’ Civil Essay, Research Paper
Violations of Americans’ Civil Rights By Law Enforcement
The Constitution of the United States regulates our everyday lives as American citizens. Because of the Constitution, everyone has legal rights “in Order to form a more perfect Union , establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity (The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America).” Specifically, what we as Americans deal with everyday are the first ten Amendments of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. These Amendments guarantee our peoples’ safety against our own American government. However, these guarantees are not absolute as the powers given to us by the Bill of Rights are given to interpretation by the judicial system. These interpretations are made by humans and therefore have led to mistakes that violate our civil rights, including police brutality and unreasonable searches and seizures.
Violations of the American peoples’ civil rights happen everyday, typically when dealing with law
enforcement. Everyday millions of law enforcement officers patrol our streets trying to protect us. With this responsibility comes the need to make split second decisions. This often means that regular, average, everyday, working class men and women are left to interpret the Constitution in a moments notice. A lot of times this leads to misjudgements and bad decisions on the part of the officer. Sometimes this is accidental, yet numerous other times the police officer is reacting due to some sort of prejudice or stereotype. “Ask civil rights groups or minority residents in many of the nation’s cities, and they’ll say the cops are out of control; that police routinely use excessive force against blacks and Hispanics. “What you get is Jim Crow justice,”says Ira Glasser, head of the American Civil Liberties Union. (Cannon 35)” This has caused “even good kids to see police as the enemy. They shun cops (Lacayo 65).” These cops turn on the people that they are supposed to protect because “hassled cops often retreat into a bipolar outlook: us vs. them (Lacayo 65).” This in turn, is one cause of police brutality that violates a citizen’s rights, specifically, the Amendments dealing with the judicial process, Amendments IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and XIV.
One of the most notorious examples of a violation against a person’s civil rights is the Rodney King story. On March 3, 1991 King led the LAPD in a chase at speeds over a hundred miles an hour. After he was caught, the cops “used nightsticks like baseball bats, and the Los Angeles cops beat him relentlessly as he lay on the ground feebly trying to crawl away, he was kicked or clubbed 30 times. (Buchanan 60)” It was so horrible that “the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) compares the LAPD to the Crips and the Bloods: “A man was jumped and beaten Sunday night beaten by a gang not unlike many of the other gangs which terrorize our city. This gang has colors, has a tough-talking leader, carries guns and clubs and has the force of the law on its side. (Buchanan 60)” This terrible scene would have probably been swept quietly under the rug if it had not been captured on videotape by a passing photographer. The tape was replayed repeatedly on national television. This evidence was taken to court where King won $3.8 million in damages … from the City of Los Angeles. (People Weekly 232)”
Luckily, Rodney King had videotaped evidence to prove his case. However in the thousands of random traffic stops everyday, minorities and teenagers are
repeatedly violated. In fact, it’s alarming how many incidences occur where minorities and teens are pulled over for speeding and their cars get searched for no reason. Our own United States Supreme Court decided that this was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects the people against unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause. In the 1996 Whren vs. United States decision, “police officers used traffic violations as a pretext to stop a car and investigate possible drug offenses; the officers had neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion to stop the driver for narcotics crimes. (Harris 544)” However, the Court sided with the government saying that, “If police witness a traffic violation, they have the simplest and clearest type of probable cause imaginable for a stop. (Harris 544)” This decision is obviously a clear violation of Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. Our highest branch in the judicial system, the Supreme Court, the branch responsible for making sure that the federal government cannot restrict or violate any of our civil rights, has failed us. “Under a Constitution that restrains the government and that puts some limits on what the authorities may do in the pursuit of the guilty, the power of the police to stop any
particular driver at almost any time, seems oddly out of place. (Harris 556)” Ironically, with the words “equal justice under law” carved into the stone of the Supreme Court itself, one might think that the use of police power in one of its rawest forms against members of minority groups or certain age groups, might make the court show some interest in controlling such abuses. But it just shows the change in American culture of treating certain groups like criminals instead of citizens.
What can we do to protect our rights as American citizens? Even though the Supreme Court has led a change in deciding to uphold our civil rights, there are criminal and civil laws in place to protect us against excessive use of force and police brutality. There are two sections under Chapter 18 of the United States Code that are important. They provide either a fine and/or imprisonment for those that violate our civil rights. “Section 241 provides for criminal sanctions under the Federal Civil Rights Act for conspiracy to violate civil rights. Section 242 is concerned with people who act in their official capacity (i.e., judges, sheriffs, police officers) and violate the civil rights of persons. (McLaughlin 12)” Obviously there are penalties and punishments out there to protect
Americans’ civil rights. Although with the recent rash decisions of the Supreme Court and the longstanding secret police code of silence, I don’t know how much of a guarantee that we as American citizens have that protects against the violation of our civil rights by our own government.