I Can't Breathe: A History of Excessive Force and Race

Baham, Sam
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This thesis analyzes how and within what context the Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted excessive force and police brutality since 1968, when Terry v. Ohio was decided, and the ramifications that these decisions have had on police encounters and practices until the present day. I specifically examine how these precedents and their implementation have contributed to the growing culture of mistrust between minority groups and law enforcement officials especially in the current “Black Lives Matter” era. By evaluating Department of Justice reports, the Center for Policing Equity reports, and court documents, I conclude that minorities are often disproportionately the targets of unjustified discrimination and excessive force while law enforcement officials frequently receive acquittals or are not charged at all for their actions. In order to remedy this issue, I evaluate the merits of substantive due process and suggest that by applying substantive due process to excessive force cases, policing practices would improve and instances of excessive force, particularly directed toward minorities, would decrease.