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When Excessive Force Becomes Police Brutality Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1711 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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There has been an increase in cases of police brutality in recent times. Many people have been injured or have lost their lives due to police brutality in different places in the world. According to Fitzgerald (2007), police brutality can be defined as instances when the police use excessive force against people when undertaking their duties. Different authors have discussed this issue at length and have documented evidence of police brutality in order to discourage the practice. “Jill Nelson” who has edited the book “Police brutality: an anthology” is one such person who has assembled several essays which discuss the issue of police brutality at length in the book. This paper aims at analyzing the book “Police brutality: an anthology” by Jill Nelson. The paper will address the major issues raised by the authors and their conclusions. It will also critique the book and give a personal evaluation at the end of the paper.

Book review:

Nelson, J. (2001). Police brutality: An anthology. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Publishers


The authors discuss the issue of police brutality in the American society at length. Different academics, activists, writers and intellectuals have written essays which discuss the issue of police brutality. They have also linked police brutality to racism in the United States (Nelson, 2001: 44-45). The authors trace the history of police brutality to the slavery period and its practice to the modern day society. They then link the incidences of police brutality with racism. They do this through providing readers with evidence on races which experience most forms of police brutality. These races mainly include the black race, although minority races are also seen to be victims of police brutality. “Professor Katheryn Russell” explains that the police link the black community to cases of criminal activities (Nelson, 2001: 10). It is on this basis that the police use brutality when dealing with the black race.

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Most of the essays which are discussed in the book share certain features and these are explained as follows; the first is that most of the interactions between the police and minority groups feature abuse of police powers though this is often not noticed. The second feature is that investigative profiling has been taken advantage of by the police to harass young black males. Since there is a perception that most criminals are black, the police take advantage of that to stop and harass many young black people (Nelson, 2001: 43-46).

Finally, the book gives recommendations on what should be done to discourage police brutality. Different authors give different suggestions on the issue. Some authors view tougher laws against police brutality as the solution to the problem. Others view more cooperation between the public and the police force as the solution to the problem of police brutality.

Summary of book

The book begins by giving a historical overview of cases of police brutality over the years. Several cases, most of which occurred in the 1990s are briefly discussed. These include the brutal murder of Amadou Diallo and beating of Abner Louima in New York. Amadou Diallo was shot nineteen times by four New York police officers even though he was unarmed. Abner Louima on the other hand was severely assaulted and sodomized with a broken broom by New York police officers. This happened after he engaged them in a confrontation (Holmes & Smith, 2008: 3). The authors analyze the issue of police presence around the black community from the slavery era to the modern times. Historically, there are several instances where police descended on black people using excessive force. During 1900, police beat up black men due to a rumor that a white policeman had been murdered by a black man.

The authors explain that police brutality usually involves beatings and use of pepper sprays. It also involves the use of defamatory language and other forms of excessive force when the alleged crime and perpetrator does not warrant the use of the same according to the principle of ‘use of reasonable force’. However, there is another aspect to police brutality which is usually ignored. This occurs when racism is committed, and other officers act indifferently, or do not take any measures to prevent police brutality. According to Banks (2004: 44-47), these officers are similarly guilty of police brutality.

The authors acknowledge that in recent times, the issue of police brutality over the black population, especially in instances where black policemen and women mete out violence against the black community, is becoming an issue of concern to the white population. This is especially due to the perception that police brutality is a threat to democracy.

In conclusion, some authors such as “Derrick Bell” give suggestions on how the issue of police brutality should be tackled. These include community policing which makes all races have confidence in the ability of the police to perform their work effectively. It involves mutual partnership between the general public and the police. The authors also suggest hiring more black policemen in order to give the black race confidence in the efficiency of the police force and reduce fear of police harassment. Other remedy techniques include mediation when solving complaints by the public against the police, as opposed to only punishing guilty police officers. This is effective since mediation ensures that the two parties have a cordial relationship. Finally, some authors are of the opinion that tougher laws which curb police brutality ought to be passed in order to discourage the practice and restore confidence in the police force.


All of the contributors to the articles are either academics, activists, writers, intellectuals or police officers. These are people who have knowledge and experience on the issues which they discuss (Greene, 2006: 890-896). Since they are experts in their own fields, this means that the information which is presented in the book is highly credible. The fact that the information discussed is supported by facts increases the validity of the conclusions made. It also reduces the instances of errors. The research carried out is elaborate, and unlike many other books which rely on secondary research, many facts stated in the book originate from past historical events which are factual and well known.

However, it is important to note that all secondary information sources have certain weaknesses. There is a likelihood of bias and error which originates from the researchers. If any of the contributors to the essays was biased in passing judgment or making conclusions, then the bias will be replicated in the book and conclusions made may be inaccurate. However, since the contributors are credible people, chances of such bias occurring are very low.

One weakness which may be seen in this book is that it appears to have a one-sided argument. The authors appear to give more weight in instances where police use brutal force against the black race. She therefore neglects cases where brutal force is used against the white race and other races (Cothran, 2001: 64-65). Some people view the cases of police brutality over the black race as isolated cases. These should therefore not be used to generalize the trend as the general police behavior. After all, there are many cases of police brutality when dealing with the white race. In other cases black people are treated similarly to other races.

Personal Evaluation

Police brutality is a problem which has been experienced over several generations. Although there are arguments that the book may be one sided and biased against the white race, there is evidence that information presented is true. The number of incidences of police brutality against the black race compared to that against the white race points to bias against the black race. It is true that many policemen and women treat all races equally when undertaking their duties. However it is equally impossible to deny that there is a significant proportion which is biased over the black population and this is something which has been observed historically

In order to rectify this problem, more needs to be done to restore confidence by the black community on the fairness of the police. There needs to be more cooperation between black people and white police officers in order for this vice to be broken. This can be achieved through community policing as well as mediation of disputes between the black race and the police (Gerdes, 2004: 184-187). In order to prevent a few rogue policemen and women from tarnishing the name of the police force, tough laws need to be passed in order to discourage police brutality over any race.

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In my opinion, the book is suitable for a wide range of audience. Students especially in law will find the book very useful since it will present weaknesses which are present in the current justice system. The book will also be very useful to law makers since it provides them with information on weaknesses in the justice system. It will also give them information on racism and this may guide them in making future laws which govern justice. The general public will also find the book insightful since it will present a link between police brutality and racism. This is a perspective which is important to understand if racism is to be eliminated from the American society.


Banks, C. (2004). Criminal justice ethics: theory and practice. New York: SAGE

Cothran, H. (2001). Police brutality: opposing viewpoints. Michigan: Greenhaven Press

Fitzgerald, S. (2007). Police brutality. Michigan: Greenhaven Press

Gerdes, L. I. (2004). Police brutality. Michigan: Greenhaven Press

Greene, J. R. (2006). The encyclopedia of police science. Washington: CRC Press.

Holmes, M. D. & Smith, B. W. (2008). Race and police brutality: Roots of an urban dilemma.

New York: SUNY Press

Nelson, J. (2001). Police brutality: An anthology. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Publishers


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