Is increasing police violence the consequence of a conflicted society?

I’ve had strong responses on Facebook to the photo I posted showing Rhode Island Police Officer Edward Krawetz kicking a handcuffed and seated, White woman in the head. Krawetz was convicted but served no time due to a suspended 10 year sentence.

Police violence against citizens is truly a problem for society, an issue we need to think about, discuss and interact with. One comment I read really caught my attention: in a democracy, police must remain under civil control. So I did a bit of searching on this topic and found a thought-provoking article examining the question of what democratic policing actually is. MIT Sociology professor Gary T. Marx writes:

Democratic policing should be viewed as a process and not an outcome … It is a myth that all that stands between total chaos and social order is the police. Social order has multiple sources. These include socialization to norms, a desire to have others think well of us, reciprocity, self-defense and the design of the physical environment. Yet police are an important factor. Their importance increases with the heterogeneity and size of a society as well as with the more recent globalization of the world … It is ironic that police are both a major support and a major threat to a democratic society.

… In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville, a French visitor to the United States who was a great student of American democracy, felt that the state was acquiring more and more direct control over its citizens. He did not specifically have police in mind. But 20th century developments in policing support his observation.

The National Democratic Institute developed a “democratic indicators” survey to assess the “strengths and weaknesses of a particular democracy” and determine which areas need improvement in the society’s evolution as a democracy. One of those indicators is law enforcement.

Other incidents of police brutality caught on tape are too easy to find through a few-second search:
Top 5 Infamous Police Brutality Incidents Caught On Tape (maintained by a PhD theology student)

These incidents inform us that we need to step up as a society to offer more guidance to our police about what we expect from them. I suspect that as a society, we will have to do quite a bit of soul searching before we are able to answer that question well. That’s the work of a democracy: citizens educate ourselves on matters that affect us, and voice our informed opinions for the benefit of all. Society must be ever vigilant to protect its major asset: its citizenry, the people. And as we are society, we are compelled to act.

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