Police Brutality: The Common Thread Throughout History
What Do All of These Historical Moments Have in Common?
Beatings, torture, a judicial system that breaks people down and imposes lengthy sentences and lifelong records (even if expunged they still haunt you via the FBI). Tear gas, bullets (even if rubber), pepper spray. Police, and the broader system they work for, may change tactics, but their conduct hasn’t changed. These aren’t a few bad apples, this is a systemic problem. Police, for whatever reason, are very rarely on history’s good side, despite what all the detective shows might have you thinking.
Throughout history, and throughout the world, law enforcement officers are not the friends of protesters. Sure, some of them may take a knee or join in your parade, but at the end of the day they don’t support the end goals of your cause.
Let’s take a look at just a tiny amount of instances of police brutality in response to protests throughout history.
It’s easy to assume that women have it easy in this department. Sure, sexism and misogyny might run rampant in our culture, but it seldom manifests as institutionalized violence, right? Wrong.
Women peacefully sought the right to vote for decades. In America, seeds of the movement that would eventually become known as Women’s Suffrage began even before the Civil War. State by state, disenfranchised women sought for the right to participate in elections until a woman name Alice Paul returned home from England in 1910.
Having been radicalized by the militant Mrs. Pankhurt’s British suffragette movement (not to be confused with the suffragist movement, which was completely non-violent), her new goal was to win the right to vote at the Federal level.
They were met by police at every turn, including the activists in England. They were arbitrarily arrested, beaten, humiliated, sexually assaulted, and tortured.
For years American suffragettes had been attacked by mobs of angry men, not all of them police, who had received no repercussions for their actions. In 1913, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns decided to march on Washington D.C. It was meant to be a peaceful march, but spectators and police attacked the women. None of the aggressors were arrested, but two women were killed and 100 seriously injured.
However, it was November 15, 1917 that would come to called The Night of Terror. The Occoquan Workhouse was a Virginian prison that, on that particular night, was housing 33 suffragettes when the superintendent gave the order to beat them.
One woman had her arms twisted behind her back and was slammed down upon an iron bench twice. Lucy Burns had her hands manacled to the bars above her cell and was forced to stand all night. One woman was thrown into a dark cell, her head smashed against an iron bed and left unconscious. Her cell mate suffered a heart attack from the maltreatment and was refused medical care until morning.
But remember, it’s just a few bad apples.
The Civil Rights Movement
On December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old African American woman named Rosa Parks did the unthinkable: she sat on a bus.
Tired and unwilling to find a seat at the back of the bus (many American states had segregation laws that kept black people separated from white people), she sat down in the whites only section and was arrested. In the process, she became the mother of the civil rights movement.
Throughout the country, activists began engaging in marches and protests, some peaceful and others more aggressive. Both were met with the same treatment: tear gas, beatings, fire hoses, and dogs.
One of the worst instances of police brutality was Bloody Sunday. For months, Alabama’s black voters had been thwarted when it came to registering for the vote. Things finally came to a head when state troopers fatally shot 26-year-old Jimmie Jackson, a church deacon who was protecting his mother from being clubbed by the police.
In response, civil rights leaders decided to take their cause straight to Governor George Wallace, marching from Selma to Montgomery — a 54 mile march. As they crossed over the Alabama river, they were met with a wall of state troopers.
They were ordered to disperse, but the marchers wouldn’t back down. What ensued was a disturbing television event as the police came down hard on the protesters. Throwing tear gas and beating them, the entire horrifying event was caught on film.
But remember, it’s just a few bad apples.
In 2016, a Texas-based oil company called Energy Transfer Partners planned to run a new pipeline called the Dakota Access Pipeline that would transfer oil from the oil fields in North Dakota down through Iowa and finally into Illinois. While the original plan to route the pipeline under the Missouri River, but the risk of an oil spill was too great and the consequences would’ve been catastrophic due to how many people depend on the river for their water.
The company came up with a brilliant new plan: route it under Lake Oahe, which is very close the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The tribe opposed the new plan for the same reason Bismark opposed the original plan, but ETP’s mind was set on the new route.
To add insult to injury, the pipeline was to run through stolen Sioux land, damaging sacred sites such as the Black Hills.
As bulldozers were set to destroy burial grounds and sacred sites, activists crossed the perimeter and confronted the construction team. The security team hired by the construction company rushed in with attack dogs and pepper spray. Democracy Now didn’t get the full incident on film, but captured a dog with protesters’ blood in its mouth.
The video went viral, people from all over the country soon pouring onto the scene to protest the pipeline.
