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United States Police Brutality: Then and Now

The Origins of Policing in America


In the United States, the unfolding of police followed after England. Initial colony patrolling operated in two formal and communal forms acknowledged as the “Watch” system, or private-for-profit patrolling, named “The Big Stick.” The watch method connected area volunteers whose significant commitment was to inform of trouble. Boston built an evening watch in 1636, New York in 1658, and Philadelphia in 1700. Nevertheless, this watch was not an adequate model of authority. Watchmen drank and slept in the field regularly. Various “volunteers” worked to elude military service, were led into the draft by their townspeople, or completed watch co-operation as punishment. In 1833, Philadelphia instituted the first day watch. Then in 1844, New York commenced a day watch as an expansion to its brand-new police unit. The growing watch practice was a method of proper law enforcement officers, constables, and was usually upheld by the fee system for warrants.

Constables had diverse non-law implementation functions to operate, such as serving as area surveyors and validating the accuracy of weights and measures. In different cities, they commanded the projects of the evening watch. These centers of policing attended greatly after the American Revolution. In the 1830s, the initial notion of a centralized neighborhood police department developed. Boston sanctioned the first police unit in 1838. New York City followed in 1845, Albany, NY and Chicago in 1851, Cincinnati and New Orleans in 1853, Philadelphia in 1855, and Baltimore and Newark, NJ, in 1857. All critical U.S. centers held provincial police groups by the 1880s. These latest police methods generated related styles:

  1. Bureaucratic
  2. Publicly supported
  3. Full-time employees
  4. Established methods
  5. Subject to governmental power

New American police groups owned two key components: they were corrupt and cruel. Provincial politicians maintained authority over the police units. In most sectors, the political party district lead chose the police official to control the district leader’s community. The ward leader ordinarily was the district tavern keeper, occasionally the neighborhood vendor for prostitution and gambling, and frequently the governing authority over the area’s young gangs who were manipulated to frighten adversary party voters. With sick habits, political crime, and planned rage, it was grasped that the police units were criminal. They typically acquired payoffs in support of illegal drinking, hustling, and gambling. They arranged master crooks like robbers and pickpockets, to award immunity in trade for intelligence or bribes. They also joined in ballot-box-stuffing and vote-buying. Political operatives relocated to becoming officers with little to no qualifications and training. Progress within the police department was not won. Instead, it was bought. Police drank while working in the field, defended vice operations, and employed harsh power. These new U.S. law enforcement units met three controversies:

  1. Should they dress in uniform?
  2. Should they carry guns?
  3. How much force could they apply?

Area traders and production workers pushed for the progression of area uniformed policing. The image was for pure distinguishment by people seeking aid, and evident police visibility on community streets. Some police rejected wearing uniforms, thinking that it would inspire mockery and reveal themselves as identifiable marks for violence. Officers began carrying sidearms, notwithstanding the public’s concern that this gave too much authority to the police and state. Departments armed their officers after they had already informally wielded firearms themselves.

In the 1830s and 1840s, use-of-force apprehension was as provocative as it is now. Because authorities were mainly concerned about implementing civil order laws in gambling and drunkenness, disturbing work organizers, and monitoring freed slaves and newcomers, the public’s viewpoint supported controls on use-of-force. However, the benefit of an armed presence entitled to deadly force followed the interests of elites in the economy and politics who favored instituted police forces. The units were considered essential because the “organizations intervened between the propertied elites and propertyless masses who were regarded as politically dangerous as a class.” From the origin, American police have been confined to political desires and requirements.

Today, it is feasible that new influence on technology and science, regarding the analysis of citizens, and community satisfaction through policing in neighborhoods, will replay the comedowns of history as the styles of the future. Modern-day stories of police tyranny are no new happenings.


Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?” This 1963 message resonates today following a lengthy history of brutal clashes between police and black Americans. “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

“This idea of police brutality was very much on people’s minds in 1963, following on the years, decades really, of police abuse of power and then centuries of oppression of African-Americans,” says Smithsonian museum senior history curator William Pretzer.

Social media and technology have advanced police brutality incidents past the black culture and mainstream answers. “Modern technology allows, indeed insists, that the white community take notice of these kinds of situations and incidents,” Pretzer claims.

