What is to be done about police brutality?

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Mariam Elba

Whether officers are pepper-spraying protesters in the face or shooting and killing people in the back while in custody, the police force throughout the United States continues to have notorious reputation of being an institution that abuses its power. This week, in yet another instance of police brutality, a California highway patrol officer was filmed brutally beating a woman to the ground last week. The woman, identified as 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock, was beaten at least 11 times and was unable to defend herself. The Pinnock family has stated that they plan to take legal action and file a lawsuit against the CHP.

This is just one among thousands of such incidents that happen yearly in the United States. Among the most notable incidents in the past several years is the shooting of Oscar Grant while in police custody in Oakland in 2008 and the shooting of  Kimani Gray, a 16-year-old boy who was murdered by the New York Police Department in 2013. Both cases launched the public debate about racist policing to the forefront of the national dialogue.

Screen-shot-2014-07-08-at-12.08.26-PM-615x382Communities continue to resist police violence in the age of the New Jim Crow (Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski)

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 crime. Brutality has been used as a state tactic to suppress social movement from the Civil Rights movement to anti-war protests during the Vietnam War, and as a tool to maintain the New Jim Crow racial caste system, 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 of the latest incidents of police violence, but also help victims take legal action and provide resources. 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 pick up awareness and more support from different sectors.

This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license.