Police Brutality: The Impact on the Victims

By Tom Ryan
Police brutality can have long-lasting consequences for its victims.
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Defined as unmerited, excessive and aggressive abuse, police brutality is a phenomenon that causes irreparable harm to its victims. The abuse may be physical or psychological, and the victims can feel the effects of this abuse for a lifetime. These effects include not only physical wounds, but also psychological ones. In some cases, the community also experiences the impact of police brutality on its victims.

Death

The use of excessive physical force often characterizes police brutality and it sometimes results in the death of its victims. These cases occasionally receive great media attention, such as the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo, 23. Undercover police officers shot Diallo 19 times while he was reaching for his wallet. The officers fired 41 shots total, killing Diallo and, while they were acquitted of all brutality charges, this case--and others like it--remains notable.

Psychological Effects

Victims of police brutality may suffer from psychological effects and disorders. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an affliction that can lead to panic attacks, depression, substance abuse or suicidal tendencies. While suffering from police brutality does not guarantee that someone will develop PTSD, it makes it more likely. One factor that makes PTSD more likely is whether another person, such as a police officer or prison guard, inflicted a trauma. Other factors include the length and severity of the trauma and how long it takes to get into safer circumstances after the trauma is over.

Court Cases

Victims of police brutality may pursue court cases against the city employing their abusers. For example, in 2004, a police officer beat Stanley Miller, 39, with a metal flashlight. He took up a case against the city of Los Angeles and settled with the city council for $450,000. However, these cases do not always work out in favor of the alleged victims. Cases like the 1998 Danny Reyes case, concerning four young men who New Jersey State troopers fired upon while they were en route to a basketball camp, may end with charges against the officers dropped.

Racial Profiling

At times, an entire culture or race may feel victimized by police brutality. When police officers beat Rodney King, 25, it sparked a national controversy. The police officers that beat King were acquitted of all charges, sparking riots in Los Angeles, where civil unrest over racial profiling reached its boiling point. The riots resulted in the deaths of 53 people.

Media Attention

As some police-brutality cases are higher profile than others are, the victims' private lives may have sudden exposure to media attention. Abner Louima, 30, was in such a position in 1997. After Louima's arrest, police officers sodomized him with a plunger at the station. The severity of the abuse and the multi-million dollar lawsuit that Louima went on to win put him and the details of his case in the media spotlight. Some victims, like Rodney King, refuse to talk publicly about their abuse.