Noel Delgado Controversial Issues In Law Enforcement 11/16/2012 Police Misconduct In the early hours of March 3, 1991, a police chase in Los Angeles ended in an incident that would become synonymous with police brutality: the beating of a young man named Rodney King by members of the Los Angeles Police Department. An amateur video, televised nationwide, showed King lying on the ground while three officers kicked him and struck him repeatedly with their nightsticks. No one who viewed that beating will ever forget its viciousness.
The Rodney King incident projected the brutal reality of police abuse into living rooms across the nation, and for a while, the problem was front page news. Political leaders condemned police use of excessive force and appointed special commissions to investigate incidents of brutality. The media covered the issue extensively, calling particular attention to the fact that police abuse was not evenly distributed throughout American society, but disproportionately victimized people of color.
In December 1996, two men in two weeks died in handcuffs at the hands of the Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies in Florida. Lyndon Stark, 48, died of asphyxia in a cloud of pepper spray while handcuffed behind the back in a prone position. Several days earlier, Kevin Pruiksma, 27, died after being restrained by a sheriff’s deputy. In January 1997, Kurt DeSilva, 34, was shot and killed by a Pawtucket, Rhode Island police officer after a low-speed car chase. DeSilva, who was unarmed, was suspected of driving a stolen car.
In February 1997, James Wilson, 37, an unarmed motorist, was kicked and punched by three Hartford, Connecticut police officers after a brief chase which ended in front of a Bloomfield, Connecticut police station. The beating was so severe that a group of Bloomfield police intervened to stop it. “They saw activity that appeared inappropriate,” the Bloomfield Police Chief stated. “He didn’t resist officers… He was struck. ” The fact that police abuse remains a significant problem does not mean there has been no progress.
In communities all across the United States people have organized to bring about change, and some of the most successful strategies are described in this manual, now in its 3rd printing. This manual was not inspired by, nor is it intended to generate, animosity toward the police, or to promote the perception that all police officers are prone to abuse. They are not. Rather, it arose out of our realization that, ultimately, it will take a strong and sustained effort by community groups to bring about real and lasting reform.