Police are supposed to protect and serve. Full stop. But like most people with great authority, they are sometimes abusive.
Most of us can’t give the legal definition of police misconduct, but we know abuse when we see it. Police abusers shoot unarmed suspects. They will kill folks who run from them. They beat up protesters. Sometimes the abuse is even sexual in nature.
This is not to say that all or most cops are abusive. They’re not. Most police officers serve the public well. The frustrations that many of us have with police have to do with consequences. Too many times abusive cops face no punishment.
The blue wall of silence often prevents fairness in dealing with police abusers. How many will be set free because the department won’t cooperate with investigators? Or because prosecutors refuse to indict their colleagues?
In the 21st century, the video camera plays a key role in how the public becomes aware of most police brutality incidents. The citizen videographer has captured much police violence on tape. Often there’s a wide gulf between what the tape shows and the police account. Without crucial video evidence the few who are prosecuted would probably get off Scott free.
One of the biggest tragedies of our times is the way these incidents have begun to follow a predictable pattern. This is how things normally go: A violent police video makes the rounds of social media. Sparking outrage and sometimes protests. The news media picks things up from there: “another unarmed black male, was just shot by police”.
Once the story goes national, a debate ensues. Defenders of police say something like this: “those people (blacks) should just stop committing crimes.” Or they’ll swear the cop was a good man who was just doing his job. For some in this crowd it’s the job of police to prevent crime by killing black people who don’t comply.
For people like this blacks and other minorities can never be innocent victims of police thuggery. Somehow, every one that died at the hands of police “got what they deserved.”
Then there’s the “we shouldn’t rush to judgment” crowd aka “the lets gather all of the facts” crowd. Some of these people genuinely want to be fair to both sides. But too many of them don’t take police misconduct seriously in the first place.
The other side can be almost as bad. Some folks swear the “cops are nothing but thugs with badges.” To them the police officer is never right. They see every cop as a crooked racist out to get them.
Black victims of police brutality often have a hard time receiving sympathy from a skeptical white public and news media. Some police defenders have shown the twisted need to dig up dirt on black victims, who often can’t defend themselves. Not even age makes a difference. It seems black boys as young as 10 can be labeled a thug or criminal.
In New Jersey cops mistook 10 year old Legend Preston for a robbery suspect. They chased him through the streets. They drew guns on him. Friends and neighbors surrounded the boy to protect him. Without their quick thinking, who knows what would have happened? Now he has an awful memory that may haunt him for the rest of his life. The police didn’t even apologize, abusers rarely do.
In spite of recent protests, police violence continues. Here are sixteen of the most heart – wrenching examples of police brutality dating back to the late 1960’s.
Even though this list concentrates on America, police violence is a problem around the world. As policing becomes more militarized and income gaps grow wider. The violent enforcement of the social order will only grow. Why? Because the elites have so much to lose.
1. The 1968 Democratic Convention Police RiotOn August 28, 1968 The Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. On the event’s floor there was widespread disagreement on America’s role in Vietnam. One side supported the war and wanted to see it through to the end. The other side wanted America to withdraw from Vietnam ASAP.
The fight on the convention floor soon spilled outside, as thousands of anti-war protesters clashed with Chicago Police. Mayor Richard Daley sent 12,000 police officers to the scene. He called in another 15,000 state and federal officers to join in.
Not surprisingly, the tense situation became a full on police riot. The cops severely beat and gassed the demonstrators. They even attacked newsmen and doctors who had come to help.
The riot, known as the “Battle of Michigan Avenue,” was shown live in America’s living rooms. This televised violence turned many people against the war in Vietnam. Americans were beginning to feel the war was pointless and stupid. The anger, death & divisiveness just weren’t worth it anymore.
2. Kent Sate and Jackson State
By early 1970, public opinion was turning against the Vietnam War. In May of that year 2 major anti – war protests erupted on college campuses at Kent State in Ohio. And Jackson State in Mississippi. The students were responding to President Nixon’s near – secret invasion of Cambodia. There was widespread fear that this act would open up another front in the war.
The tragedy at Kent State occurred on May 4th, 1970 when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters. Nine were wounded and four were killed. Yes, these were Ohio Guardsmen, but they were acting as police in this instance.
On May 15th, 1970 at Jackson State, there was a well attended, all day protest. That night, police fired shotguns at students. They killed two and injured twelve. The cops fired over 140 shotgun shells in response to what they said was a threat from a sniper. An FBI investigation turned up no evidence of a sniper.
3. Move BombingMOVE is a small group of pro – black radicals founded in 1972. They live communally and believe in an agrarian society. MOVE is very political. The group commonly engages in public demonstrations against racism and police brutality. In 1978 nine members of MOVE were given life sentences for killing a Philly police officer in a shootout.
