Police Brutality: The Impact on the Victims

By Tom Ryan - Updated December 15, 2018
police officers in riot gear

Defined as unmerited, excessive and aggressive abuse, police brutality is a phenomenon that causes serious 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 damage. In some cases, the community also experiences the impact of police brutality on its victims.

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Police brutality can have a severe and lasting impact on its victims, with effects ranging from unwanted media attention and ongoing legal battles to psychological trauma and bodily injury, or even death.

Deaths Caused by Excessive Force

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 of Police Brutality

Victims of police brutality may suffer from psychological damage. 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, many police brutality victims do suffer from the disorder. PTSD is more common when the trauma experienced by the victim was inflicted by another person, such as a police officer or prison guard. Other factors contributing to PTSD include the length and severity of the trauma and how long it takes to get into safer circumstances after the trauma is over.

Lawsuits Related to Excessive Force

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 by Police

Though there isn’t a comprehensive database that plainly addresses the correlation between use of excessive force and racial profiling, police brutality against racial minorities has drawn much public scrutiny over the years. When police officers severely beat Rodney King, 25, in 1992, 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.

In 2014, the N.Y.P.D. was accused of targeting and harassing another black American — Eric Garner — on repeated occasions. During one such encounter, Garner was lying in a prone position and restrained with handcuffs when the arresting officer used excessive force that resulted in Garner’s death. The tactic used, a choke hold, was prohibited by department regulations and the death was ruled a homicide, though a grand jury declined to indict the officer responsible.

As video footage has become more readily available through body cameras and cell phone recordings, local protests have sprung up across the country. Many have led to the organization of larger movements to combat racial injustice and police brutality, including Black Lives Matter, the Movement for Black Lives, Hands Up United and Race Forward.

Media Attention to Police Brutality

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, which can create its own trauma.

About the Author

Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

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