Black Lives Matter: Trayvon Martin as a Case of Police Brutality

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Police brutality is the use of unnecessary force by police when dealing with civilians. The issues surrounding police brutality isn’t a new. However, it has been a topic of conversation in recent years, with related cases popping up in the news regularly. So let’s take a look at the factors behind the social issue that further answer the question what is police brutality? The most obvious form of police brutality is a physical form. Police officers can use nerve gas, batons, pepper spray, and guns to physically intimidate or even intentionally hurt civilians. Police brutality can also take the form of false arrests, verbal abuse, psychological intimidation, sexual abuse, racial profiling, and the improper use of firearworkers that went on strike to injure the works in a fascist style. In more recent history, some of the most famous reporting of police brutality happened during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, where officers used high-power water hoses to knock civilians to the ground in times of civil unrest like during civil rights movement , as well as police dogs to attack protestors. Within the last ten years, several cases of police brutality made national news, covering civilians like Trayvon martin and Jordan Edwards. Cases surrounding police brutality have been covered in the media for more than a century, but the increase of media coverage and technology has called law enforcement to protect their officers and civilians more than ever before. Now, police have increased video surveillance of crime scenes by way of dashcams, and more and more streets have cameras surveying the area. With the increase in crime scene surveillance, law enforcement and the public have first-hand access to the events that take place in the case of police misconduct. Even though racial profiling still exists, anyone regardless of race, gender or age can become a victim of police brutality. According to Mapping Police Violence, “Police killed 1,147 people in 2017. Black people were 25% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.”

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In America minority communities must deal with Police officers and their abuses of power and we have lived through many months of tensions following cases of police brutality and fatal shootings like in the case of Trayvon martin. Trayvon Martin had no criminal record when he was shot and killed by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman’s initial release and later arrest sparked a national debate over racial profiling and the role of armed neighborhood watch members in law enforcement. On July 13, 2013, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of murder. The Trayvon Martin Foundation was established in 2012, with thousands having taken to the streets across America to protest the circumstances surrounding the teen’s death. Trayvon Benjamin Martin was born in Florida on February 5, 1995. His parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin divorced four years later. Martin attended public schools in Florida, including the Michael Krop High School in Miami . With parents that wanted to expose him to the world, Martin had experiences that included skiing, horseback riding and a trip to New York City to take in the sights. In late February 2012, Martin spent his third high school suspension visiting his father, whom he was close to, and his father’s fiancée, Brandy Green, at Green’s home in a gated community, The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. In response to a rash of robberies and burglaries, the residents of the community established a neighborhood watch in September 2011. Zimmerman, one of the residents, was selected as the program coordinator. He regularly patrolled the streets and was licensed to carry a firearm. From August 2011 to February 2012, Zimmerman had called police several times to state he had seen individuals whom he had deemed as suspicious. All of the reported figures were black males. 

n the evening of February 26, Zimmerman saw Martin, who had left the house to purchase Skittles and iced tea. From his SUV, Zimmerman called the police department at 7:11 p.m. to report a ‘suspicious guy,’ Martin, walking between homes and starting to run. The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to get out of his car and follow Martin, with Zimmerman disregarding instructions and pursuing the teen. Later released video footage of Martin shopping for treats at 7-11 showed no criminal or aggressive behavior. In later interviews, it was revealed that Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend when he was spotted by Zimmerman. She stated that Martin noticed that he was being followed by someone and thus began to run, with the two soon losing contact with each other via Martin’s earpiece. Martin and Zimmerman, whom it is believed never identified himself as part of a community watch, encountered each other in circumstances that have remained mysterious and conflicted, with someone calling out for help multiple times in a short time span. The confrontation ended with Zimmerman shooting the unarmed teenager in the chest. Martin died less than a hundred yards from the door of the townhouse in which he was staying. 

An officer arrived on the scene at 7:17 p.m. He found Martin dead and Zimmerman on the ground, bleeding from wounds to the head and face. The officer then took Zimmerman into custody, who claimed he shot Martin in self-defense. Zimmerman was shortly released with no charges filed. Martin’s father Tracy learned of his son’s death after filing a missing persons report with the Miami-Dade Police Department. Having gotten legal representation, Martin’s parents also created a document that received more than a million signatures calling for Zimmerman to be placed under arrest. The case became a social media phenomenon and national story, with Zimmerman’s critics alleging that racial antipathies may have motivated his actions. President Barack Obama, who stated to the media that ‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,’ also called for the case to be investigated. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on April 11, 2012, with additional information coming to the media’s attention that made the case even more highly charged. The trial began on June 24, 2013, after the selection of an all-female jury. The following month, on July 13, 2013, the six-member jury acquitted Zimmerman of murder, triggering mostly peaceful protests in several American cities. Later in the year, Zimmerman was charged with domestic aggravated assault, among other charges, after having allegedly choked and aimed a gun at his girlfriend. The woman opted not to pursue the charges. Zimmerman was arrested again in early 2015 on another charge of aggravated assault.

