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Justice Friday speaker discusses police brutality

| Monday, September 26, 2016

As police brutality becomes an increasingly salient issue, Saint Mary’s senior Adrienne Whisman promoted awareness for the victims of law and violence during last week’s Justice Friday installment.

Whisman began her presentation by introducing an online database called The Counted. The database was created by The Guardian, an online international news publication, in order to create awareness for police brutality.

According to The Counted, 795 people were killed by police so far this year, as of 7 p.m. Sunday. Whisman said the number is rapidly increasing.

“The number has gone up by about 30 people in two weeks,” she said. “The oldest victim so far has been 80 years old and the youngest was 10.”

After extensive research on the topic, Whisman said she believes some of the problems contributing to police brutality are toxic masculinity, racial tensions and stereotypes, stress and miscommunications, lack of police training and lack of nationwide standards for police.

Whisman compiled what she considers her own unbiased definition of toxic masculinity.

“The majority of policemen are men, which is why I’m discussing toxic masculinity,” she said. “It’s emotional detachment, hyper competitiveness, aggression, intimidation, violence, sexually predatory and sexual objectification.”

In a short documentary Whisman showed, titled ‘The Mask You Live In,” former NFL player Joe Ehrmann said how toxic words can be to a boy.

“The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to ‘be a man,’” Ehrmann said.

These words are toxic because they tell boys they need to always be masculine, Whisman said.

“Because we have such a great divide, masculine means you aren’t feminine at all, and that leads to insecurity,” she said. “We raise guys within our society to bottle up emotions, and when they do show emotions it ends up in anger and violence.”

For police officers, this insecurity can follow them in the field, Whisman said, but she added the issue is not limited to law enforcement.

“We have all of these factors where men are told they have to be on top, they have to be masculine,” she said. “It’s not just in the police; it’s in mass shootings, domestic violence.”

Whisman said she thinks implementing national training standards in the United States would help officers control toxic masculinity and help officers have greater sympathy for victims.

“The FBI standardizes their training because it’s a national force, but local and state police get trained on a local or state level,” she said. “The socioeconomic factors really do play into this. If you have less funding and smaller departments, it means you have less training going into officers.”

Compared to Europe, Whisman said the U.S. lacks essential law enforcement training such as crisis intervention.

“Crisis intervention is de-escalation,” she said. “[In Europe] they would try verbal warnings, fire shots in the air and aim shots at the victim’s legs.”

Instead of de-escalation, Whisman said U.S. police officers are trained to take a ‘kill’ shot.

“In the U.S., only eight states require verbal warning,” she said. “If you don’t require the verbal warning, you’re more likely to kill a person in the encounter.”

She said the reason officers aren’t trained to de-escalate is simply because it is easier not to train them that way.

“The reason you go for the kill shot in training is because it is easier to train someone how to shoot the big torso,” she said. “Aiming for the knees would take more precision training.”

Another European training tactic is empathy training, which combats racism and lack of understanding for people with mental health issues.

“Empathy training is very much emphasized in other countries,” Whisman said. “In the U.S. we’re dealing with people who are supposed to protect other people, and it’s turned into people controlling a dehumanized people.”

Whisman said the result of a lack of training is violence.

“You have this brotherhood based in violence and this lack of training,” she said. “If we train officers to see other people as people and not as a stereotype or a threat, it would probably helpful to distinguish if it’s a true threat or if they just feel it’s a threat.”

Saint Mary’s junior Liana O’Grady commented during Whisman’s presentation that people should not project toxic masculinity and racism on all officers.

“I feel like we shouldn’t do that because we’re generalizing it to all of the police force, it’s just some of them that are in the news,” O’Grady said. “I think it’s partially the media. If they showed more positive images I feel like we would have a different view of police officers.”

Whisman agreed with O’Grady.

“Media plays a huge role,” Whisman said. “They’re very much into an emotional manipulation of viewers. News used to be, ‘These are the facts.’ Now we’re so overtly biased.”

Despite the small percentage of officers who perform acts of brutality, Whisman said standardized training would benefit the U.S.

“It’s something that the entire police force could benefit from,” Whisman said. “Even though it is a small percentage of people who are creating this bad image.”

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