Trust in law enforcement takes hit as brutality incidents surface
Abbey Marshall | Staff Writer
Michael Brown. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner.
After the events that transpired with these men in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities nationwide, media has flocked to report on incidents of alleged police brutality. These situations have caused a decline in public trust of police, according to a 2014 poll taken by USA Today, which reported that two out of three Americans say officers don’t do a good job when it comes to “force, fair treatment, and accountability”. Growing tensions in response to the deaths of African-Americans by the hand of police officers, such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner, eventually erupted into violent riots in Baltimore, where Freddie Gray passed away in police custody. These riots urge people to address the topic of police and public relations, according to junior DeAngelo Simmons.
Simmons said he believes that police brutality is an issue that is age-old, but is just now being brought to the forefront because of information that is more readily available today than in previous years.
“Police brutality is something that has existed for many years, but it’s just coming to our attention because of the social media age,” Simmons said.
According to Mason Police Officer Drew Herrlinger, media’s portrayal of these events doesn’t necessarily depict the full story.
“I think that there’s a rush to judgment,” Herrlinger said. “In my opinion, the media is going to publish what sells without looking into it further…They’re a business, so they’re going to sell what works for them and that’s protesting, rioting, things of that nature. Rarely do we see the good that comes out of things (and) the good that people do every day.”
Junior Alex Eatrides, however, said he believes that media’s interference isn’t the issue. According to Eatrides, this topic wouldn’t be receiving as much attention without continuous coverage from news outlets.
“I don’t think the media has really been blowing it up; I think communities of people are blowing it up and the media is forced to show that,” Eatrides said. “The community of Baltimore is really starting to step up and say they’ve had enough and they’re not taking it anymore because of how many people that have already died…The media is just showing that it’s getting very violent because people have just had enough.”
Eatrides said that the consumption of media has contributed to his mistrust of law enforcement, despite the fact that he grew up with a positive image of a police officer in his life: his father.
“When I grew up, I didn’t feel (mistrust of officers) because my dad would always tell me his stories like, ‘I stopped the bad guy’,” Eatrides said. “I was never really scared of police officers because I never watched the news and heard about all that stuff, but I grew up and started seeing more news and listened to stories…I started getting more…cautious of what I’m doing around police officers.”
According to Simmons, the growing mistrust of police officers is a popular opinion for a particular demographic. Because most coverage has been of the abuse of black citizens, many African-Americans have developed an unfavorable view of law enforcement, Simmons said, and this is largely attributed to the media’s presentation of these events.
“It is a race thing,” Simmons said. “The black instances are being put to the forefront. I’m sure it happens too with a white cop and a white guy…I don’t think (trust of police has) ever been up…with black people. There’s always been some type of inequality, like stereotypes…People don’t just don’t look past what they’ve heard for 20 or 30 years. Most of these police officers have probably been brought up (hearing) stereotypes and it’s hard to ignore stereotypes when those stereotypes involve you dying or living…But every cop isn’t bad just like every black person isn’t a thug.”
Herrlinger said that because the people of Baltimore “feel oppressed”, news outlets are jumping on the opportunity to cover these high-interest stories in order to earn a profit.
“(The media is) taking a situation and using socioeconomic elements, using political elements, using fundamental aspects of life and selling it,” Herrlinger said. “I think with Baltimore with the socioeconomic (statuses), it’s a melting pot…People feel that, looking at their situation, if 87 percent of young black males are arrested, they feel that…they’re picked out and harassed or what have you, but there was something that drove that officer to look at them, or they were acting suspicious. There was something, a probable cause, that drove them to investigate. The officer didn’t just say, ‘Oh, there’s a black man; I’m going to go harass him’. That doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, in our society right now, we rush to judge.”
Herrlinger said he acknowledges that there are a few officers that disrespect the profession by creating situations that need to be investigated.
“Are there bad apples?” Herrlinger said. “Absolutely…We’re just people…This career field is no different than any other field, it’s just that we’re out in the public so there’s a lot more (attention), especially with social media and recording devices, more people will see it.”
The few police officers that taint the image of law enforcers will be dealt with the full extent of the law, according to Herrlinger.
“Those people that tarnish the badge are dealt with swiftly and succinctly in the sense that they go through the process and they become a criminal,” Herrlinger said. “Nothing protects me from anything…We are not above the law. You can take these instances that have occurred across the country in the forefront in the media and know that if there’s wrongdoing, it’ll be found out. First and foremost, they’ll be fired. Secondly, they’ll be criminally charged…Those that don’t do the right thing will be called out and will be disciplined probably greater than most civilians will be.”
Simmons said he believes the rocky relationship between law enforcement and the public can be mended by a civil conversation and public apology.
“You’ve got to sit down with politicians and police department officers and I think the police and the government definitely owe the people–and when I say people, I mean everybody: white people, Hispanics, Asians–an explanation and a reassurance that we can trust in them…(and) in the future, the proper precautions will be taken,” Simmons said.
According to Herrlinger, if both citizens and law enforcement attempt to fix currently poor relations, unity is a possibility in the near future.
“If I had my way, I would take the politicians out of it and I would make the chiefs of police more accountable to be big parts of the community,” Herrlinger said. “I would…tell the chiefs to get out there and we would have to (do something like) a unity rally…When people come together and they’re united, I think that’s a powerful statement…America’s a powerful country.”
Originally published in The Chronicle on May 15, 2015.