“I know that it’s hard to believe that the people you look to for safety and security are the same people who are causing us so much harm. But I’m not lying and I’m not delusional. I am scared and I am hurting and we are dying. And I really, really need you to believe me.”- Ijeoma Oluo

Jordan Edwards was a freshman at Mesquite High School, near his home in Balch Springs, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. He had good grades and played quarterback and receiver on the football team. Head coach Jeff Fleener, who would have coached the teenager next year, said Jordan had an incredible effect on his teammates. ‘He was an amazing young man that had a way to make everyone around him feel better,’ Fleener wrote on Twitter. ‘He had such an impact on all of us and we refuse to let anyone tarnish that.’ What happened Edwards was shot and killed Saturday night as he and a group of friends were leaving a house party. The party had attracted a ton of teens so a neighbor called police, worried about possible underage drinking.

After Balch Springs officers showed up to break up the party, the teens scattered, including Edwards and a few of his friends, who piled into a car driven by his older brother. The car then took off. One officer shot into the vehicle with a rifle as it was driving away, hitting Edwards in the head. He was sitting in the front seat, according to the Balch Springs Police Department. Originally Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber had said the officer fired after the car drove ‘aggressively’ toward him and another cop — but he later said he misspoke. Body camera footage showed the car was driving forward, away from the officers, not reversing toward them as he originally reported. The officer’s behavior ‘did not meet our core values,’ Haber said. Police were looking for the owners of the house when shots were allegedly heard in the area, creating chaos right before Jordan was shot, according to Balch Springs Police Public Information Officer Oscar Gonzalez. Haber declined to comment on whether any shots were confirmed to have been fired or whether the boys in the car were armed, citing the ongoing investigation. Merritt, the attorney representing Jordan’s family, expressed concern that the police department’s initial version of events that the teens in the car were aggressively driving towards the officers was perhaps being used as an excuse.

These are only two cases in the thousands of more cases of police brutality cases that happen in America so frequently and police brutality isn’t even a specifically an America issues with it happening almost everywhere there are police officers Despite an average reduction in deaths in custody since 2004, a 2014 Public Confidence Survey revealed that public satisfaction following contact with the police was falling and that there was a greater willingness to complain. The Metropolitan Police, who operate in some of the most ethnically diverse parts of the UK, received the greatest number of complaints in 2014/15 with 6,828. However, young people and people from black or minority ethnic groups were much less likely to come forward with complaints. Whilst instances of police brutality in the UK is comparatively less than its US counterparts, there are nonetheless high-profile incidents that have received wide media coverage. 

As of 2016, more than 140 people from black or other minority ethnic groups have died under police custody from 1990. The use of excessive force has been used on an array of demographics of British citizens, however police brutality against ethnic and minority groups often attract wide media coverage. Whilst some have argued that this is discriminatory or evidence of institutional racism, others have asserted that it is largely due to over-policing in areas that are perceived as high-risk areas such as Northumberland or Bedfordshire. In May 2013, 21-year-old Julian Cole was arrested outside a nightclub in Bedford by six police officers. The altercation left Cole in a vegetative state due to a severed spinal cord. Expert evidence indicated that Cole was struck with considerable force on his neck whilst his head was pulled back. Despite calls by the IPCC to suspend the officers, Bedfordshire chief constable Colette Paul refused to place the six police officers on restricted duties despite being under criminal investigation. The Bedfordshire police deny allegations that the use of excessive force on the unarmed 5 ft. 5in student was race-related. So how do we go about fixing these issues, Time and time again, I heard the same thing from several experts: Until police own up to how minority communities view them, they won’t be able to effectively police their communities. 

Some police officers might feel many of the criticisms are unfair. Some might hear about the history of police being used on slave patrols, and feel that they are wrongly blamed for things they weren’t even alive for. Some might feel that they are good cops, and it’s only a few officers who are bad. But that doesn’t matter. The reality is minority communities distrust police. That sentiment is based on a long history of flat-out racist policing in America, even if it doesn’t apply to every single officer or department today. Until police acknowledge that, they will be perceived by many people as trying to cover up a long history of oppression. So how can police repair this? For one, experts said police need to undertake a big effort — through community meetings, going door to door, their daily patrols, and TV appearances — to get their communities aligned with how policing should be done. “In order to overcome lack of trust and confidence, the police have to make contact — door-to-door, face-to-face contact — with members of their community,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. “The police will be rebuffed on occasion, but that’s the only way I see to, in the long run, rebuild trust or, really, build it for the first time in the police in members of these communities.” And this is only one solution there will take many and lots of time to get this work done to repair years of distrust and corruption from within but it’s the work that needs to be done so we must do it.

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