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On Police Brutality

By : Swapnanil

“Please I can’t breathe…my stomach hurts…they’re going to kill me…please…please”

These were among the last words that George Floyd, 46, managed to speak before he was suffocated to death due to being pinned down by the neck on the ground by Derek Chauvin, an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department, in Minnesota. This incident took place on May 25, 2020, and sparked unprecedented outrage, not only in the United States but throughout the world. Four policemen were accused, three of which were charged with abetting and aiding murder, and Derek Chauvin, the former policeman who killed George Floyd, was charged with second-degree murder and third-degree manslaughter. The US was ‘burning’ (rather literally) in the outrage of the protestors who had actually set ablaze many government buildings and police quarters in Minneapolis resulting in large scale riots and clashes with the law enforcement.

But this is one of those few cases which have been able to capture the attention of masses. Last year, as per reports, nearly 1000 people were killed as homicide by the police in the US.

However this isn’t limited to a particular region. Just five days prior to the death of Mr. Floyd, another incident of police neglect and prejudice against the black community was recorded in the UK. Simeon Francis, 35, was found unconscious in his cell at the Torquay Police Station on May 20, and later pronounced dead. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said Mr Francis was arrested at 00:45 that day in Exeter. The preliminary post mortem report has not been able to identify the cause of death. Also in 2017, in Nuneaton, England - Darren Cumberbatch was said to have been punched repeatedly, beaten with a baton and tasered by police nearly 15 times in an attempt to restrain him. He died nine days later in a hospital, due to multiple organ failure. An inquest found the 'force' exerted by the police - “excessive” and “probably avoidable."

Talking about India, many minority communities have been systematically made victims of the excesses of police action. Recently, an incident that took place in Tamil Nadu of South India surfaced, which questioned the moral credibility of the spirit of law enforcement. Two men, Jayaraj and his son Benicks were killed in police custody after they were arrested for keeping their shop open a little past the timeframe allowed by the lockdown. Till the time of writing this article, no arrests have been made. Similarly, the Delhi Police has been largely accused of unconstitutional violence against student protestors who were protesting against the contentious CAA passed by the government in December of 2019. A few police personnel were also caught on video - shown mercilessly beating a group of students even though they were begging for mercy. Later two of those students died of fatal injuries. Even during the Coronavirus lockdown, in order to impose the lockdown measures, the police forces in different states is reported to have used excessive force, vandalizing road side stalls (Kolkata, W.B.), toppling goods carts (Ahmedabad, Gujarat) belonging to poor vendors and voraciously beating up anybody who left their house regardless of the cause.

The punishment for violation of Fundamental Rights in India can be severe, including imprisonment up to 25 years but in the recent past, the police authorities have been seldom put to task for any misconduct on their part. Similar is the case in the United States. Arrests and other remedial action in these kinds of cases have rarely been taken. But in the wake of the death of George Floyd, and the unrest that has followed, it can be expected that such instances will be reduced to a minimum, if not be completely eradicated.

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