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In the early hours of March 3, 1991, a police chase in Los Angeles ended in an incident that would become synonymous with police brutality: the beating of a young man named Rodney King by members of the Los Angeles Police Department. An amateur video, televised nationwide, showed King lying on the ground while three officers kicked him and struck him repeatedly with their nightsticks. The Rodney King incident projected the brutal reality of police abuse into living rooms across the nation. Political leaders condemned police use of excessive force and appointed special commissions to investigate incidents of brutality. The media covered the issue extensively, calling particular attention to the fact that people of color are disproportionately victims of police abuse.

Six years later, police abuse is still very much an American problem with annual incidents numbering in the thousands. Most reported incidents take place during arrests, searches, traffic stops, or in street altercations. In New York City, a series of egregious incidents over the past several years, such as the 1997 station house torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, has heightened tensions and precipitated a number of investigations. One such investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office found a pattern of brutality in the NYPD and called upon federal authorities to oversee the conduct of the city’s police. Other large, urban police forces have faced similar scrutiny.

Yet police brutality must be fought locally: the nation's 19,000 law enforcement agencies are essentially independent. While some federal statutes specify criminal penalties for willful violations of civil rights and conspiracies to violate civil rights, the Department of Justice has been insufficiently aggressive in prosecuting cases of police abuse. There are shortcomings, too, in federal law itself, which does not permit "pattern and practice" lawsuits. The battle against police abuse must therefore be fought primarily on the local level.

Source: Amnesty International and ACLU

Organization Links:'s civil liberties site:
With links to police conduct.

ACLU: Fighting Police Brutality:
Information from ACLU on how to deal with the police, police abuse, and where to turn for help.

Amnesty International's Rights For All:
Human rights organization's call to the US to task for rampant police brutality, abuse of prisoners, and a dysfunctional legal system.

Capital Region Justice for Diallo Committee:
Coalition of local groups concerned with issues of race, police brutality, and criminal justice.

National Coalition on Police Accountability:
Organization of religious, community, legal groups and progressive law enforcement representatives working to hold police accountable to their communities.

October 22nd Coalition:
Organization united to stop police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a generation.

The Vera Institute of Justice:
An very complete bibliography of policing literature with select annotations.

Bibliography & Publication Links:

Brock, Alan. Ambush at Ruby Ridge. Irvine, Calif.: Dickens Press, 1995. A reminder of how far law enforcement can go wrong.

Cruelty in Control? The Stun Belt and Other Electroschock Weapons in Law Enforcement. June 1999. Amnesty International's report on American police abusing prisoners and suspects with a new generation of "non-lethal" toys.

Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation's Highways
ACLU special report from June 1999 on racial profiling among American cops.

Bouvard, James. Freedom in Chains: the Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Bouvard attacks the modern worship of "democracy" as the source of much of the slack cut abusive government agencies.

Official newsletter of Action for Police Accountability.

Police Brutality & Excessive Force in the New York City Police Department:
Amnesty International Report from June 1996.

Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the US:
1998 report from Human Rights Watch examines police brutality in major cities throughout the US.

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