In this historical event, for the first time in history all of the tribes in the United States came together to protest a single issue. Can you guess what the police did?
First, the police got help form the National Guard (who have again been set upon protesters of police brutality in 2020) and they showed up ready to do what, as we’ve seen, police always do: escalate things, beat people, and arrest.
Of the gear that they brought with them, they even brought a surface-to-air missile launcher! This author isn’t really sure what they expected to happen that they would need such a thing, but they were decked out and ready to go.
As protesters gathered to pray, journalist Erin Shrode was shot with rubber bullets. Drones were shot down to prevent protesters from documenting what the police were doing. Activists were kept in makeshift cages, Native Americans being marked with numbers on their skin.
Barrack Obama, who just two years earlier had promised to uphold treaty obligations and be an ally to our indigenous populations, refused to get involved in the series of human rights abuses taking place just off of Sioux land. Any statements he made were vague and unencouraging.
It all seemed to come to a head on the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806. On November 20, 2016, police used water canons to fire upon peaceful protesters in freezing temperatures. They also used tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets.
Hundreds were injured in the process of this police attack. Police maced protesters who were down on their knees in prayer, and Vanessa Dundan, a Navajo woman, was shot in the face by a tear gas canister, the retina in her right eye severing. One woman nearly had her arm completely blown off by a concussion grenade, prompting the mainstream media to finally take notice.
Unfortunately, the MSM had no journalists on the scene, so they simply reiterated whatever the police were telling them, and they were spinning some very blatant lies:
The police didn’t use concussion grenades, rather protesters creating homemade explosives and attacked the police! Those injuries were caused only by themselves!
Protesters are starting fires!
Yes, protesters did start fires, but it was to warm themselves, not to attack the police. The police started a few fires with their concussion grenades, but videos show protesters rushing to put out those fires.
Finally, a group calling themselves Veterans Stand with Standing Rock came onto the scene. 4,000 veterans turned up to stand with the Sioux, and what did the police have to say about that?
They’re recruiting veterans to try and trigger their PTSD so that they attack cops!
It sounds like I’m making it up, like this is something that South Park would do to satirize the event, but I’m not. This is literally what they said on air.
But remember, it’s just a few bad apples.
On May 25, 2020, Darnella Frazier pulled out her phone and recording an officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on the neck of George Floyd. Four other officers idly watched as the man repeated said, “I can’t breathe.” Minutes went by, Mr. Floyd eventually crying out for his deceased mother before dying.
While Minneapolis police were quick to point to George Floyd’s violent past, the crime he was accused of here was simply using a counterfeit $20 bill. He may not have even realized he had counterfeit money.
This isn’t the first time it’s happened, either. Eric Garner was also placed in a choke hold that killed him in July 2017.
And while racial profiling makes minorities a larger target for police, and judicial, abuse, a white man named Tony Timpa was killed in an eerily similar fashion to George Floyd in 2016. His crime? Calling the police to say he was having a psychotic break and needed help.
The death of George Floyd brought racial tensions to a boiling point, and Black Lives Matter, as well as anyone else concerned about the fact that police have been killing people and walking free for decades, to the streets in protest.
Going far beyond Minneapolis, which was quick to employ a curfew, the protests throughout America were faced with the same police brutality that plagued every event before. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and good old-fashioned beatings ensued. The National Guard was called out and peaceful protesters were treated like violent criminals, the police not caring to differential the protesters from the opportunistic looters attacking trucks and stores.
Taking a page from the suffragette’s playbook, a police department in Minneapolis burned to the ground — a powerful display of a fed-up populace.
There are too many incidents of violence to count here, but someone compiled a handy video:
Notice that they are targeting more than just protesters. The journalists and medics have also been targets of police brutality during this particular uprising.
Buffalo officers also shoved a 75-year-old man to the ground, sending him to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. The two officers were placed on unpaid suspension, prompting all 57 officers to resign from their duties.
But remember, it’s just a few bad apples.
A Handful of Individual Victims of Police Violence
George Floyd: I am unable to find the actual footage of his death, but George Floyd was a troubled man who came to Minneapolis to start a new life. Unfortunately, the police ended his.
Eric Garner: Unarmed and unable to defend himself, New York police placed him into a choke hold until he died. Here’s ABC News’ coverage.
Delma Towler: An 83-year-old woman from Altavista called the police to report a burglary. She fired a warning shot from her window, fearing for her home and safety, before leaving for a family member’s home for her own safety. She never got out of her hard, however, as police gunned her down. Prosecutors, who try to stay on the cops’ good side because they need them to testify for them, claimed the killing was justified.
