Brutality against minority groups, especially the African American people, has continued to ignite political and social debates. Reports have indicated that police are the key perpetrators of aggressive acts against African American minorities (Schwartz, 2020). Police brutality against African Americans has been on the rise even after several constitutional and legal reforms made by the country to control it. Recently, the case of the brutal murder of George Floyd, an African American who did not resist police arrest, but choked when Minnesota police Chauvin placed him in a chokehold, attracted public attention both locally and internationally (Schwartz, 2020). The urge to have justice has increased in similar cases, but police aggression, particularly against African Americans, has grown to nearly uncontainable levels. In 1964, the US government ratified the Civil Rights Act that subsequently led to the enforcement of the Fourth Amendment (Schwartz, 2020). Since its inception, the law has attempted to deter police cruelty but has been ineffective and inconsistent in protecting African Americans.
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Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Fourth Amendment
The American government introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after the people of color and other minorities fought for their freedom and justice through a series of petitions and political actions. President Lyndon B Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law to remove discrimination in America’s political history (Schwartz, 2020). During that period, the government identified discrimination against voting, access to education, and equal employment opportunity as serious issues that the Civil Rights Act would help address (Schwartz, 2020). It was a time when the US acknowledged that everyone in the country needed fair treatment, justice, and equal access to opportunities for both education and employment. Even though the Civil Rights Act comprises laws that protect people from various mistreatments, the law generally seeks to prohibit any form of discrimination based on sex, national origin, color, race, and religion by regulatory authorities.
Although there is no universally agreed extent to which force should be applied, law enforcement officers are often allowed to surpass some limits in cases that require self-defense. Until 1989, the US government did not have suitable legal institutions to regulate the use of extreme police power (Garrett & Stoughton, 2017). As changes in various aspects of the Civil Rights Act continued, the government noticed that police brutality cases were on the rise. Hence, there was a need to address police brutality by introducing the Civil Rights Act. Title VI of this Act led to the development of the Fourth Amendment, which has played a significant role in shaping the American courts. It has also influenced decision-making processes regarding the use of unwarranted force by the police. Despite the existence of the Fourth Amendment since 1791, various policy revisions have addressed police brutality. As stipulated in the Amendment, people have a constitutional right to disapprove of any unfair treatment by the government or its agencies on their homes, property, or business.
Through the Fourth Amendment Clause, the US Constitution protects people and their properties or businesses from unnecessary searches and seizures. Unfortunately, the US constitution has not assured citizens of their freedom from police violence in cases that do not involve searches and seizures. Therefore, it means that when a use of force does constitute an incidence where police are administering seizures, the Fourth Amendment could emerge as an ineffective regulatory tool (Garrett & Stoughton, 2017). Any instance of excessive force that does not fall under the search and seizure enforcement practice is entirely outside the realm of the Fourth Amendment rule.
What Constitutes Police Brutality
Police brutality is a collective term that describes any act or acts of aggression that police could use against a suspected criminal. It entails but is not limited to incidences when arrests involve aggressive behaviors such as torture, murder, or physical attacks such as assaults and battery. Despite undergoing a series of reforms meant to strengthen its ability to promote the rights of minorities and reduce instances of police brutality, the Fourth Amendment has proved ineffective and inconsistent (Stoughton, 2020). Police brutality in the US is characterized by torment, undue police force during arrests, and murder cases in extreme situations. While Title VI and the Fourth Amendment seek to protect citizens from police ruthlessness, unlawful arrests and aggression by White police against Blacks have increased tremendously.
Increasing Cases of Police-induced Deaths
Title VI of the US constitution prohibits police or other law enforcement officers from discriminating against people based on race, religion, sex, national origin, or race when performing their law enforcement duty. The Fourth Amendment states that the federal, state, local police, or other law enforcement agency categories shall not conduct unreasonable searches or seizures (Garrett & Stoughton, 2019). However, Peeples (2020) reveals that most of the regulations are ineffective and irrelevant. Even though these laws have tamed police violence to some extent, their applicability in dealing with police brutality varies widely (Garrett & Stoughton, 2019). The indistinct clauses on police brutality in the Fourth Amendment limit the kind of charges that should be placed on prejudicial police officers.
Racial discrimination is rampant in the US, a situation that escalates unequal treatment of citizens. Black Americans, especially men, are more likely to die in police custody than their white counterparts (Peeples, 2020). Police-induced deaths in the black population have been rampant, with the recent case of George Floyd. On May 25, 2020, the world came to the shocking news of Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin brutally killing George Floyd (Schwartz, 2020). The said Police Officer held George Floyd in a chokehold and pressed his knee on the victim’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds (Schwartz, 2020). His death sparked anger and animosity among human rights and individuals emotionally moved by the untimely demise. Protests calling for justice spread from the U.S to other parts of the world, with protesters calling for reforms in law enforcement through defunding the system or abolishing the police department completely (Schwartz, 2020). In the case of George Floyd, the Fourth Amendment could not apply or even allow the bereaved members to launch a case against the Minnesota police officers.
