Lately, a large amount of gazetted articles and new found cases like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s death in the United States, custodial death of Jayaraj and Bennix in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, involving police brutality have come forth and become visible to the public eye. This police violence against those common men that they are fundamentally meant to protect is being identified and vilified by millions of people across the globe.
An article by Amnesty International defines police brutality or police violence as unlawful use of force by a police officer on a person that violates many of their human rights. In many cases it can result in people being deprived of their basic right to life. If police force is unnecessary or excessive, it may also amount to torture or other ill-treatment. These violations most of the times include beatings, racial abuse, unlawful killings, torture, or indiscriminate use of riot control agents at protests.
Automatically, the question of whether the police are actually allowed to kill people or not arises. There are strict international laws and standards that govern when and how the police can use force, particularly lethal force on people.The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (BPUFF) is the key international organisation that supervises and attends to the police use of force. Under international law, a police officer should only ever use lethal force as a last resort. This means that violence on the behalf of the police is to be used only when such force is strictly necessary - to protect themselves or protect others from the approaching threat of death or serious injury, and only when other options for controlling the situation at hand are insufficient. When it comes to national law of a country, they must make sure that it complies with international law and standards. India has signed a number of treaties that ensure the constitutional provisions for the police department are being followed.
Even though these countless intrinsic provisions are prevailing, police abuse and misconduct remain a grave issue around the world. Police brutality has become an issue that contributes to community violence around the world - some highlighted because of the protests and some passing by completely unnoticed. Recent cases include the police killing of George Floyd and Eric Garner, police shooting of Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, and far too many other black individuals in the USA, who have been killed by police. These cases have been proven as police abuse against unarmed civilians on the basis of racial prejudice. Floyd's death in particular saw an uproar of protests and an international reaction to the inhumane and biased treatment, bringing forth many more such victims of police abuse. The 'Black Lives Matter' movement peaked in its visibility and support with the reveal of these cases of violence against the African American community. During protests in Iran in November 2019, the police shooting killed hundreds of protesters including at least 23 children, who posed absolutely no risk to anyone. Witnesses in the Philippines have described seeing police shoot poor people, again including kids, who were suspected of using or selling drugs as they were on the ground begging for mercy.
Violent behavior of the police force like beating of civilians at a protest, excessive force and manhandling of women, adolescents and children, and attacking masses with weapons like TASER, pepper spray and tear gas have inflicted the people with detrimental health effects. Social activists have voiced their concerns over these damaging repercussions exposure police violence has on an individual. A study published in JAMA Network Open, a 12 month police violence exposure was linked to greater likelihood of experiencing mental health issues, including psychological distress, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and psychotic experiences. In this study, researchers examined the relationship between 12 month exposure to police violence and concurrent mental health symptoms among 1,000 adults residing in Baltimore and New York City. The researchers reported that the annual prevalence of police brutality was 3.2% for sexual violence, 4.6% for physical violence with a weapon, 7.5% for physical violence without a weapon, 13.2% for psychological violence and 14.9% for neglect. Men, racial and ethnic minorities, and people who identified as gay or transgender were exposed to a higher prevalence of police violence, according to the results. This cruelty exposure was linked with mental health symptoms when respondents reportedly showed signs of suicidal ideation (9.1%), suicide attempts (3.1%) and psychotic experiences (20.6%).
Unfortunately, since there is no textbook definition of excessive force, police officers are constantly walking a very fine line between what is 'reasonable' and 'excessive'. They are authorised to use "reasonable amounts of force" to do their jobs which is much too often taken too far. Generally, it is when a police officer uses more force than is required in the moment, to adequately subdue a suspect and protect those in the immediate area. In most cases, it takes a judge and jury for an act committed by an officer to be ruled as excessive. Officers have a lot of equipment and tools available to them, and sometimes get carried away by recklessly using even those that were not meant to be weapons to harm the victim. Many times these violent episodes can leave an individual with concerning brain injury. Most brain injuries suffered by victims of police brutality are through these means of excessive force. Beatings, use of firearms, reckless use of a police vehicle, and improper take downs, the common forms of brutality, can cause mild to severe brain injuries like concussions, contusions, coup-contrecoup, diffuse axonal, penetration by knives or other sharp objects and anoxia/hypoxic.
Police brutality in India is another case where violent crimes are easily overlooked when committed by a person of 'power'. Beating by the cops in India is wonderfully portrayed as right and just by the pop culture and famous action packed Bollywood movies. In 2019, custodial torture claimed lives of 1,731 people in India and in 2018, a total of 1,966 people were killed the same way, according to 'India: Annual Report on Torture' released by a consortium of NGOs. The alleged custodial torture and 'murder' of Jayaraj and Bennix in Tamil Nadu is just one of the repulsive fall outs of that culture ingrained in India's police system. Ensuing Floyd's death in May, the spine chilling torture, mutilation and killing of the father and son in June comparatively got a bare minimum coverage by the media and was hardly spoken about by important figures and authorities.
Activists have long voiced the concerns over black trauma following the shooting deaths of Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd and Freddie Gray, and from horrifying images and live Facebook videos of the fatal encounters that are widely shared on various social media platforms. The evidence of physical trauma endured by the victim of police abuse are evidently poignant, but the mental trauma and setback for the years to come is barely measurable. Even with the countless movements, campaigns, protests and awareness, the culprits are often seen to be left scot-free or are meekly punished by being expelled from the task force for a crime as heinous as taking a life.