Tony Timpa: This young man called the police because he was suffering a psychotic breakdown. He expected to be taken to a hospital; instead he wound up dead, the police joking as he died. For three years they told his mother that they found him dead. Here’s the disturbing footage.
John Wrana: A 95-year-old veteran who was killed by an officer firing a beanbag at close range. Police were called on scene because the man had become combative with emergency workers, as the very elderly sometimes do. The officer was acquitted, the judge saying that the LEO was only doing what he was trained to do and that this 95-year-old man, who had no firearm, made him fear for his life.
Daniel Shaver: A pest exterminator whose BB gun was mistaken for a rifle. Police arrived on the scene and began shouting contradictory instructions at him. Shaver begins to crawl toward them when his trousers begin to fall. He instinctively reaches to pull them back up when an officer shot him dead. He was acquitted, but the graphic video speaks volumes.
Breonna Taylor: An African American woman who was the victim of the cops raiding the wrong house. As she slept, police broke into the home, and, fearing a robbery, her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire. The police fatally shot Breonna and Kenneth was charged with attempted murder. Here’s the 911 call.
And let’s not forget all of the pets police have killed, because that little chihuahua made an officer fear for his life! Here’s a trailer to the disturbing documentary Of Dogs and Men.
These are only a handful of police killings. There are many, many more. Even more numerous are instances of police lying in court, making up police reports, planting evidence, and destroying lives and families.
Where do we go from here? Some believe in removing qualified immunity, which is how they get away with so much. Others believe in licensing police officers the same we way we do with doctors. Still others believe it’s time for the police force, an entity that came into being to stop slaves from escaping, to be disbanded altogether.
Why Does Any of This Matter?
We’re standing at a point in history where we can make real, positive change, but we need to understand how deep this corruption goes. It’s beyond a few bad apples, as we can plainly see. This is just how the system works.
The media has made us all complacent. We believe that police are just like the heroes on TV. Rural police are all Andy Taylor, city police are a bit more rough around the edges, but they always get the bad guys are the only things standing between us and thugs.
Unfortunately, not only is this simply untrue, but it also undermines our entire justice system. When you believe the police are generally right, you likely believe that criminal justice is effectively ended once someone is arrested and/or charged. In other words, you don’t believe in the presumption of innocence, that one must be proven guilty beyond doubt.
This is the unholy trinity of the criminal justice system.
One the one hand, we have LEO as well as Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services (organizations that also have qualified immunity and a long list of victims). Then we have prosecutors who generally fight for lengthy sentences, run people they know to be innocent into the ground, and fight criminal justice reform at every turn. It was overzealous prosecutors who drove Aaron Schwartz to take his own life.
And, of course, judges. These guys have their own pro-police bias that can really destroy and innocent person.
These are all branches of a machine that keeps chugging along, often doing more harm than good. Defendants are trapped within this machine, and it’s designed to keep them away from trial.
It feeds itself, covers for its failings, and has little accountability.
What Can I Do About It?
Join the protests! Don’t go around looting Target or threatening bus drivers, but challenge the system. It gets away with far too much. Study the tactics of Hong Kong protesters and get out there to defend our nation!
Now, the police are easier to protest than prosecutors and judges, as they’re on the streets and not hiding within the walls of a courthouse. However, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless.
We can throw a wrench into the machine via juries. Juries are interesting because the Founders believed very strongly in Jury Nullification — the act of choosing to deliberately acquit a guilty defendant.
Why would you do such a thing?
- The law the accused is guilty of breaking is a bad law. Maybe you don’t support the War on Drugs, or find some other law Draconian. Instead of waiting for Congress or your state to get its act together, stop it from ruining a life!
- You don’t think the law is applicable in a certain case. If there were extenuating circumstances, acquit. If the defendant has been through enough already, acquit. If you don’t think the defendant’s life should be ruined for whatever reason, acquit.
Now, judges have stopped informing jurors of their rights. They view jurors who intend to exercise their full rights to be rogue, and if you dare let slip that you know about Jury Nullification, you’ll never see the courtroom.
You see, jurors were using this power to save escaped slaves on their way to the North, so we can’t have jurors being told that they can judge the law itself, or that that’s one of their primary functions.
You are the final bastion against tyranny. You are a lifeline for someone who needs it. You are a wrench thrown into the machine, and they don’t want you there!
I suggest you check out the Fully Informed Jury Association for more information.
If we join together, we can bring this corrupt machine crashing into the ground. We’re tired of the racial profiling, the unjust laws, the bad sentencing practices, private prisons, killings, criminal record keeping, and more!
Stay safe, but keep the spirit of America alive!