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At first, the government had shown concern, and lawmakers gave the public some hope that Chauvin shall finally face the law. The initial perception was that the court had charged him with second-degree murder. Unverified reports later revealed that the court charged George’s killer, Chauvin, with $1 million, far from what the public and peaceful picketers had thought would be in Floyd’s justice (Laughland, 2020). The death of George Floyd occurred when a convenience store employee called Police Officer’s Call line requesting police intervention after suspecting that he had bought a cigarette with a counterfeit note of $20. It was not clear whether Chauvin wanted to restrain George and conduct a public search and seizure for allegations of the suspected fake notes or another motive (Laughland, 2020). Besides, it is still indistinct whether the police indicted for the murder of George Floyd was acting in self-defense or the defense of others.
George’s brutal murder under police custody is a pure indication of how the American constitution has failed to protect African Americans from unlawful and illegal use of excessive force during arrest. In the case of Tennessee vs. Garner, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the victim by stating that the Fourth Amendment prohibits police from using deadly force when making arrests (Simon, 1985; Obasogie & Newman, 2019). The police can only use excessive force when they have a good reason to think that the suspect would be a threat either to the police or the people in the surrounding. The case of George Floyd is not the first one, but among some of the instances when police have used brute and unreasonable force when apprehending suspects (Obasogie & Newman, 2019). The Fourth Amendment’s main problem is that its application in cases of policy-induced deaths is inadequate because the law does not clearly indicate whether assaults or excess force that leads to death is part of the crimes.
The Fourth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act do not explicitly indicate what the court should do in the case where police use brute force or unreasonable force that finally leads to the death of a suspect. Cases of policy-induced deaths have not received proper attention and legal interventions because of the limited applicability of the Fourth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act in excessive use of force during arrest (Stoughton, 2020). Previous cases continue to reveal how police have deliberately tortured, harassed, and even killed African Americans in the name of enforcing the law (Laughland, 2020). Some time back, the body of Mike Brown, an unarmed African American young man, lay lifeless on the street after being shot by white police.
Witnesses testified that the boy held his hands up in surrender before the police shot him. In New York City, Erick Garner suffered a similar predicament when white police placed him in a banned chokehold before suffocating him to death (Laughland, 2020). The victim died in the hands of the police officer even after complaining eleven times that he could not breathe. In Cleveland, a 12-year old boy, Tamir Rice, playing with a small toy gun, found himself shot to death by a white police officer (Laughland, 2020). All these deaths of young boys and men of the African American identity occurred in 2014. These events show the persistent mistreatment of people based on racial identity.
Each of the cases revealed the mass use of police brutality against unarmed black American men. In the following year, Erick Harris, Tony Robinson, William Chapman, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray-met their untimely death in a similar manner (Laughland, 2020). Cases of police brutality and the continuing legal deficiencies make it difficult for African American families to get justice. While the Fourth Amendment addresses police use of force in seizures, some cases involving police brutality do not qualify as seizures. Shootings, brutal attacks, and deaths resulting from chokeholds do not qualify as cases under the Fourth Amendment framework.
Applicability of the Fourth Amendment
Concerning the Fourth Amendment’s inability to apply in every situation associated with police brutality, both the previous and current case verdicts reveal the difficulties in applying the law in non-seizure-related incidences (Stoughton, 2020). Most of the cases brought to local and state law enforcers involving police use of excessive force have been analyzed and addressed through the due process clause. Others, especially those at the federal level, have been involved in applying the analytical framework developed during the case of Johnson v. Glick (Stoughton, 2020). Similarly, the Civil Rights Act does not have specific clauses dealing with police brutality directly. With the current state of the Fourth Amendment clause, or even the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are fears whether African American men and their families will ever get justice for police fatal shootings and other brutal deaths (Carbado, 2017). The fact that policymakers still ignore the need to develop independent clauses on police brutality is a pressing issue that needs the development and implementation of sound policies that protect the citizens against discrimination and abuse by law enforcement personnel.
A few cases involving police use of brute force while restraining or capturing law offenders have qualified for trial under the stop, search, and seizure clause of the Fourth Amendment. Nevertheless, hundreds of other legal significance cases have not been part of the seizure process (Obasogie & Newman, 2019). As such, courts have been unable to ascertain how they would charge police officers who apply excess use of force in cases unrelated to the seizure laws. Judges have used the due process clause and other parameters to determine if police had applied force illegally while capturing or restraining criminals. As observed in the Supreme case of Graham v. Connor, some of the terms used by courts to define reasonable application or use of force include using force objectively reasonable to perform law enforcement duties (Stoughton, 2020). The term objectively suggests the sensible application of force to detain lawbreakers without harming them.
