Right now (June 2020), sparked by the murder of George Floyd, there have been a wave of protests against police brutality towards black Americans. In these very protests, there has also been a massive outbreak of police brutality towards protests, often seemingly instigated by police towards peaceful protestors.
Given that these protests are receiving international attention, and were sparked by the murder of a helpless man by police officers, why is there not more effort by law-enforcement organizations in the US to prevent excessive force being used right now?
I am not asking why police brutality happens in general in the US. Rather, I want to know why the police are putting themselves into optically a very bad position, to the point where many organizations are cutting ties with the police, legislation is being discussed to regulate police action, and one city is actively beginning to dismantle their police department. Politically it seems that police leaders should be incentivized to act with extreme caution towards protests in order to avoid increasing the negative attention they are receiving.
On the level of individual officers, while typically in the US it is rare for law enforcement to be charged and convicted for excessive force or brutality, we have seen the officers responsible for George Floyd's death charged with murder, and several officers involved in brutality towards protestors fired, suspended, or even arrested and charged for this conduct. So while an officer might expect that typically acting in this manner carries few consequences, right now it is riskier for a police officer to use excessive force.
Here is some speculation on my part about what the answer could be:
- Police leadership can't effectively curtail excessive force, because it is too baked into the practices/culture of their department, so even if they issue directives designed to minimize it, these directives just aren't working
- The people using excessive force just don't see the cost-benefit analysis the way I've laid it out, and aren't worried about facing consequences
- The protests happened too quickly for the public pressure to translate into pressure on police not to use excessive force, but the behavior of police towards these protests may change going forward as the backlash against excessive force becomes more and more well known
- I have made some major error in my analysis
I know that the answer will be complicated, given that I am talking about a large number of distinct law enforcement agencies and departments, and clearly they are all responding in vastly different ways to these events (some police departments are joining protestors and there is no indication of any police brutality at all). Nonetheless, given the intense attention one might naively expect far less excessive force than what has actually occurred, given it seemingly is against the police's interests to act in this way.