As technology has unfolded, so has the methods of authority by the police. Units with heavy militant devices are standard in U.S. communities. “What we see is a continuation of an unequal relationship that has been exacerbated, made worse if you will, by the militarization and the increase in fire power of police forces around the country,” Pretzer states. To him, the solutions lie in reclaiming troubled relations between police and society while defeating social inequalities.

If you’ve been the victim of police brutality, a personal injury lawyer can help. Please call The Cochran Firm’s 24/7 call center today at 1-800-THE-FIRM (673-1555) or send us a message on our website.

Daily News Egypt


Losses by police officers are progressively notable as a political problem. After studying Chicago Police Department records from the 1870s to the 1920s, historian Jeffrey S. Adler discovered that these murders are not new. According to the documents, police in Chicago executed 307 people.

In the late nineteenth century, officers’ duties in Chicago were to protect order, work alongside corrupt leaders, and stop the labor crisis. Officers had flexible room on how to achieve these responsibilities. In Illinois, the law justified applying deadly power in self-defense, quitting riots that endangered officers, or hindering suspects from fleeing.

However, in Adler’s studies, police brutality was limited mainly to the abundance of club usage. Chicago officers slaughtered approximately 49 individuals from 1875 to 1900. This developed to 65 through the first decade in the 20th century. In the 1910s, it climbed to 153. Increase in violent crime justified the rise in police brutality. Chicago’s homicide rate essentially doubled from 1890 to 1920.

Additionally, the variety of cruelty developed. Through the 1870s and ’80s, murders often resulted from drunken disputes. By 1900, they were more tending to emerge from robberies affecting copious middle-class victims. Three percent of Chicago’s community and twenty-one percent of police murder victims in 1910 and 1920 were black Americans.

Adler designated that political stress to use force on criminals and officers’ reactions to “a racially different and seemingly more alien, dangerous class of criminals,” the police frequently fired weapons at suspects to stop them from fleeing. This was an explanation that the police gave for 41% of police shootings from 1890 to 1920. They killed loiterers, thieves, purse-snatchers, and bystanders in crowds. Confusing suspect’s identity accounted for 1 in 10 murders by police.

An officer murdered a young boy by shooting a firearm in 1910 after mistaking the child’s identity. The police chief revealed that he “probably was large for his age.” This response is similar to those we get today.


Through the 1950s and 60s, civil rights activism confronted police tyranny, discrimination, and segregation, alongside the fight of the South's Jim Crow systems. Black Americans in Detroit took unfairness by segregated housing sales and schools, discriminatory employment practices, and improper racial policing.

Wayne State University

Brutality faced by blacks from Detroit police officers and additional points in the Jim Crow North was established in progressive police of racial power. The Detroit Police Department operated illegally, in ways of unlawful arrests, racial profiling, and resisting requests for a civilian review board for police cruelty investigation. The department illegally monitored organizations like the NAACP through the “‘Red Squad,’ a parallel to the Jim Crow South that has received insufficient attention.”

“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said. “We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people,” was broadcasted in the ten points in the 1966 Black Panther Party Platform.


In 1973, taxi driver Robert Hoyt rear-ended officer Raymond Peterson in Detroit, Michigan. Hoyt fell asleep while after a late night of working. Peterson, in an unmarked vehicle, viewed the crash as a purposeful action. Officer Gary Prochorow, Peterson's partner, saw the collision while driving his own unmarked car.

Prochorow also understood the matter was intended. After shouting for Hoyt to pull over, Prochorow shot at Hoyt from his vehicle. Hoyt left the roadway in a frenzy, with Prochorow and Peterson tracking behind. Eventually, Hoyt was left with no option but to surrender. Officer Peterson exited his car and believed Hoyt stretched for a firearm under his seat. "My reaction was instinctive, sharp like a scalpel," Peterson insisted. "Boom. He went down."

Hoyt was unarmed. Peterson then cut his own coat with a knife, cleaned it off, and threw it by the crime scene. Hoyt was hit by the bullet in his abdomen and was pronounced deceased upon arrival at the hospital.

In a 1971 Detroit Free Press profile, Peterson was marked as seeming "more like a radical college professor or folk singer than what he is—a Detroit policeman who has probably been part of more violence in recent months than any other cop in the country." Hoyt was the tenth shooting death that Peterson allotted over two years.

