by Garima Mehta
Police brutality is the excessive and unwarranted use of force by law enforcement. It is an extreme form of police misconduct or violence and is a civil rights violation. It also refers to a situation where officers exercise undue or excessive force against a person. Police violence includes but is not limited to physical or verbal harassment, physical or mental injury, property damage, inaction of police officers, and in some cases, death. The following article deals with the police brutality happening in different parts of the world like India, UK, USA and Australia.
Police Brutality- Position in India[i]
The number of deaths of people in the custody of the Indian police are staggering. Between April 2017 and February 2018, India recorded a staggering 1,674 custodial deaths, a rate of five custodial deaths per day, according to statistics placed by the Home Ministry before the Rajya Sabha. Uttar Pradesh topped the list, with 374 deaths reported in this period of under a year.
Half of the police personnel surveyed reported that Muslims are more likely to be naturally prone to committing violence. Similar prejudices existed across certain states against Adivasis, Dalits, transgenders and migrants from other states. About two in five of the police personnel surveyed in Bihar, and one in five in six other states, had never received human rights training.
Remedies, including compensation, can be sought before the High Courts and the Supreme Court under the Constitution of India for violations of fundamental rights. However, these constitutional courts are not widely accessible and usually deal only with egregious cases where the burden of proof is high. Criminal complaints can be filed against the concerned officers for offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, but there is no mechanism for an independent investigation.
Custodial death of P Jayaraj and Bennicks[ii]
- On 19 June 2020, P. Jayaraj (59 years old) and his son J. Bennicks (31 years old) were picked up for inquiry by the Tamil Nadu Police in Sathankulam, Thoothukudi district for allegedly violating the Indian government’s COVID-19 lockdown rules.
- According to the police, the duo was held for allegedly keeping their mobile accessories shop open beyond permissible hours on June 19. An FIR was filed against the two on 19 June and both were taken into custody. However, CBI in chargesheet claimed there were no violation of Lockdown.
- They were sexually assaulted and tortured by the police while in custody, leading to their deaths. On 22 June 2020, Bennicks fell ill and was moved to the Kovilpatti General Hospital, where he died later that day. The following day, 22 June 2020, his father also died.
- The custodial death of the two men in Tamil Nadu’s Sathankulam town in Thoothukudi district has sparked massive outrage in the state over police brutality.
Police Brutality- Position in United Sates of America (US)[iii]
Police brutality is the use of excessive or unnecessary force by personnel affiliated with law enforcement duties when dealing with suspects and civilians. The term is also applied to abuses by corrections personnel in municipal, state, and federal penal facilities, including military prisons.
Government officials, academic researchers and media outlets launched data-collection projects around that time to better understand the frequency of police violence and the risk factors that contribute to it.
About 1,000 civilians are killed each year by law-enforcement officers in the United States. By one estimate, Black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police during their lifetime. And in another study, Black people who were fatally shot by police seemed to be twice as likely as white people to be unarmed.
Scientists have tried to identify some predictive factors, such as racial bias, a bad temper, insecure masculinity and other individual characteristics, many of which can be identified through simulations already used in officer training. Similar forecasting models could recognize patterns of bad behavior among officers.
Researchers are advocating collection of better data, such as tracking situations in which force was avoided by de-escalation strategies or, when force was used, recording whether it was at a lower level than it might previously have been.
Murder of George Floyd[iv]
- On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States, while being arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
- During the arrest, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds after he was handcuffed and lying face down.
- Two other police officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, assisted Chauvin in restraining Floyd. A fourth police officer, Tou Thao, prevented bystanders from interfering.
- While handcuffed and prior to being placed on the ground, Floyd had exhibited signs of anxiety and complained about being unable to breathe. After being restrained he became more distressed, complaining of breathing difficulties and the knee on his neck, and expressing fear of imminent death. After several minutes, Floyd stopped speaking. For a further two minutes, he lay motionless and Officer Kueng found no pulse when urged to check. Despite this, Chauvin ignored pleas from bystanders to lift his knee until told to do so by paramedics.
- The following day, after videos made by witnesses and security cameras became public, all four officers were fired. Two autopsies, and one autopsy review, found Floyd’s death to be a homicide.
- Chauvin was later convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.Kueng, Lane, and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
- Chauvin’s trial began on March 8, 2021, and concluded on April 20, 2021, while the trial of the other three officers is scheduled to begin on March 7, 2022. On March 12, 2021, Minneapolis agreed to pay $27 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Floyd’s family.
Police Brutality – Position in United Kingdom (UK)[v]
With a workforce that is far less diverse than the actual population, police in England and Wales appear much more likely to target Black people with stop and search, use force against them and detain them under the Mental Health Act compared to White people. Meanwhile, Black people are also far more likely to die either during or following police contact.
