Skolnick and Fyfe Chapter 2 - 44-398-PoliceAdmin

In Chapter 2, the authors call the Rodney King
incident :
(A) An act of vigilantism
(B) A symbolic lynching
(C) A wilding
(D) An example of the 3rd degree
Thesis: Contemporary police brutality is both
historically and sociologically related to
 Both rely on legal authority to exonerate the
extralegal UOF
 Both respond to perceived threats and fears
aroused by outgroups
 Both regard the legal process as too slow, etc.
 Both are used to “teach a lesson”.
US has a long history of past violence to achieve
social control based in racism and nativism.
 This violence is spurred by groups whose aim
has been the preservation of some existing
order of social arrangements.
 All these groups are willing to break the law
to achieve their social goal since LE is seen as
inadequate and the legal order cannot deal
with “the problem”.
Emerged from the American frontier, which
produced a tradition of self-help
Danger/insecurity of newly settled areas
brought a crude style of vigilante justice
Since there was no organized LE (or what
existed was inadequate), volunteer groups
filled the gap
While necessary, this system set up dangerous
 Even when legal order was adequate, people
could avoid these to achieve “law and order”
(which is a misleading phrase in this context)
 Private violence came to be used as a means
of enforcing a system of social, political,
economic, and cultural arrangements against
those who were seen as threatening this
San Francisco Vigilance Committee (1851)
KKK (1860s and resurgence in the 1920s)
NYC draft riots of 1863
Often vigilante and official justice were
congruent prior to 1960’s:
 Police participated in lynchings and other
 Lynchings and executions were often
substitutes: people were executed formally or
lynch informally (e.g., murderers were
executed, rapists were lynched)
How does this relate to police brutality?
 There are inescapable similarities between
the motivations of southern police in the first
half of the century and the LAPD in the
second half
 Both seek to “teach a lesson” to people who
resist police authority and “keep them in their
 Adolph Archie case
Police must use force in their job on occasion
 Force should be proportional to suspect
resistance (UOF continuum)
 Not all cases where too much force is used
should be labeled police brutality or vigilante
justice; only a small % fall into this category
 Some policies can actually encourage force
 Example: LAPD allowing choke-holds as “control
holds” and not deadly force techniques.

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