STRESS, as the police operation became perceived, uncovered to be an extreme and lawless authority. In 1961, Peterson grew to become an officer of the Detroit Police Department at age 25. During his start, he accounted for 41 citations and commendations as well as six injuries. Peterson, in 1971, was picked for a deeply undercover unit within the bureau. The system fought crime but grew dangerous in Detroit's populations, resembling assassins. As awareness of Peterson's murders scattered, he was condemned by residents and supported by his associates.


In 1991, four law enforcement officers were filmed beating Rodney King after a chase through Los Angeles, California. The video and circumstances that followed scared the city and agitated the nation. This clip of cruelty was one of the earliest of its kind, which altered dialogue about policing and race in America.

King intoxicatingly sped and avoided LAPD officers. Copious units, including a chopper, hunted him, ultimately pushing the man to cease his escape. The footage, taken by George Holliday, revealed the officers employing tasers, kicking, and beating King more than 50 times with batons.

Hammer Museum

"King claims, and several witnesses support him, that he never resisted," Jerry Bowen, CBS News journalist, published. "Twenty-five-year-old Rodney King showed his injuries to reporters -- the bruises, broken leg, and the scar from the stun gun which jolted him with 50,000 bolt shocks."

In 1992, officers Timothy Wind, Laurence Powell, Stacey Koon, and Theodore Briseno were acquitted by a mainly Caucasian jury. The following days in California saw arson, looting, riots, and violence. In a press conference from Rodney King, he requested, "can we all get along?" With riots ended, over 2,000 injuries and 55 deaths were recorded.

President George Bush declared the beatings "sickening" and described rioters as "revolting." King settled with $3.8 million and met several disputes with authority as the years went on. In 2011, he drove under the influence and, in 2012, died in his backyard pool with evidence of marijuana, PCP, cocaine, and alcohol in his system.


St. Louis officer Jason Stockley shot Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Smith attempted to run from Stockley, who thought he was dealing drugs. After stating he was "going to kill this motherf---er," Stockley was charged in 2016, and in 2017, was acquitted of first-degree murder. Stockley said he saw a gun before he shot Smith, which was legally justified.

Stockley's acquittal was followed by St. Louis riots, forcing police units dressed in riot gear to control rioters who threw rocks and damaged properties. Protesters walked to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's home but were blocked by officers. The authorities used rubber bullets and made hundreds of arrests.

Al Jazeera

In 2013, the department ended the wrongful death lawsuit, granting $900,000 to Smith's family. Stockley never received jail time. A 2018 judge allowed Smith's family attorney to resume the case process after receiving information that the defendants held DNA evidence that presented a firearm in Smith's car that Stockley planted. The family was granted $500,000 one year later.


In Baton Rouge, two officers took Alton Sterling down after an anonymous call reported Sterling for loitering and selling CDs. After believing Sterling had a gun, officer Salamoni shot him. The officers disputed Sterling was a dangerous threat, stating that he stretched for his firearm. Yet, the video unveils Sterling motionless before being shot. Protests in Baton Rouge followed Sterling's murder, where multiple individuals were arrested. The Department Of Justice instated an investigation into the incident. Salamoni was fired, but the two were not charged.



In Minneapolis, officers responded to a report of George Floyd handling counterfeit currency. Derek Chauvin and three other officers attempted to arrest Floyd. Chauvin pinned Floyd down, and the footage taken by nearby citizens shook the public. Before dying, Floyd repeatedly was heard stating that he could not breathe. An autopsy showed "asphyxiation from sustained pressure." Another report connected a heart condition to his death. All officers at the scene were fired and charged after the incident. Protests, violent riots, looting, murders, and arson formed across the globe, growing into a police brutality revolution.


What About Now?

Most officers are dedicated and ethical, working a life-threatening and challenging job with extraordinarily stressful duties. However, police officers also exert a great deal of control over the lives of those they interact with, and an abuse of this authority is particularly egregious. The personal injury lawyers at The Cochran Firm have experience helping the innocent victims of police brutality pursue justice and compensation.

The physical, emotional, financial, and legal consequences of police brutality can be staggering. We place a lot of trust in the police, and a betrayal of that trust should not go unacknowledged or un-pursued. Our police brutality lawyers will not allow that.

At The Cochran Firm, we will be there for you. Our police brutality lawyers will listen to your story and advise you on how best to proceed with your claim.

If you've been the victim of police brutality, a personal injury lawyer can help. Please call The Cochran Firm's 24/7 call center today at 1-800-THE-FIRM (673-1555) or send us a message on our website.

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