Rising Police Brutality From USA To India, Analysing the ‘Exploitation of Power’

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The powers conferred upon our police force are so vast. Hence, they have to take the utmost care in exercising their powers not to infringe the rights of others. Any misuse of power will shake the belief and faith of the people on the democratic setup.

However, the reality is entirely different. Police forces often misuse their powers by resorting to extra-judicial methods. When a person commits a serious crime, police sometimes do not consider them human. They think it is the only way to teach a lesson to the culprit and hence plan false encounters. One common justification is that the judicial system cannot deal with them effectively. This justification though is not convincing.

Police must deal with such activities within the legal framework. Anything beyond is in direct violation of the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Legal safeguard against custodial death

Section 330 of the IPC penalizes voluntarily causing hurt for extorting a confession. This offence carries a punishment of up to seven years in prison and fine. Section 331 of IPC states that if the harm inflicted is grievous, then the penalty can extend up to 10 years.

Section 29 of the Police Act 1861 also states penalties in cases of neglect of duty and punishment for the same. Still, charges are rarely brought against police officers for violating these provisions.

Section 176 of the CrPC mandates an enquiry by a Judicial Magistrate in some instances. These are death, enforced disappearance, or alleged rape in police custody. This inquiry is in addition to the police investigation.

The brutality of police has been growing even with these provisions in place.

Steps taken by the Supreme Court

In a landmark case of D.K. Basu v. West Bengal in 1997, the Supreme Court has set down certain rules to prevent such brutality. Sadly, the police violate it most of the time. The guidelines call for clear identification of the police when making the arrest. They also call for preparing a memo of the arrest. Further, every arrested person must be medically examined every 48 hours. The doctor must list any pre-existing injuries. Thus, any new injuries will point to police abuse in custody.  Even so, these protections have not prevented custodial abuses.

The 2015 Government data points to dysfunctional police procedures.  For 67 of 97 deaths in custody, the accused were not produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protest Against Police Brutality in the US

On 25th May 2020, in Minneapolis, the police arrested a 46-year-old man named George Floyd. They arrested him for trying to pass a potentially counterfeit bill. While he had handcuffs on, a white police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes. The police officer did not stop even after Floyd repeatedly said ‘I can’t breathe’. When the officer removed his knee, Floyd’s body was unresponsive. The doctors at the hospital pronounced him dead. However, the police statement did not mention about the brutality he faced.

Protests against the brutality of the police officers started on 26th May 2020. Racism is deep-rooted in our society. Sometimes we forget that even black people are humans. People came out on the streets in large numbers with ‘Black Lives Matter’ written on placards. Most of the people who protested were Whites. A poll for ABC suggested that 74% of Americans felt that the killing of Mr Floyd was part of a broader problem of racism.

Police are the custodians of law, and it should not matter to them if a person is black or white. These protests are a national push for the world to end the racism rooted in our society. These protests have led to the repealing of Section 50 A of the State Civil Rights Law.  This law was used as a shield to protect the officers’ disciplinary records from the public.

What about India?

According to the report ‘Prison Statistics India 2017’, the total number of deaths in prisons in 2017 was 1,671. Out of this, 1,494 were natural and 133 unnatural. The number of unnatural deaths in prisons has increased by 15.7 per cent from 115 in 2015 to 133 in 2017.

There are many cases where police have tortured people in custody. There have been cases of rape and even deaths. An incident that took place in Bangalore in 2004 is another example. Here, officers harassed a transgender person in the police station. During this difficult time, the police brutality has come to fore.

Recently, Sonu Shah, an essential service provider, was shot on 26th March. Local police officers fired at his foot because he did not agree to bribe them. Shah’s incident is not the only instance of police brutality.

Further, many police officers have been assaulting migrants trying to reach their homes.

Concluding Remarks

The custodian of law acting as its biggest perpetrators is a heinous crime. Officers must abide by the laws and enforce them. They must not violate the fundamental rights of human dignity and freedom of individuals. Police brutality constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights. In many of the cases detailed in the report by Human Rights Watch, deaths in custody could have been prevented if police had followed the rules laid down. If an officer mistreats suspects, the officer should be punished, and an end should be put to this crime.


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