Is the Tide Turning towards Accountability for Police Brutality?

In the month of January, everyone likes to think about the New Year and what he or she will leave behind when embracing 365 brand new days of endless possibilities. I, for one, would like to think that the tide of police brutality is turning more toward accountability and responsibility.

Last year, we saw extreme and outrageous cases of police brutality ranging from the killing of unarmed children to rape. The last big case of 2015 involved a 29-year-old police officer, Daniel Holtzclaw, was charged with 36 counts of rape, sexual battery, sodomy and other inappropriate acts. He was convicted of 18 of the more serious counts and will likely serve a sentence of over a decade for using his badge, uniform, and authority as a shield to victimize approximately 12 black women and one minor. I hate to admit it, but with an all white jury, I was surprised Holtzclaw was convicted of more than a few of the charges. Those within the police force said they, too, were happy justice was served.

Officer Brian Encina

Officer Brian Encina

Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland

In another seemingly good turn of events, the officer who pulled over Sandra Bland, was recently indicted on a perjury charge. Bland was pulled over for failing to use her turn signal. She was taken into custody and died three days later under very mysterious circumstances. Officer Brian Encina’s account of the events did not match up to the video evidence of his interaction with Bland, which raised suspicion and led to a more detailed investigation. The officer could face up to one year in jail. While a formal charge for lying does not rise to the level of accountability necessary for Sandra Bland’s death, the officer lied and his lies have been publicly brought to the surface.

We also saw the trials start for the officers that were charged in connection with Freddie Gray’s death. The first trial for the first officer charged ended with a hung jury. There is considerable uncertainty about what may be next as the trial of Officer Porter was expected to be a critical building block for the prosecution of the remaining officers. Some people are holding out hope that the remaining officers involved will be brought to justice on some level. The fact that the officers are even seeing the inside of courtroom considering the unrest in Baltimore, the national trends of police walking away from claims of brutality, mistrust in the  community and impropriety of leadership, is something to take note of.

Tamar Rice

Tamar Rice

So the end of 2015 and the dawning of 2016 brought two different ends of the justice spectrum. Just as we had a victory regarding justice for the women victimized by one officer, we are forced to continue dealing with the fact that there will no be such justice for Tamir Rice. Recently, we saw the case of Tamir Rice receive national attention when the grand jury declined to indict the two officers who shot him.

Rice was playing with a toy gun in a public park when someone saw him and called 911. There was breakdown communication in which the caller actually mentioned the fact that the “gunman” appeared to be a juvenile playing with a “toy.” And there is evidence that instead of taking time to investigate the situation, the officers were quick on the draw, killing the twelve-year-old boy. The story of Tamir Rice presents the all too customary narrative of shooting of an extremely young, unarmed, black male by police. Rice was not administered any first aid immediately and eventually succumbed to his injuries. When the grand rendered their decision shortly after Christmas, they failed to indict the two officers involved despite one of the officers having history of emotionally instability that had been documented throughout his career. He should have never even been allowed to file papers at the police station, much less walk the streets with a gun.

The Tamir Rice case continues to perpetuate the familiar cast of characters: The young black male gunned down, the grieving mother and father, the horrified and angry looking sibling(s) the pale faced police chief, and the matter-of-fact news anchor (re)telling the statistics playing out before our very eyes. As a writer, I can always use my words to influence others. As a person, I have no words for this terrifying rollercoaster ride that we have gone on with police brutality, senseless death, and victimization in the last year.

As we reflect on the dream and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as his service to humanity, it is important remain hopeful that as we continue to get out in our communities, educate our neighbors about their rights, that we can bring about significant change. I am hopeful as we continue to aggressively pursue justice on behalf of Tamir, Trayvon, Jordan, Oscar, Eric, and countless others, that there would be more of the moments where we can feel safe and secure in that people that perpetuate crimes against minorities or anyone will be held accountable. Eventually, the tide will simply have to turn.

Image Credits: Fibonacci Blue
Yvonne Miller, Esq.
Yvonne Miller, Esq., is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina. She is an alumna of both the University of South Carolina and Western Michigan University Law School. Yvonne is a consultant residing in Washington, DC. She enjoys listening to music (especially when performed live); traveling; cooking; adorable puppies; and focusing on taking over the world.

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