In 1981 MOVE relocated to a row house in West Philly. They were apparently not ideal neighbors, as residents complained for years about loud political messages coming from the MOVE house. Many members were wanted for various crimes.
Mayor W. Wilson Goode (the city’s first black mayor) and police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor classified MOVE as a terrorist organization. On May 13, 1985 the police arrived at the MOVE row house in force. Soon there was an armed standoff as cops attempted to serve arrest warrants.
After tossing tear gas at the house, officers were ordered to bomb the building. The FBI designed explosives burned half the block to the ground. (65 houses). Of the eleven people that died, five were children. People use the group’s prior shootout with cops and their radical nature to justify the order to bomb the complex. But they still destroyed people’s homes, and burned 5 kids alive.
4. Rodney King
Of all police brutality incidents, this is probably the most famous. In 1991, a videotape circulated around the world showing Rodney King being beaten by L.A.P.D. officers after an 8-mile high speed chase. Cops surrounded the car and ordered King and his two friends to get out and lie face down on the ground. King didn’t to comply, but eventually got out of the car and resisted arrest.
Once the fight started, the cops shot King with a Taser gun to knock him to the ground. He was then beaten viciously with a baton and kicked repeatedly. The video was seen as proof of routine mistreatment of blacks by LAPD.
After the state trial, three of the four L.A.P.D. officers were acquitted and the jury didn’t reach a verdict for the fourth. The acquittals sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots and eventually led to a federal trial where two officers were found guilty and the other two were acquitted.
5. Abner LouimaHaitian immigrant Abner Louima was a victim of one of the most disgusting acts of police violence ever. The young man was brutally attacked and tortured by a white NYPD police officer on Aug. 9, 1997. Louima was taken into restroom by officers, Justin Volpe and Charles Schwarz.
Volpe proceeded to sodomize Louima with a broken broomstick. He then rubbed the stick in Louima’s face. What was the reason for this attack? In court, Volpe said that he thought the young man had punched him in a fight outside of a nightclub. He later admitted that he wanted to humiliate Louima regardless.
During the attack the officers allegedly yelled out “it’s Guiliani time” in reference to the city’s new white mayor. He had replaced David Dinkins, New York’s first black mayor.
Volpe left the force and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Schwarz received a 15 year prison sentence for helping Volpe in the assault. This incident revealed the utter contempt some police officers have for both black men and black authority figures.
6. Timothy Thomas
April 7, 2001. Nineteen year old Timothy Thomas was tragically shot and killed by a Cincinnati police officer. The cop followed Thomas into a dark alley and opened fire because he thought the young man had a gun. Thomas had 14 open warrants at the time of his death.
Officer Roach claims he ordered Thomas to stop running but he did not comply. When Thomas began to lower his arms without being told to do so, the officer opened fire. He shot Thomas in the heart with one bullet. No gun was recovered.
7. Frank JudeIn 2004, two men were jumped as they were leaving a party. Several off-duty Milwaukee police officers attacked 26-year-old Frank Jude. And his friend Lovell Harris.
The cops jumped the men because they believed Jude had stolen one of their wallets. It contained a police badge. Harris’ face was cut with a knife. But he did manage to run away. Jude wasn’t so lucky. He was viciously punched and kicked. He was also stabbed in the ears with a pen.
Someone called for help. But the on-duty officer who arrived at the scene proceeded to stomp on Jude’s head. Three officers wee brought on charges. All were acquitted. The outraged African American community demanded a federal probe. The federal grand jury convicted the three officers who had were let go earlier. A fourth cop was acquitted.
8. Robert Davis
Robert Davis is a retired elementary school teacher from New Orleans. On the night of Oct.9, 2005 he was brutally beaten by four police officers. Davis had returned to New Orleans in order to check on his family’s property. Keep in mind, this was just a little over a month after Hurricane Katrina.
On that fateful night Davis ventured into the French Quarter to buy a pack of cigarettes. Once there he was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication. According to the police Davis was aggressive and refused to handcuffed. By chance, the beatings were caught on video by an AP newsman. He was also beaten that night. The officers wound up either suspended or fired for the incident. But they were cleared of most of the charges against them.
9. Fong LeeIn 2006, a Minneapolis rookie cop shot and killed unarmed teenager Fong Lee. The police planted a gun near his body. The gun had no connection to Mr. Lee, it had actually been recovered from a burglary. When their illegal actions were discovered the cops had to come up with a lie. They tried to explain that the gun found near the teen was not the same one that he had been carrying. The fact that Fong’s fingerprints were not on the gun, is evidence of a planted firearm.
