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Criminal justice reform in the United States 2

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Policing reform typically focuses on police brutality and the use of dangerous force against minority individuals. Police brutality refers to the "use of excessive physical force or verbal assault and psychological intimidation" by law enforcement against individuals.

According to Mapping Police Violence, police killed 1,147 individuals in 2017. This shows an increase from previous years with 963 individuals killed by fatal force in 2016 and 995 killed in 2015. The distribution of these killings varies widely by state with the majority of incidences occurring in states such as California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona and the least in Rhode Island, Vermont and North Dakota. While the distribution of killings by state within the U.S. is not even, overall more individuals die due to police shootings and other acts of excessive force than in any other Western, developed nation. Additionally, there are racial disparities within statistics of police killings. Of the 1,147 individuals killed by the police in 2017, a quarter were Black, meaning Black individuals were three times as likely to be killed by the police than their White counterparts. 30% of the Black victims were unarmed, compared to 21% of White Victims that were.

Police brutality
Those in favor of criminal justice reform point to recurring examples of discriminatory violence towards individuals such as the Watts Riots of 1965, the beating of Rodney King in 1991, and the death of Amadou Diallo in the 1990s.

Theories from various fields including sociology and psychology have attempted to explain the phenomena of police brutality. Sociological theories of brutality focus on the way in which interactions between police and individuals are influenced by the status of the individual. This means that differences race, gender, and socioeconomic status result in disparate treatment by law enforcement. Additionally, “situational factors” such as the character of the neighborhood also affect the interactions. Each of these factors are cues that push officers to make judgements about how to proceed. So, according to this theory minorities are overrepresented in police killings simply due to perceptions of their race. Psychological theories of police brutality emphasizes that different outlooks and personalities result in differing behavior by the police. This follows behavioral psychology in suggesting that differences in gender, socioeconomic status, educational and experiences affect one's responses. Organizational theory suggests that police brutality is a result of the organizational structure of law enforcement. The use of excessive force is seen as a response to disrespecting their authority.

In his book Punishing Race, Michael Tonry of University of Michigan, claims that White individuals and groups typically excuse police brutality due to a deep seated prejudice towards Blacks. Media representations of Black individuals and disparate sentencing contribute to the idea that Black individuals are inherently more criminal. Research reveals that Black males with features considered Afrocentric such as darker skin tone, broad noses, and full lips, receive longer sentences than their lighter skinned counterparts with Eurocentric features.

Broken windows policing
Broken windows policing, or quality of life policing, is based on a criminological theory known as broken windows theory. This theory suggests that repairing broken windows in buildings and other form of physical disorder within a city indicate whether or not there is crime. When translated to policing tactics, minor offenses are targeted as a way to deter greater, more serious crime. Reformers point to the ways that broken windows policing negatively impacts communities of color through criminalization and excessive force. Additionally, it is typically seen as responsible for over policing and the militarization of neighborhoods. Offenses such as drug possession, “suspicious” activities or mental health crises often lead to the characterization of a neighborhood as disorderly and in need of stronger policing. Opponents of broken windows policing and theory suggest that this leads to the inherent criminalization of poor, minority and homeless individuals. It creates a stigma that reinforces the underlying problems that lead to the perception of crime within the neighborhood. Additionally, those that oppose the theory suggest that these issues are improperly addressed by law enforcement and instead should be treated by social workers or healthcare professionals.


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