Police Brutality in the United States

By: Jaime Rowe


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a greater awareness of issues surrounding police abuse and violence on an international scale. The country that has been most attracting the media's attention has been the United States. This archive focuses on recording a few cities that were most affected (at least according to the media) by these issues. 




U.S. flag hanging off a building in New York City



Chicago has been notorious in the past for its police officers being incredibly violent and for the department to consistently protect those officers. Thus Chicago experienced one of the largest increases in police violence in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police across the country were redeployed and numbers of police officers in large cities increased exponentially to decrease the number of people going outside during lockdowns, which included Chicago.  


However, it is important to note that police brutality didn't only start after the COVID-19 pandemic. Abuse of power by police has been a huge issue in Chicago for many years. However, because of not only the protests, but the increased use of media, during the pandemic, a greater awareness was brought forward. More people are aware of the excessive forces officers have been using on citizens for years, and through their many efforts to fight against and raise awareness for the cause, many police departments were finally defunded and cops known for unlawful murders were fired. 


Chicago's second wave brought many more instances of police brutality. The new order for the wave began in October, and stated that police officers would be patrolling bars and restaurants (where COVID-19 was usually transmitted) and handing out fines and violations. A new curfew was set, and similar to cases in New York city, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) were excessively violent with peaceful protesters. Pictured are police officers patrolling downtown Chicago with batons.

New York City 


New York (NY) was well-known at the beginning of the pandemic for being the epicenter of COVID-19. The first few weeks of the pandemic brought over 7,000 cases to NY, and in April, New York City alone hit a record for greatest number deaths in a day: 799 people. NYC has been notorious for being one of the, if not the worst, most affected city by COVID-19 in the first few months of the pandemic.


While protestors moved into the streets of New York City, the state began to impose lockdown rules. One of which was that residents must follow an 8pm curfew. If not followed, fines could be imposed by police officers. However, police officers took to the streets and often became violent towards protestors, most of whom were protesting with support for the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the most disastrous events was a planned attack against protestors ten minutes before 8pm. Police surrounded and trapped protestors as they peacefully marched through Mott Haven. After 8pm, without provocation, police began moving in on protestors, hitting them with batons, beating them from the tops of cars, spraying pepper spray into their faces, and violently rounding up approximately 260 people for arrest. In response to questions regarding the violence shown by police officers, the department responded that after 8pm, the demonstration was unlawful under the Executive Order establishing the new 8pm curfew. Many described this event, as well as others, to be the result of a newfound power getting into the heads of police officers. 


Line of police officers against line of protesters


Disturbing videos from bystanders show hospital workers loading bodies into trailers, to use as a temporary morgue, as the morgues of the city filled up. 

Washington, D.C.


Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, faced the same kind of violence the whole country has been experiencing. However, Washington is one of many cities that experienced a huge increase in gun violence among both police officers and citizens the more COVID-19 numbers increased in the area. The root causes for gun violence are food & housing insecurity as well as a lack of support systems. What triggered the even higher numbers in 2020 were the lockdowns and the quarantining. Unemployment levels soared, and the lack of support and housing only amplified these root causes. 


The increased gun violence trend among citizens also was predominant in police operations. Many were shot by police in Washington during protests, and most protesters had either personally experienced physical abuse from police officers, or saw it happen to another protester. These protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, such as many have in 2020, however, pro-Trump groups and anti-mask groups have also experienced the abuse. The excessive violence came after lockdowns, quarantining, and new curfew orders. While murders by police officers have always been predominant, awareness has grown because of the pandemic since the lockdowns are something almost the whole world has to go through.



Police using pepper spray to attack protesters



After the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis experienced many run-ins with their police department (the MPD). After a police officer was taken to the hospital due to a protestor, the MPD allowed police officers to deploy sting balls and tear gas during protests. However, the MPD, similar to other cities in the US, took this too far through using excessive force when unecessary, oftentimes during peaceful protests against the use of unecessary violence by police. 


The reasons behind these attacks in Minneapolis, as well as in other cities in this archive, are hard to pinpoint. These protests were led by the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd by officers in the MPD. Many of the records of the police attacks against protesters have been primarily towards black people. Many police officers were sent to primarily Black neighbourhoods, which are often predominantly housing minorities. The police's presence in these neighbourhoods became so large that officers were not able to attend emergencies called in through 911. 


Woman holding a sign, surrounded by police officers, outside of a government building in Minneapolis

A video that circulated the Internet for some time was that of a woman recording state police marching down her road in one of the aforementioned "poor" communities. As she stood filming on her porch, a group of policemen began firing at her despite the lack of violence or threat she showed: 



Annie Correal & Andrew Jacobs, "Inside New York's Virus Epicenter", The Times, published April 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/nyregion/coronavirus-queens-corona-ja...

Haley Bailey, "Minneapolis Violence Surges as Police Officers Leave Departments in Droves", The Washington Post, November 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/minneapolis-police-shortage-viol...

Human Rights Watch, "New York Police Planned Assault on Bronx Protestors", Human Rights Watch, September 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/staggering-new-york-virus-deat...

Jenny Gathright, "D.C. Police Use Aggressive Tactics After March on Washington", WAMU88.5, August 2020, https://wamu.org/story/20/08/31/dc-police-protests-aggressive-march-wash...

John O'Connor and Kathleen Foody, "Illinois Governor Orders Police Patrols Amid COVID Spikes", US.News, October 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/illinois/articles/2020-10-22/chi...

Li Zhou, "Demonstrators are the ones defusing violence during protests", Vox, June 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/6/12/21279619/protesters-police-violence-philad...

Paul Solotaroff, "Chicago Police: An Investigation Into the Violence of the Chicago Police", Rolling Stone, November 2020, https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/chicago-police-rac...

The Associated Press, "Violence, arrests overnight after tense pro-Trump rally in Washington", CBC, November 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/trump-supporters-washington-clashes-1.5802749

Tom Hays and Maria Villeneuve, "New York Virus Death Toll Rises Above 1,200", published March 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/staggering-new-york-virus-deat...