The media has been busy splashing images of police brutality on televisions and computer monitors all across the United States. However, understanding what actually constitutes police violence both on our city streets and in our prisons is a key element in stopping it.
Much hinges on the definition of “unreasonable force.” According to Findlaw, the conversation surrounding unreasonable force has its roots in the Supreme Court case Tennessee vs Garner.
What was Tennessee vs. Garner about?
In this case, a police officer shot an unarmed teenager while the teenager was running away from a house where he had committed burglary. Prior to this case, Tennessee law allowed police officers to use “all the necessary means” to arrest a suspect who was running away, regardless whether or not the suspect was dangerous.
This case overturned that state law. In current US law, police officers may use force to arrest or otherwise subdue a suspect only if force will stop attempted escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect is liable to injure others.
What does this mean for prisons?
Essentially, a police officer must cease using force once he or she has neutralized a perceived threat. An officer of the law is not permitted to use additional force as a punishment once there is no threat.
If a law officer continues to use force in the absence of threat, he or she is violating the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment found in the 8th Amendment as well as the reasonable search and seizure requirements of the 4th. These laws apply in prisons just as much as they do on the street.