Police Brutality and why it happens

I hate to say this but at our root we humans are nasty beasts. I follow Copblock.org on rss and I’m always appalled by bad police behavior, the most recent being the young man who was in a car accident, and banged on a person’s door. That person was a woman who’d been abused by her husband so she called the police. When the young man approached the police they SHOT HIM TO DEATH. In this particular instance the cop who shot the guy is at least charged with manslaughter.

Now in the more egregious categories of police behavior I note a lot of it is black ‘perpetrator’ white cop. The one really irks me. We see it in the ridiculous stop & frisk program in NYC, or here in RI where if you’re driving while black you’re four times more likely to be pulled over.

But as to the why – there were two studies done between the 1960’s and 1970’s that peel away the veneer behind human behavior.

The first is that we humans are capable of some really sadistic and depraved acts. But we have to be given the AUTHORITY to commit those acts. We’ve seen this play out in our military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So I’ll start with the Millgram study first performed in 1961. 

And the experiments have been repeated. Here’s the setup – a man in a lab coat or other symbol of authority has a man or woman seated before a console. The role of that person is to ask a man in a remote room a series of questions and when the man answers incorrectly the person at the console administers an electric shock, increasing the voltage as the number of incorrect answers is given. At some point the ‘man’ in the remote room cries out in pain.

A pretty good majority of the people just keep amping it up. What the videos don’t generally show though is some people WILL in fact question authority and refuse to administer the increasing voltage. I fall on that side of things. To me I understand that authority is a somewhat false notion and I understand the symbols and practices.

The other study is the Zimbardo Prison Experiment.

That one goes a little farther than the Millgram experiment. It removes the immediate authority.

Now you see how things like the atrocities of Nazi Germany could happen, or the police brutality and racism that is still as prevalent as it was in the 1960’s, in fact worse. It’s because part of the obedience that we use to keep society running also has a dark side. That dark side is practiced by military men, police and even con artists.

In essence our boys in blue are no better than the soldier of Nazi Germany. That’s a shocker but it’s evident in statements like “People don’t become cops because they are humanitarians.”. 

And think about the role of authority in your life. It is very evident in your education, and in the work place it’s even more so. It is sort of the glue that holds society together. But some of us, we question authority. Even in Nazi Germany you had the White Rose movement that KNEW what their brethren were doing was wrong and made and effort to knock it down. 

And here in the U.S. we do have some good cops. Recall Serpico, or Adrian Scowcraft or possibly Schoolcraft. The problem though is that those whistleblowers are ejected from the force post haste. You cannot have society realizing that authority is only a thin veneer of society.



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