Police Brutality

Police Brutality and Social Media at Monmouth

No changes have been made in the Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD) following a year of police brutality in the media, and no changes were deemed necessary.

In the wake of the media firestorm regarding police brutality, the University remains unfazed. Chief of Police Bill McElrath pointed out that no abuse of force happens on campus, and no trends in crime or force have changed in the past year.

After students and faculty have watched Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin lose their lives to excessive force, a question has been raised: has the use of unnecessary force used by officers grown, or has the media’s portrayal of it made it seem like a resurgence?

Criminal Justice Assistant Professor Michelle Grillo said, “[Police brutality] is made a larger issue through the attention it receives through social media.”

Grillo continued to say that social media and videotaping has made the events more prominent than they have been in the past, stating “We have to be careful and not be quick to judge…an officer until we have all the facts. While social media and cell phones help civilians with their cases, in most cases only a piece of the whole event is captured on a cell phone. We do not see the before and after.”

While it is important to consider what’s not on the video, it’s important to realize that citizen journalism and the broadcasting of these events are showing what was previously unseen. Without citizens documenting brutality on their iPhones, the media might have portrayed the events in a different way.

McElrath said that “The vast majority of officers would like to be equipped with body cameras, as it would show that they are doing their jobs the right way, and that they are justified in their actions.”

Joseph Patten, Chair of the Political Science department, pointed out, “Technology creates a situation where things are exposed and circulated for the country to see.”

The controversy over whether race plays a part in these acts of force remains up for debate. When asked if there is a tendency towards crime based on race, McElrath stated, “Race does not play a part…some of the causes of crime are poverty, socioeconomic conditions, the breakup of the traditional family structure, lack of jobs, and drugs.” He continued to say, “I absolutely do not believe that black males are stopped simply because they are black.”

But Stephen Chapman, an assistant professor of political science and sociology, pointed out that the Ferguson report showed overwhelming biases. “Black people were more likely to be arrested or be searched. Statistically speaking, the biases are there,” he said.

Akintunde Obafemi, a junior health studies student, agrees that there is a bias. “I think police have a perception of black males,” Obafemi explained. “They bring these perceptions with them when they go into ‘urban’ areas, and that’s why they are so quick to abuse their power when it comes to black men.”

According to Patten and Chapman, there has been no increase in police brutality, only an increase of its “media saliency,” or how often something is shown on the news. “There hasn’t been an increase over the last ten years,” Chapman stated. What has changed is the fact that citizen journalism is on the rise. People can record acts of brutality that may otherwise not have garnered attention. Chapman pointed out that “[…] technology creates a situation where things are exposed and circulated for the country to see.”

Grillo agreed, saying, “Police brutality always existed. However, like anything else, social media provides a way to put it out in the open.” While the acts of unwarranted force are there for all to see, no national change has occurred. There is no legislation to prevent or punish police brutality, and it has not been a big topic of debate in the campaigns of the presidential candidates.

Body cameras strapped onto officers is a change supported by McElrath. If officers are aware they are being taped, they are more likely to act within the law.

While this campus seems to be untouched by acts of force by police, the shootings and arrests of black citizens are something that needs to stay fresh in everyone’s minds. From a student’s perspective, Obafemi explained, “Police don’t use force here, and in terms of race and racial profiling, I feel MUPD doesn’t have much to make strides in.”

As long as students and professors continue to talk about this issue, perhaps bigger changes in how the police department runs will arise. If the community doesn’t forget about police brutality once it is not as salient, positive change will come.

As Chapman expressed, “I have not seen any racial biases on campus, but from what I’ve seen, everyone is willing to engage in a conversation.

PHOTO TAKEN from theatlantic.com