Now more than ever, people have been publicizing and condemning the police brutality apparent in today’s society. Specifically with the Michael Brown case, as well as the Trayvon Martin case two years ago, it seems as though police officers have been growingly misusing their power, often against minorities. Of course, this is just one opinion currently circulating our society, nonetheless the increasing popularity of this opinion should be acknowledged. The question, however, is whether or not this police brutality is a rather new manifestation, or has it been around for longer than we thought?
Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” addresses social injustices, and the question of whether or not laws are just or unjust. He also touches upon steps of a nonviolent campaign and the legitimacy of demonstrations. This letter is actually a response, so he spends some time speaking to things he agreed and disagreed with – including the topic of police.
He writes, “I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department” (Dr. King, Jr. 11). He writes this because who he is responding to was commending the Birmingham police for preventing violence, however Dr. King quickly points out that such “violence prevention” is often not seen. Instead, as Dr. King acknowledges, officers were seen pushing, slapping, and harassing various African American men, women, girls and boys. What he describes is essentially police brutality.
While this is just a small section of his long letter, for some reason it really grasped my attention. Perhaps it’s because such attention has been brought to it recently, but this historical document still resonates with our societal problems today. While it’s clear to see how this problem of social injustice is applicable to the Ferguson riots, police brutality is making a big splash in the media today as well. There are petitions about requiring police officers to wear body cameras, and there’s even a webpage on Huffington Post all about police brutality. Clearly people see that this is a problem, but it has been an ongoing one for decades. The fact that it has taken this long, and these court cases, for people to finally declare action against it is curious.
Many people focused on MLK’s ideas on nonviolent resistance and social equality, however why is it that people didn’t take note of the part of the letter that seemed to affect me the most? Another important question is what steps is the government going to take to make people feel more safe and secure with our law enforcement? While I know this is a hard question to answer, and there probably isn’t a solution that will please everyone, I am genuinely curious on what opinions are out there about the subject. Dr. King brought this up years ago yet little progress on this topic has been made, but hopefully things will change soon and such hostility and violence will stop.