Groups » What You Need to Know about Police Brutality and Harassment

So many times we have heard of stories about abusive police officers who take unfair advantage of their power and position. Police brutality and harassment cases are nothing new in the U.S. According to Killed By Police, at least 92 people were killed by law enforcement officers in January 2015 alone while the total number was 1,106 in 2014. We have also seen some disturbing videos revealing incidents of police brutality in 2014. Another USA Today report indicates that “nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012.”

The country, unfortunately, has been witness to many cases of such brutality committed by the law enforcement officers who are responsible for our safety. Of late, many of these stories are being featured in the news and we see yet another instance of police brutality every few days where officers overstep their bounds.

The increasing number of such incidents often makes us question the justice system of the country. While we usually feel helpless when subjected to such tyranny, every U.S. citizen has legal rights to fight against such brutality and harassment. It is therefore imperative to know your rights and what steps you need to take to fight against such abusive behavior if you or a loved one has be victimized by someone in uniform.

This article sheds light on what you should know about police abuse.

What is Police Brutality or Harassment?

Many believe police brutality happens only when an officer kills someone or commit a similar kind of heinous crime(s). But it is not just limited to physical harm. An officer abuses authority when he/she arbitrarily or continually stops someone, conducts an unwarranted/illegal search, question someone aggressively, or practice illegal seizure.

While most police officers are competent and are aware of their boundaries, some law enforcement officers often cross the line to coerce people into admitting their involvement in a crime. They often intimidate or threaten people to obtain information.

The following are some of the examples of police abuse:
  • Ethnic or racial profiling

  • Illegal spying

  • Making sexist, homophobic, or racist comments

  • Using excessive force

  • Illegal detention, search and seizure

  • False imprisonment

Is the Arrest Legal or Illegal?

It is quite obvious to feel nervous when stopped by a law enforcement officer. While it is not a pleasant experience, you need to let them carry out their duty to protect citizens by fighting crimes. And police officers have great liberty in this aspect. This means, they have the rights to stop and question you even if you are innocent. By doing this, law enforcement officers are no way violating your civil rights as long as they are doing their duties properly.

Therefore, if a police officer have enough reasons to suspect you for a crime, he/she has the right to arrest you and there is no legal recourse, unless you are proven innocent or ‘not-guilty’.

Your Legal Rights

There are times when police cross the lines, exceeding their authority. For example, if you were arrested based on a false testimony given by some known unreliable source or because of your ethnicity or skin color, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the officer for a civil rights violation. Police brutality attorneys can help you identify your rights and file lawsuits against the officer(s) involved. You can even bring additional charges against a fellow officer who witnessed and failed to intervene or stop your illegal arrest.

Most police brutality cases are based on excessive force. If the officer had good intentions when restraining you, he/she won’t cause any unwarranted and/or serious bodily harm, including death, especially when you are posing no danger. Your police brutality attorney therefore needs to investigate whether or not the officers used unreasonable and excessive force to prove that your civil rights have been violated. This involves getting a few credible witnesses who can give testimony against the officer(s) who prove that your civil rights have been violated repeatedly.

You can bring a police brutality or harassment complaint under Section 1983, Title 42 of the United States Code. Under this act, it is illegal for any person “acting under the color or authority of state law to deprive” a citizen of his/her privileges, civil rights and immunities under the federal law or the U.S. Constitution.

If it is a case of racial profiling, your police brutality attorney needs to obtain records and evidence demonstrating the officer in question/the local government follows a systematic policy to target minorities by violating their rights. However, you cannot sue a state. What you can do is bring a “1983 action” against the police chief as well as the local government along with the particular police officer(s). You can even bring a class action lawsuit, representing more than one victim of police abuse.

If You are Affected

If you or anyone you know have been affected by police misconduct, the first thing you need to do is contact a civil rights or police brutality attorney. Remember that civil rights claims are an essential part of the U.S. legal system; however, they are often difficult to prove. In most cases, police officers are immune from lawsuit and it is rather expensive to bring claims against police departments.

Here’s how you need to sue the police for brutality or harassment:
  • Secure as much evidence as you can such as records of the pattern of this behavior, statements of other police officers, statements of witnesses, and other documentation that can prove the misconduct.

  • In case of false arrest claims, provide evidence that the police did not have sufficient evidence or probable cause to warrant the arrest

  • For excessive force claims, preserve pictorial evidence of your injuries, store clothing and other objects torn or damaged by police or stained with blood. In case the excessive force caused death of a loved one, get all of your paperwork ready to support your claim.

  • Another best practice is to write everything down before you forget important details.

Finally, file complaints with the United States Department of Justice, the United States Attorney General's office, and the police department involved under the guidance of your attorney since these are tricky and complicated litigations.


While police abuse is a serious issue in the U.S., the situation is not hopeless. But you need to have realistic expectations when fighting police abuse. What is important here is to know your rights and take proper action as most abusive officers practices prevail because they believe no one will dare to question them. Simply raise a question, highlight the problem, and bring it in front of public scrutiny. Let them be examined by the public, politicians, and media. The simple act of raising your voice has so powerful effect that it can often lead to reform.


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