Fifty-five years ago, on June 1, 1966, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), issued a statement that was published in the June 1 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.
Commenting on the degradation of law enforcement in 1966, “purposely in many instances, by the widespread and indiscriminate use of the term ‘police brutality,’” Mr. Hoover called the practice “a guilt-by-language process.” He compared the blanket complaint of police brutality to the association of the word juvenile with delinquency.
Police brutality, Mr. Hoover added, “conjures up visions of hulking men in uniform clubbing and beating innocent people. Rarely, however, does the term fit the circumstances to which it is applied.”
Mr. Hoover continued: “We know there is a calculated and deliberate attempt by some groups to inflame hostility against law enforcement by charging ‘police brutality’ without cause… The term is bandied about in all media of communication without serious consideration as to its true meaning or its harmful effect on a profession which is charged with enforcing the basic rules of civilized living.”
It was time, he noted, to get this “pet slogan” into a better perspective, as there have been instances of misuse of force by enforcement officers, but such incidents were not as prevalent as the public had been led to believe. “A general and accepted principle of the law has been that an officer may use such force as is necessary to make lawful arrests, protect his life, and perform other specific duties. Frequently, however, the choice is not his to make; he has to use force or be maimed or killed and have the rights of all the people trampled by those who have no respect for law or due process. Even then, his best efforts are not enough, as evidenced by the appalling number of officers assaulted and killed each year.”
Policemen, he added, have the same basic rights as others, and should not be singled out for ridicule by invalid blanket accusations. “The public, the press and law enforcement itself should launch a concerted drive to stop the semantic indictment of police,” Mr. Hoover wrote.
To remedy the situation, Mr. Hoover suggested: “Allegations and incidents should be reported and described in realistic, impartial and truthful terms. If an officer is assaulted while making an arrest and uses undue force to subdue the person, then call it ‘undue force.’ If an officer uses profane language to a citizen, then describe it as profane language. If an officer is thought to be biased or prejudiced in his treatment of groups and individuals, then the complaint should so state. But the constant cry of ‘police brutality’ as a catch phrase, exploited and used as camouflage for illegal conduct, is dead wrong. It is a stigmatization of police by rote.”
Police interactions in the United States today have been the source of recent mass protests that have erupted into violent riots, resulting in lawlessness in major U.S. cities. Rhetoric among protesters and rioters has shifted between complaints of racism and police brutality, or a combination of both, as calls to defund the police from activists continue to echo.
From the Ukrainian experience, under the Soviet Union and in modern independent Ukraine, law enforcement was used as a means of control and fear, but it also created an environment for the political elites to remain above the law, as in Russia today under Vladimir Putin. The need continues for people to speak the truth when describing violations of the law, whether committed by the public, law enforcement officers or world leaders.
Source: “Law enforcement – yes, police brutality – no,” The Ukrainian Weekly, June 11, 1966.