Whether officers are pepper-spraying protesters in the face or shooting and killing people in the back while in custody, police forces throughout the United States continue to have a reputation for being institutions that abuse their power. Last week, in yet another instance of police brutality, a California Highway Patrol officer was filmed beating a 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock to the ground. The Pinnock family has stated that they plan to take legal action and file a lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol.
This is just one among thousands of such incidents that happen yearly in the United States. Among the most notable incidents in recent years were the shootings of 22-year-old Oakland resident Oscar Grant in 2008 — while in police custody — and Brooklyn teenager Kimani Gray in 2013. Both cases elevated the issue of racist policing to the forefront of the national dialogue.
Police brutality has a long history in the United States, especially police violence targeting people of color. Interestingly, the usage of the term “police brutality” began at the turn of the 20th century with the beginning of the Prohibition Era and the exponential increase in crime. Brutality has been used as a state tactic to suppress social movements from the Civil Rights movement to anti-war protests during the Vietnam War, and as a tool to maintain the racial caste system that many are calling the New Jim Crow, which is aided by the so-called War on Drugs.
Organized resistance to police violence by groups like the Black Panther Party in the 1960s to contemporary organizing like the Safe Outside the System Project have sought to create alternatives to policing in black and brown communities throughout the country. Grassroots organizations such as Communities United for Police Reform, CopWatch and CopBlock have not only been providing updates on the latest incidents of police violence, but also helping victims take legal action. For example, CopWatch has distributed a guide detailing what to do if one is held unjustly in police custody. These organizations provide handy resources and advice on what to do when stopped by the police, such as the protocol to always write down the officers’ names and badge numbers if you feel you are being mistreated.
With Pinnock’s case hanging in the balance, continuing to film, document and share these instances of police violence will help the movement gain awareness and more support from different sectors.