Police brutality and rise of participatory democracy

By: Vedant Vora, SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai University

Police brutality is a term that we all are well acquainted with but often turn a blind eye to. Police brutality has been prevalent in almost all countries of the world and the numbers of its victims are on a staggering rise. India recorded a total of 1731 cases[i]of custodial deaths in one year and around 1000 civilians[ii]were killed by the law enforcement in the United States. Nations like UK, Brazil, Serbia and many more face the same brutality from the law enforcement officials. The unlawful use of force by the police is restricted under international laws like the Special Rapporteur for observance of Rule of Law. The lack of adequate laws and regulations, governments which regularly trample on human rights like in Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Hong Kong, Nicaragua and the impunity for killings by the police officials causes this vicious cycle of death by the law enforcement. However, police brutality being such a major problem across the world has come to the forefront only recently after the cases of Jayaraj and Fenix in India and the case of George Floyd in United States. Both the cases are an example of the rising use of force by the men in uniform against the common people of the country.

On June 19, Jayaraj who owned a mobile store in the Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu, got arrested by the police officers for keeping his store open after the lockdown limit. On hearing the arrest of his father, Fenix along with his friends rushed to the police station to free his father. On reaching the police station, Fenix got into a quarrel with the police officials and he was further arrested along with his father. The father son-duo was then tortured persistently for 4 hours and their friends and family members were not allowed to enter the police station. The arrested were then brutally beaten and stripped off of their clothes. The eye-witness also stated that the victim’srectum was bleeding profusely and both of them were sexually assaulted too. The family of Jayaraj and Fenix had to bring several lungis throughout the night as the victims would not stop bleeding. Later, they were taken to a hospital where the doctor allegedly declared the duo fit on the insistence of the local inspector. Jayaraj and Fenix were then taken to the magistrate where they couldn’t speak the truth due to repeated threats from the police officers. They were then sent to the Kovilpatti sub jail. They were kept there for 2 days and the family had no news of the victims. After 2 days they were shifted to the nearby hospital because Fenix and Jayaraj wouldn’t stop bleeding. Fenix then died on the evening of 22nd June and his father died on the evening of 23rd June.

As mentioned earlier, we all know that police brutality isn’t only prevalent in India but in all parts of the world. Similar incident that brought a wave of protests against police brutality was the incident of George Floyd. On May 25,in the state of  Minneapolis, a 46 –year- old Black man was arrested by the police department, when a convenience store owner had reportedly accused him of buying cigarettes using a counterfeit $20 bill. Mr. Floyd was then pinned down by the police officers. One of the police officials named Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck which made him unable to breathe. The white police officer did not let go off his knee even when George Floyd cried for his life along with the onlookers who called out for help. It was reported that Derek Chauvin placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds which resulted in the death of George Floyd. The time was then corrected to seven minutes and 46 seconds but The Times’ own analysis of the video shows that this revised time is also correct[iii]. However, “It makes no difference,” said Jamar Nelson, who works with the families of crime victims in Minneapolis. “The bottom line is that it was long enough to kill him, long enough to execute him.”

These two cases of police brutality in the oldest and the largest democracies of the world shows how inconsiderate and immoral the police conduct is. Both these countries, despite having human rights council and regulations for protection of human rights, face this precarious predicament in the form of police brutality. It is clear that in both the cases the victim got arrested for petty offenses but had to face death and unspeakable persecution. The case of George Floyd was one of the many cases of racial profiling in Americawhich brought renewed attention to the high-profile deaths of American Blacks during the past decade and ongoing concerns about systemic racism in the criminal justice system. The rising use of force by the police officials has raised a lot of questions about their conduct. Are the police officials above the law? Can they not be arrested on grounds of murder? Is there no rule of law? Questions like this haven’t been answered since a long time and people are now starting to raise their voice against this cruel and inhumane treatment by the police.

The death of George Floyd resulted in a mass uproar of the common people against the police brutality against the African Americans, protests were held all over the world with the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ ‘I can’t breathe[iv] which symbolized the suffering George Floyd had to go through during his arrest. Participatory democracy is a term which refers to the involvement of the citizens in the decision making process to bring about a greater impact on the formation of policies. Over the period of time, it has become very important for the elected representatives to include the voice of the citizens in the political actions taken by them. Protests, writing ordinances, signing petitions, public gatherings are instrumental in throwing across their voice to make a difference. However, it has become pertinent for the government to take into account a public consensus on subjects of sensitivity which may affect the masses.

The civic involvement has been strengthened due to social media awareness and the civic tech organizations which enable the citizens to stay abreast with the various ongoing political activities and the policies of the government. Civic tech organizations have contributed their tech capacity, like in the United States of America, the Covid19 Action tracker[v] which collects all decisions taken by the local leaders in the US in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and allows the participation of the citizens. In other parts of the world like in Germany, Norway massive online hackathon are held in order to help the government to overcome the challenges that they are facing, like the development of symptom tracker. A giant hackathon organised by the WHO entitled #BuildforCOVID19[vi]with the aim of crowd sourcing ideas on topics such as social isolation, health, and support to vulnerable masses and online businesses has caught the eye of several businesses.

Amid the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, it is difficult for the people to get involved in the civic activities, but this is when social media plays an important role. Social media has always been a great platform for people to express their concerns, ideologies, opinions to a larger audience. In the recent times, a big part of participatory democracy is social media; it has become a crucial part in the process of the decision making of the government.

The social media uproar after the death of George Floyd was massive. The widespread protests in all the 50 states and several other countries like the UK, Australia put immense pressure on the government ofthe United States of America to address the rising issue of police brutality and racism. Derek Chauvin who was accused of pinning his knee on Mr. Floyd’s for more than eight minutes faces the most severe charge of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Along with him three other officers present on the site were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. US house has also passed police reform Bill[vii] 2020 post the immense outcry of the people. One month after the case of George Floyd, the case of Jayaraj and Fennix caught the headlines in India, and caused another massive outcry on social media, protests were held in Tamil Nadu, letters and emails were sent by common people to the officials for the proper and unbiased investigations on the police officials involved. Writ petitions were sent to the high court of Madras. As a result of the pressure the case was then handed over to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). So far the CBI has arrested 5 police personnel including an inspector. Hopefully, as the investigation proceeds strict action will be taken against all responsible for the death of the victims and justice will prevail.


[i] The issue of police brutality in India :: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-53202707#:~:text=The%20numbers%20are%20startling.,five%20custodial%20deaths%20a%20day.:: last seen at 16 July 2020

[ii] The guardian :: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/series/counted-us-police-killings :: last seen at 16 July 2020

[iii] The new York times :: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/18/us/george-floyd-timing.html :: last seen at 20 July 2020

[iv] Black Lives Matter May Be The Largest Movement In US History ::  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/03/us/george-floyd-protests-crowd-size.html :: last seen at 20 July 2020

[v] Covid-19: Local Action Tracker :: https://covid19.nlc.org/resources/covid-19-local-action-tracker/ :: last seen at 22 July 2020

[vi] Covid-19 Global Hackathon :: https://covid-global-hackathon.devpost.com/ :: last seen at 24 July 2020

[vii] US House passes ‘George Floyd’ police reform bill :: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53188189 :: last seen at 24 July 2020

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