Keeping order in any society depends fundamentally on a police force to enforce laws and punish transgressors. However, a constant problem cities face has been not only ensuring that policemen do not abuse the power and authority they are given, but that no personal bias enters into their work. Police brutality against citizens involves the use of excessive force when physical action is unnecessary, and it springs from factors such as the race, religion, and socioeconomic status of civilians. Misconduct and violence by the police can occur during protests and demonstrations, or everyday encounters with citizens. Much of the police brutality in the last few decades of American history can be identified to be dependent on racial factors, especially in the South. However, this trend is slowly reversing. As social conversation in the United States moves away from racial issues and towards economic disparity, police brutality will become less of a factor of race and more dependent on the apparent economic status of citizens.
As the big social issue of the mid-to-late 19th century can be said to have been racism, it is clear that economic disparity and financial problems have come to dominate voters’ minds today. Race has largely stopped being a social issue, since, while still decades away from a ‘colorblind’ state, the interpretation of the Constitution, legal system, and overall feelings in America have taken a huge leap towards impartiality. On the contrary, economic disparity is the focus of today’s protests, as the average citizen’s awareness of income inequality rises. In 1972, only 67% of all Americans agreed income inequality was growing - today, that number is over 83% (Cavaille). Thus, the collective mind of the United States after the turn of the century can be said to have turned away from the race issue and towards class consciousness.
An increase in class consciousness throughout America has dire consequences for public opinion. A study conducted by Harvard University showed that as class consciousness increased, empathy for the poor decreased. This is because social groups compare themselves not just to the financially well-off, but to the poor as well. Ironically, the increase in awareness about economic disparity will only serve to dehumanize the poor from all points of view. For example, the most ardent opponents to a welfare plan to help the poorest urban residents of Detroit were not the richest one percent of Americans, as many people might expect, but instead the second-lowest income group of the city. While economic disparity may well become a key issue between middle and upper class Americans, the poor will only be despised, spit on, and disregarded even more. This will directly impact the type of misconduct and violence towards the poor by the police as general feelings in the United States begin to turn against the poor. The police force is always comprised of average citizens, and if trends in the...