the past few years the number of these cases, as well as the

awareness surrounding them, is continuing to increase due to social media. Although most may

have a general idea about what police brutality is and what it consists of, four essential questions

to keep in mind while discussing the topic include:

1. Is Racism a major factor in the majority of police brutality cases?

2. Why do most police officers involved in these cases do not end up getting indicted

after the incidents?

3. What other preventions can be made to lower the amount of police brutality incidents

in a year?
4. How can those willing to fight against police brutality get involved?

This literature review will discuss police brutality by: including information regarding the

statistics on whether race can be a major factor in most cases, bringing awareness towards why

formal accusation is overlooked sometimes, informing readers on the preventions that can be

made to lower the number of cases and providing ways for those who are willing to get involved.

Is Racism a major factor in the majority of Police Brutality cases?
The debate regarding whether race is an active factor in most police brutality case is one

that is continuously being discussed. Per the figure below, whites had the highest death total at

499, with blacks following close behind at 273. On the contrary to the following statistic, those

of an African-American descent are 2.28 times more likely to be killed when compared than any

other race (Fields, 2015). Also, based on the statistics, 6.78 black people were killed by million

in comparison to only 2.07 killed per million for white people. Therefore, verifying why, blacks

were murdered 3.28 times more than whites (Fields).

Though statistics from verified sources give a good insight on what the numbers are

looking like, ideally, they are not the only factual proof. Since numbers can sometimes be

affected by lack of reports and other biases, other forms of research can come into play. In an

interview with Hampton Universitys sociology professor, Professor Brown-Kelly, she reveals

the following opinion on the matter: I believe race is a major factor in police brutality. I believe

that people of color were victimized before the infamous Rodney King case, but they didnt have

the proof to prove their allegations. With the aid of technology (cell phones and videos)

numerous black men and women have proven that they have been victims to police who have

misused their powers (Brown-Kelly, personal communication, March 14, 2017). This proves to

be true since today there are still numeral accounts of unreported/unidentified police brutality

cases involving African-Americans. Thus, it is more difficult to accurately decipher whether

race is a factor, but it is safe to say that race can be a shifting factor based off these findings.

Why do most police officers involved in these cases do not end up getting indicted after the
In response to this question, Professor Brown-Kelly responds by stating: In many of the

cases there is a conflict of interest. The police investigations are led by police officers and

detectives from the DAs office. The close relationship between police officers and the DAs

office becomes a problem in police shootings. In many cases, I feel police officers and DAs

dont want to believe that their fellow officer would intentionally kill someone. (Brown-Kelly,

personal communication, March 14, 2017). This is a very important and accurate point similarly

made by authors Shapiro and Jacobo in the article, Why It May Be Hard to Convict an Officer in

Cases of Police-Involved Deaths. Not only do DAs and other police officers find it hard to

believe an officer could maliciously kill a civilian, Jurors are unwilling to conclude that an on-

duty police officer could be a murderer, (Shapiro & Jacobo, 2016). With this stigma stuck

within the system, it makes it harder for proper convictions on these cases to be made.

The source also states that: The low conviction rate for police officers may stem from

the law itself. The law, which applies nationwide, is pretty clear that police officers are to be

judged by different standards, (Shapiro & Jacobo, 2016). This is in fact true in a majority of

police brutality cases, its just covered up with makeshift excuses that justify these standards.

Excuses such as the one courts love to overuse that, officers have a very hard and stressful job

where they have to make extremely tough calls in escalated situations. This is proven to be true

simply due to the observation of how the verdicts for officers differ so much from everyone else.

What other preventions can be made to lower the amount of Police Brutality incidents in a
2015 was a record breaking year when it comes to police brutality cases, the number of

those fatally shot by police was 991 people (Police shooting database, 2017). In 2017 alone, so

far in there have been 219 reported cases of police brutality that resulted in a fatality (Police

shooting database). The year is already on track to top 2015 and 2016 records with the addition

of 10 more victims for both the January & February records. In order to lower these numbers

better preventions must be instituted and incorporated into the justice system.

In the article, 15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality by Zak C.

Rice, several ways to prevent police brutality are listed. Some of the top and most effective ways

include: Train the police to be members of the community, not just armed patrolmen, Body

Cameras, and Collect data obsessively. (Rice, 2015). In regards to training, new &

continuing officers must learn how to handle all situations involving all types of people in a

proper manner, without letting biases get in the way. According to this source, only 80 hours a

piece are spent learning how to de-escalate tense situations, or properly handle the mentally ill

in comparison to the 60 hours that new recruits usually spend learning how to handle a gun

(Rice). Another effective suggestion includes the addition of body cameras to the police uniform

in order to film each officers actions during arrests. Not only should the actual body cameras

should be instituted but also, Clear measures should be established to allow citizens to access

this footage, in addition to protecting and validating their own right to film police (Rice, 2017).

Finally, communities must keep their own readily available & accurate record of police brutality

events that occurred within their area. An effective idea that Rice mentions is for cities and

departments to maintain a transparent and searchable database on every stop, frisk, summons,

use of force, arrest and killing they conduct (2017).

When asked her opinion on the matter in an interview, Professor Brown-Kelly states:

Some of the things I think that would prevent police brutality are diversity training, community

engagement with police officers, take legal actions against police officers and police departments

that condone police brutality and stop hiring law enforcement officers who have mental health

issues (Brown-Kelly, personal communication, March 14, 2017).

How can those willing to fight against police brutality get involved?
According to Professor Brown-Kelly, the top three ways to increase involvement, as

stated, are: More people of color should apply for jobs in law enforcement, do not vote for

lawmakers who condone police officers who abuse their power and know your rights (Brown-

Kelly, personal communication, March 14, 2017). An increase in diversity among policing staffs

will effectively help with demolishing racial biases that may be prevalent in police departments.

As well as keeping those with unlawful mindsets towards police brutality out of important

positions in the government. This is important because if those who are making the laws allow it

to take place, of course those who must follow the law must condone it as well. Finally, the most

crucial point about getting involved is knowing ones rights. To start, the fourth amendment

involving, unreasonable searches and seizures, often leads to unnecessary (typically drug-

related) arrests. These arrests tend to be marked by severe racial disparities (Rice, 2015). By

knowing not only the fourth amendment but all of ones rights, one can stay involved by teaching

others about their rights and its correlation to police brutality cases.

Based off the research, it is safe to say that race is a major deciding factor in most police

brutality cases. Even though white people have the higher number of reported accounts, being a

minority significantly increases ones chances of falling subject to racial profiling that leads to a

police brutality incident. Most police officers guilty in police brutality cases do not receive a

formal accusation due to the biases within the judicial system. In addition, better sensitivity

training as well as more diversity within the police departments can lower the number of

incidents per year. Finally, to become more involved, those willing to can take the first step by

becoming aware of their rights as citizens. Police brutality is a problem within our society which

is seems unmanageable, but it can in fact be abolished.

Fields, L. (2015, August 09). Police Have Killed at Least 1,083 Americans Since Michael
Brown's Death. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from
"Police Brutality."(2003). Dictionary of American History. Retrieved March 16, 2017 from
Police shootings database. (2017). Retrieved March 16, 2017, from
Rice, Z. C. (2015, October 25). 15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality.
Retrieved March 20, 2017, from
Shapiro, E., & Jacobo, J. (2016, December 07). Why It May Be Hard to Convict an Officer in
Cases of Police-Involved Deaths. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from