In late September, I attended a talk in the Intercultural Center that focused on the issue of police brutality. As of late, especially after the Occupy movements, police protocol in responding to crowds has been questioned. Professor Cynthia Gnough of the Sociology and Ethic Studies department lead the talk and weighed in with her experiences in working at the Oakland Occupy movements. Many of the officers she had talked to at the movements stated that they want to protect that people’s right to protest, but had to follow orders given by their superiors; therefore, these officers were often stuck between “a rock and a hard place” in deciding how to respond. Through her information gathered at the movements, Professor Gnough concluded that many of the officers who responded violently to the protesters were not properly trained in crowd control since they had been called in for assistance. The called-in officers were usually from small communities and were unfamiliar with the social culture of Oakland. The audience was then shown two clips– one of a police officer being severely antagonized by a citizen and another of blatant police brutality. In addition to Professor Gnough’s testimony, the audience also heard from the manager of Public Safety and a student involved in a police training program. Officer Tejada and the student emphasized the importance of recognizing police to be human. Like regular humans, police can make mistakes, act cruel, and rebel from their duties. Although this doesn’t warrant police brutality, it shows that individuals have a right to question police protocol in responding to certain events.
As a summer intern at the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office, I found this talk to be highly fascinating. After we had watched the videos, Professor Gnough opened the room up for discussion about what we had witnessed. In looking around the room as others spoke, I noticed that I was one of the only Caucasian students at the event. Though this did not perturb me in any way, I was worried if it would be appropriate for me to weigh in on the videos. After mustering up courage, I told the audience about my experience at the District Attorney’s office, which consisted of reading police reports and attending trials. The reports showed that some cops are better suited at handling certain situations than others. I told the audience that more tests need to be conducted on potential police officers to see if they are prone to aggression, violent outbursts, or racism. This notion was echoed by Officer Tejada who agreed that police departments need to update their screening processes in this regard. The student training to be a police officer shared his experience of receiving negative feedback from his family and friends for wanting to join the squad– Many felt afraid and uncomfortable with his decision. However, he had to explain to them that police are incredibly diverse– some a great, while others need to go back in to training. It is a shame that some officers can ruin the reputation of an entire force that we are suppose to trust.
This talk had an incredibly high turn-out and appeared to be enlightening for many students. The way in which many crowds, like those of the Oakland Occupy movements, are handled by police show the importance of cultural awareness that needs to be obtained by every officer working in or dispatched to a certain area. As a Psychology student, I found the strict obedience to the guidelines of superiors in many of the police brutality cases fascinating. It would seem that Stanley Milgram‘s findings on the adherence to authority irregardless of the social environment still hold true and are possibly a part of the human condition. Hopefully this talk has raised awareness about the usefulness of psychological testing and in-service training of officers wanting to work in the field. Being an officer is an emotionally charged job than any of us would struggle with; we just need to make sure that those working to protect us have the psychological and cognitive capacity to do so.