The Supreme Court, suffering from a lack of proper delineation of when a brutal act of a police officer is reasonable or unreasonable, assumed that reasonableness in the Fourth Amendment implies determining whether the officers’ actions were objectively reasonable (Stoughton, 2020). The extent to which police officers execute their actions towards lawbreakers is determined by the situations confronting them, without necessarily taking into account their abrupt motivations. The judges collectively decided that the “reasonableness” of certain use of force must be judged only by considering the perception of a sensible officer on the scene. According to Stoughton (2020), “Its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation” (Stoughton, p. 60). As highlighted by Stoughton (2020), in the case of Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme Court sought to determine if force was necessary to prevent probable escape. Law enforcers should only apply extra control measures in situations that may be termed as uncontrollable.
The officers also sought to establish whether the officer had probable cause to believe that the law offender could be a threat to the officers and other people in the surrounding (Stoughton, 2020). Whether the verdict of the two cases would help judges make appropriate decisions in cases involving police use of excessive force remains questionable (Stoughton, 2020). It is uncertain if the case laws would remain applicable in various police brutality circumstances where presenting circumstances are complex for policy decision-making. The lack of proper legal delineation on the circumstances or situation that could compel police offices to use excess force to restrain or apprehend suspected criminals could continue affecting the ability of African Americans to achieve justice even in cases where police actions are doubtful (Stoughton, 2020). The possibility of the courts continue making independent decisions on such matters remains unclear until the US decides to reform the Fourth Amendment.
Lack of Legal Accountability in Reporting Police Brutality
The Fourth Amendment is seemingly the only legal framework that deals with police aggression in the United States. Together with Title VI, the laws help Americans overcome mistreatment by police based on their races, religious affiliations, country of origin, or even cultural background. Surprisingly, both the Fourth Amendment and Title VI have failed to ensure police accountability for aggressive acts against civilians (Stoughton, 2020). The issue of case reporting on matters surrounding police brutality has captured the interest of the public and independent observers alike. Statistics have shown that there are many cases of fatal police shootings than are often reported. The increasing lack of legal protection and the ability to file lawsuits against the perpetrators gives a proper impression of how the Fourth Amendment is a barrier to justice against police aggression (Stoughton, 2020). Victimized individuals often fail to report their encounters with police brutality for fear of intimidation and lack of legal protection.
The increasing failure to document cases linked to police aggression is an indication of how the affected individuals lack suitable legal defense to hold law enforcement agents accountable for the use of excessive force. Statistics have indicated that nearly 1000 youths, the majority being African American men, die under the customer of law enforcement agents, either through fatal shootings or by other incidences of unreasonable use of force. Rising variations in reporting police brutality in the US raise questions about the legal framework highlighted in the Fourth Amendment (Stoughton, 2020). The lack of reporting is also a suggestion that the Fourth Amendment is not competent enough to deal with police brutality cases.
Laws are never perfect as various cases continue to present significant challenges to jurors. Undeniably, the Fourth Amendment and the Bill of Rights have continued to attract debates concerning their roles in protecting civilians from police brutality. In the wake of increasing police brutality, questions about the accountability of the two legal pieces to protect civilians, especially African Americans, from police brutality continue to rise. This research paper has discovered that the enactment of the Fourth Amendment lacks some important aspects that could have been integral in taming unnecessary use of force by police officers in the United States. One of the evident issues is the lack of proper delineation of how the law could apply when police used aggression or excess force unreasonably. Such a lack of proper delineation of the Fourth Amendment’s role in mitigating excessive use of force by police has left a vacuum that pushes courts to make decisions variably.
Carbado, D. W. (2017). From stopping black people to killing black people: The Fourth Amendment pathways to police violence. California Law Review, 105, 125. Web.
Garrett, B., & Stoughton, S. (2017). A tactical Fourth Amendment. Virginia Law Review, 103(2), 211-307. Web.
Laughland, O. (2020). US police have a history of violence against black people. Will it ever stop? The Guardian.
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Obasogie, O. K., & Newman, Z. (2019). Constitutional interpretation without judges: Police violence, excessive force, and remaking the fourth amendment. Virginia Law Review, 105, 425-448. Web.
Peeples, L. (2020). Brutality and racial bias: What the data say. Nature, 583(1), 22-24.
Schwartz, S. A. (2020). Police brutality and racism in America. Explore 6(5), 280-282.
Simon, J. (1985). Tennessee v. Garner: The Fleeing Felon Rule. Saint Louis University Law Journal, 30, 1259.
Stoughton, S. (2020). How the Fourth Amendment frustrates the regulation of police violence. Emory Law Journal, 20(30), 1-79.