Rethinking how America polices itself
This week, it came to light that Earl Sampson, a convenience store worker, had been stopped and questioned by police officers in Miami Gardens, Fla., more than 250 times over the past four years and was arrested following more than a fifth of those stops. Even more egregious, he was also arrested for trespassing while inside his place of work more than 10 times. On one occasion, Sampson was arrested for allegedly loitering outside his place of work while time-stamped video footage clearly shows him inside the store stocking beverages at the time of his arrest. There are a variety of reasons these revelations are disturbing, including that fact that police targeted Sampson and others that worked at the same convenient store because it was in a poor and largely minority area, but perhaps the most worrisome is the clear abuse of police power embodied in Sampson’s story.
The Miami Herald, which broke the story, reported that Sampson’s and others’ arrests were allegedly part of a larger effort to prevent serious crimes by arresting individuals for any and all offenses, known as the “broken window” theory of crime prevention. In order to favorably skew arrest and crime rates in Miami Gardens, officers were arbitrarily and repeatedly arresting the same individuals.
Instead of attempting to better their community and “protect and serve” the citizens of Miami Gardens, officers were falsely arresting individuals and arbitrarily and illegally targeting citizens for arrests. Such clear abuses of police power demonstrate that there need to be better safeguards and oversights in place in order to protect American citizens from overreaching and deceptive police departments.
This issue is not Miami Gardens-, nor even Florida-, specific. A judge recently ordered a stop to New York City Police Department’s use of controversial stop-and-frisk strategies citing widespread abuse and racism in its implementation. In St. Louis County, the municipal government only regained control of its police force last year, following decades-long control of the force at the state level due to corruption issues.
Police officers are meant to protect and serve their citizens. However, in recent years, a widespread and liberal expansion of their power to stop and question individuals and a simultaneous lack of any sort of oversight of these activities has led to rampant abuse of police power. Serious changes need to be made to the way America’s police forces operate or we, as citizens, will lose what ought to be our constitutionally protected rights.