Police are five times more likely to use force against Black people than White people. They used force tactics 614,660 times in 2018/19 where the ethnicity of the person is known – including tactics such as handcuffing, other restraint, use of batons, irritant sprays, tasers and firearms. In particular, police were 11 times more likely to use firearms (including cases where they were not fired), eight times more likely to use batons and six times more likely to use handcuffs on Black people. Black people are also nearly twice as likely as White people to die either during or immediately after having contact with police. Between 2004/05 and 2018/19, 2,563 people across England and Wales died during or after contact with police. These include deaths from road traffic incidents involving police vehicles, police shootings, and apparent suicides following police custody.
Deaths following other contact with police that did not involve an arrest are also included, where they are under independent investigation – which only happens after the most serious incidents. The Home Office says that proper regard to equality and diversity are an essential part of the professional behavior expected of everyone working in policing. It is right to give police the powers they need to protect the public and keep people safe, however, any use of force by the police must be lawful, proportionate and necessary, and subject to proper scrutiny.
2009 G20 London summit protests[vi]
The 2009 G20 London summit protests occurred in the days around the 2 April 2009 G20 London summit. The summit was the focus of protests from a number of groups over various long-standing and topical issues. These ranged from disquiet over economic policy, anger at the banking system and bankers’ remuneration and bonuses, the continued war on terror and concerns over climate change.
Although the majority of the protests and protesters were peaceful, the threat of violence and criminal damage were used by police as a reason to detain, or “kettle”, protesters as part of Operation Glencoe. A bystander, Ian Tomlinson, died shortly after being pushed to the ground by a police officer. A second post-mortem revealed that Tomlinson may have died from an abdominal hemorrhage. The inquest into Tomlinson’s death found that he was unlawfully killed. An officer in the Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group was charged with manslaughter, but found not guilty.
Police Brutality- Position in Australia[vii]
Aboriginal people have the highest rate of incarceration of any group in the world. Roughly half of all juvenile prisoners are indigenous. While indigenous people don’t die at a greater rate than non-indigenous prisoners, they are much more likely to be in prison or police lock-up to begin with. That was the finding of the 1991 inquiry, and has continued to this day. Many are in custody without having been sentenced – they may have been taken to a police cell for the night, or may not have money to post bail. Deliberate violence, brutality or misconduct by police and prison officers is not the main reason so many Aboriginal people have died in custody. This is illustrated in a Guardian Australia database tracking all deaths since 1991.
The government says most of the 339 recommendations made by the royal commission have been fully enacted, but this is strongly rebuffed by its political opposition and activists. The inquiry recommended incarceration should only be used as a last resort. Mandatory detention for minor offences should be abolished, along with raising the minimum age of imprisonment. It said states should set up sobering-up shelters to bring people to instead of prison cells. But the inquiry also outlined how historical dispossession of indigenous people had led to generational disadvantages in health, schooling and employment. These gaps create situations where indigenous people face the police, courts and prison system. Over 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the first report was delivered.
One of these recent cases is 29-year-old Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke, who was murdered by police in September 2019. The officer was not charged until February 2020, five months after the murder. It has taken a further three months for the court to decide that the police officer should stand trial. He’s the first police officer to be charged with murder while in the line of duty in Western Australia in 93 years, even though 51 Aboriginal people have died in custody in that state since 2008. The police officer had pleaded not guilty, despite evidence he used lethal force. He is free on bail. The Western Australia Police Union is supporting the officer.
The officer will not front the court until August 2020; almost 12 months after Clarke’s murder. His identity is being protected by the law. Clarke’s family is fighting to keep the murder trial in Perth, so that their Aboriginal community is not misrepresented.
At its worst, unlawful use of force by police can result in people being deprived of their right to life. If police force is unnecessary or excessive, it may also amount to torture or other ill-treatment. Unlawful force by police can also violate the right to be free from discrimination, the right to liberty and security, and the right to equal protection under the law.
In countries with high rates of killings by police, there is often a combination of factors including inadequate laws, racial or other forms of discrimination, insecurity or conflict, and entrenched impunity. Governments who routinely trample on other human rights like freedom of expression and peaceful assembly often authorize heavy-handed police responses to protests and demonstrations.
Every country has its own domestic laws and there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for making them fairer and safer.
Some of the key recommendations are:
- The power of the police to resort to the use of force and firearms must be adequately regulated by law.
- The “protect-life” principle must be enshrined in law – lethal force may only be used for protecting against an imminent threat of death or serious injury.
- Where use of force by the police has resulted in injury or death, there must be a prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigation. Those responsible must be brought to justice in fair trials.
- During protests, police should be guided by their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, and their starting point should not be the use of force.
- People in detention have the same rights as everybody else when it comes to lethal force.
[viii] picture: ThePrint