POLICE BRUTALITY

McKenzi Hester, first year writing UNC Asheville student

INTRODUCTION

Everyday, countless acts of violence cause many to lose their lives. Violence is all around us; on the streets we walk, in the news and even in neighboring homes. While violence affects all of us differently, certain types of violence seems to target a variety of races and genders. Violence among differing races has existed for many years throughout history, causing the creation of public movements, music and art to express and give voice to victims of violence. One of the most common types of violence that directly affects race is police brutality; mainly affecting black males. 


PEACE GARDEN

Burton Street Community Peace Garden is located in Asheville, NC.  Before the Peace Garden flourished with art, it was known as the place that everyone took their trash. Until one day, when the community had the brilliant idea to take the trash and turn it into beautiful sculptures and portraits. The art consists of many different sculptures that address issues such as water pollution, violence, police brutality, racism and much more. Many visit the Peace Garden today and are still moved by the deeper meanings of the art. One of the most known and influential sculptures is Guns N Roses. The sculpture, which is made entirely out of metal, features a man in overalls holding a gun in one hand and roses in the other while sitting atop a pig. Although the sculpture does not seem to be affiliated with the late 80s band, the meaning behind both the band and the sculpture may be deeper than previously thought. The interpretation of the sculpture can lead to many issues in the world but the most pressing is racism and the violence that amounts from it. Many view the sculpture as symbolic, leading police officers to be represented through the pig, the gun the “farmer” is holding as violence and the roses as victims who have suffered from police brutality.  


POLICE BRUTALITY

Police brutality has been a pressing issue for many years and has consequently become a strain of racism. In 2017, 1,100 lives were ended by police officers, 149 of those people were unarmed and 49 out of the unarmed were black. Because of societal standards set in place long ago, many assumptions are made about people of color. Especially when accused of committing a crime. When a black officer was interviewed about the issue, this was his statement. “Some officers believe there is a certain ‘look’ that most perpetrators have and that tends to be those who follow the trends of urban Hip Hop culture. That would consist of cornrows, saggin jeans, earrings, fitted caps, etc.” (Newsone). These cultural assumptions lead many officers to make generalized decisions when arriving onto scenes, questioning suspects and even while doing daily and night rounds. These assumptions and generalizations led to the death of Michael Brown, the 18 year old was walking home after leaving a convenience store with his friend. Officer Wilson saw the two walking in the middle of the street and pulled over to tell them to use the sidewalk. At this point, Wilson noticed that Brown matched the description for a suspect wanted for robbing a convenience store, Wilson then shot at Brown through the window of his squad car and then proceeded to shoot Brown five more times as he held his hands above his head. Browns death then started the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ movement which protests police brutality among young teens. “Some witnesses said that Mr. Brown had his hands in the air. Several others said that he did not raise his hands at all or that he raised them briefly, then dropped them and turned toward the officer. Others described the position of his arms as out to the side, in front of him, by his shoulders or in a running position.” (Buchanan). There was a lot of speculation of what exactly happened on that fatal night.  Michael Brown's case is not the only one to start protests but has had the most impact among the community. 

Another huge case of police brutality is the arrest of Johnnie Rush, a Asheville citizen who was brutally attacked by Chris Hickman, a white officer, for suspected jaywalking. Rush was cutting through a parking lot of a business that was closed when Hickman saw him, pulled over and told him to use the sidewalk. Hickman continued to do his rounds when he claims to see Rush jaywalking again and decides to pull over and ticket Rush. Things escalated quickly and soon Rush was on the ground being beaten by Hickman. Officer Hickmans body camera caught everything and Hickman was eventually put on probation but no other authoritative measures were put into place. 

The same did not happen for Jerry Williams, another Asheville local who was shot by a white officer after reports of shots coming from Williams car were called in. Soon police arrived and Williams fled the scene, causing a chase and eventually his death. Williams death resulted in a rally outside of Buncombe County Courthouse to protest his death as well as keep his memory alive. Williams sister sat crying on a bench, “My brother’s life matters and to (police) it didn’t” (Danielle Jackson). These two men, one of whom lost their life, were victims of police brutality simply because of their race. Society has created many social constructions but this particular one has ended lives. Simply because of the way someone looks. Although this is not the only social construction that has divided the country, it has been around for the longest. But can we change society to be more open and less discriminating? 


MOVING FORWARD

Throughout history, many discriminations have arose over time, while thought to be extinct, still exists in some places. Personally, I believe everyone should be treated equally. But how do you achieve that in a judgemental society? Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions but how could it be morally right when those said opinions result in one losing their life. Although there are rules set in place to prevent those who are innocent to be convicted of a crime, there aren’t many rights to protect those who are accused because of their race. In order for all suspected perpetrators to be treated equally, police should be trained to have an open mind; while keeping their own personal values and beliefs. If officers were trained to understand societal constructions I believe it would stop a lot of assumptions about individuals. Such as profiling someone because of their race or gender, how they dress and what economic background they come from. I also think all officers should have operating body and eye cameras for better honest results in investigations. But even then, with the body cameras some officers will still make assumptions and innocent individuals will be blamed for crimes they didn’t commit. People will always make assumptions about others no matter what so there will always be police officers who make assumptions about suspects based on their race or gender. By training officers in concepts of social construction and how they’re constructed, it could potentially prevent those assumptions and offer better and equal trials. Body and eye cameras can prevent misunderstandings in cases and have more video evidence to present in cases. So many people are incarcerated based on false circumstances and very little evidence. Requiring body and eye cameras on every officer will prevent those false incarcerations as well as provide more safety for officers and the community. If officer Wilson had had a body camera, a lot of speculation of Browns case would have been cleared up. But because there were only eye witnesses, it was hard to know the truth. Many speculations would be prevented and cleared up with the use of body and eye cameras. 


PERSONAL EFFECTS

I have always been raised to respect officers and people of authority. Being a daughter of a first responder, I understand how dangerous each first responders daily job can be. But researching the topic of police brutality has been very hard for me. I do think that many officers take advantage of their power and use it in ways that are not appropriate. But how do we prevent that abuse of power? Is there really any way to prevent it? 










CITATIONS 


Burgess, J. (2018, July 17). APD launched effort to gather intelligence on Black Lives Matter, other groups. Retrieved from https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/07/16/asheville-police-monitored-black-lives-matter-civil-rights-groups-after-williams-shooting/765672002/


Diao, A. (2018, April 03). Videos Show Asheville, N.C., Police Beating And Choking A Man Stopped For Jaywalking. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/03/599245934/asheville-videos-show-police-beating-and-choking-a-man-stopped-for-jaywalking


Margulis, A., & Walton, B. (2016, December 19). Timeline of Jerry Williams shooting and aftermath. Retrieved from https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2016/12/15/timeline-jerry-williams-shooting-and-aftermath/95467478/


People's Protest against Police Brutality. (1978). Economic and Political Weekly, 13(17), 719-720. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4366565 


People's Protest against Police Brutality. (1978). Economic and Political Weekly, 13(17), 719-720. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4366565


Written By NewsOne StaffPosted August 13. (2012, May 10). Black Police Officer Talks Police Brutality, Racism In Interview. Retrieved from https://newsone.com/669975/black-police-officer-talks-police-brutality-racism-in-interview/


2017 Police Violence Report. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://policeviolencereport.org/ 


What Happened in Ferguson? (2014, August 13). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/ferguson-missouri-town-under-siege-after-police-shooting.html