10. Kathryn Johnson
In 2006, two Atlanta police officers shot and killed 92-year old Kathryn Johnson in a botched drug raid. Mrs. Johnson was home alone when the two cops burst into her home without warning. Fearing for her life, she fired at the intruders with a handgun.
The officers invaded Mrs. Johnson’s home based on bad information. A confidential informant claimed to have bought drugs from a dealer named “Sam.” The informant later admitted he never purchased drugs at the Johnson home. The two officers plead guilty to many charges, including manslaughter. A third cop was also indicted.
11. Sean BellSean Bell was tragically killed by NYPD detectives on Nov. 25, 2006. On the night of the shooting, a group of undercover officers were investigating a Queens, New York strip club. This strippers at this club were rumored to be doing more than just taking off their clothes.
Mr. Bell happened to be having his bachelor party at that club the same night. There was an incident inside the club, resulting in a tense confrontation. One of the cops heard a friend of Bell’s talking about getting his gun.
The the officer confronted Bell and his friends while they were in the car and told them to them to stop. Instead Bell started to drive off and the officer and his partner opened fire. They fired over 50 times at the moving vehicle. The cops later said they thought they saw a gun on the seat.
All three detectives were found not guilty of assault and manslaughter by a judge. There was no jury trial.
12. Robert Mitchell
April 10, 2009. In Detroit 16-year old Robert Mitchell was killed by police. The cops claim Mitchell was resisting arrest after a traffic stop. Police used a Taser gun on Mitchell, who ran from his cousin’s vehicle into an abandoned house. The Taser gun sent 50,000 volts of electricity through the teen’s body. Police said use of the Taser was justified because Mitchell resisted arrest.
13. Oscar Grant
Oscar Grant was shot dead by transit cop Johannes Mehserle in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. In Oakland, California. Mehserle and other police officers responded to reports of a fight. They arrested and handcuffed Grant and several others at a subway station.
The unarmed Grant was cuffed and lying on the ground when Mehserle pulled out his gun and shot him in the back. In court the officer claimed he meant to shoot Grant with his Taser, but somehow grabbed his gun. Mehserle was given a only a two year sentence. He was out on parole by June 2011.
14. Michael Brown
August 9, 2014. Michael Brown was shot to death by Ferguson, Missouri cop Darren Wilson. The police were called when Brown and friend Dorian Johnson stole a few packs of cigarillos from a convenience store. When confronted Brown shoved the store’s owner. Wilson says Brown and Johnson were walking in the middle of the street when he arrived.
Officer Wilson blocked the two young men with his car. Brown and Wilson struggled over his police weapon until it fired. The officer then pursued Brown on foot.
This is where different stories emerge. Witnesses say Brown eventually turned around and approached the officer with his hands in the air. Some said it looked like Brown was only beginning to raise his hands. What we do know is that Wilson killed Brown by firing 12 gunshots at him. The last one was fatal. Michael Brown was only 18 years old.
The federal investigation that followed cleared Wilson of any crime. And the media was defiantly sympathetic, showing the “hero” officers wounds for all to see. The Brown killing sparked protests all over the world.
15. Walter ScottOn April 4, 2015 in North Charleston,South Carolina black motorist Walter Scott was stopped by police due to a busted brake light. After a brief conversation, Officer Michael Slager returned to his patrol car. That’s when Scott decided to flee on foot. Slagel chased him.
There was a physical struggle after Slager caught up with Scott. The officer Tasered Scott before shooting him in the back. In his official report of the incident Slager clearly lied to cover himself. He justified the shooting by claiming that Scott took his Taser.
Fortunately an eye witness recorded most of the incident with his cellphone. Feidin Santana came forward only after hearing the untrue account of the incident given by the police. Oh yeah, the cops claimed to have tried reviving Mr. Scott after the shooting. The video shows no such thing happened. Video also shows Slager placing an object near the victim’s body, probably the Taser he claimed Scott had taken from him.
16. Daniel HoltsclawDaniel Holtsclaw is a serial rapist and former Oklahoma City police officer. In 2015 Holtsclaw was convicted of rape, sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy, and other charges. The former college football player used physical and psychological intimidation to get away with his disgusting crimes.
His hand-picked victims were mostly black females with a history of criminal charges. Holtzclaw ran background checks on the women he stopped on patrol. He searched for info he could use to coerce sex. He often found it.
On December 10, 2015, an all-white jury convicted officer Holtsclaw on 18 of 36 charges. On January 21, 2016, he received a 263 year prison sentence. He maintains his innocence to this day.