Police Brutality – TV Tropes
Enforcing your right to remain silent.
When police aren’t useless, then they’re sadistic bullies.
Even though nobody likes being bossed around by the police, it’s their job and they have to do it whether we (or they) like it or not. Some types of policemen, however, are thugs who take a cruel pleasure in beating and tormenting people they don’t like, for no reason at all.
Though Truth in Television (and that’s ALL we’ll say about that!), this is often exaggerated in fiction. Sometimes to make a statement about ethnic relations (Do the Right Thing); as part of a gloomy Film Noir-type Wretched Hive setting (Sin City); or as part of a futuristic Dystopian State Sec setting (Nineteen Eighty-Four).
In movies, this was originally a portrayal only American films got away with. For example, the critics responsible for French New Wave Cinema famously complained about censorship that forbade French police being portrayed as anything but professional and competent.
A quick breakdown of police brutality trends in fiction: the LAPD beats your ass and then decides what crime you committed; the NYPD shoots you a few dozen times then pronounces you innocent; 1930s cops are drunk Irishmen who beat you up for being Italian; 1960s cops are sober Irishmen who beat you up for having long hair, or are old White evangelicals with a thick drawl who beat you up for being not-White; 2010s cops may not themselves be entirely white, but are so trigger happy and paranoid they will shoot you if you’re black; Big town cops beat you up for being a foreigner or minority suspected of terrorism; small town cops pull you over, tell you that your tail light is busted, and then bust your tail light with a nightstick when you ask which one (and give you a ticket for it). Not to mention cops from developing countries that are often also incredibly corrupt to boot, and heaven help you if they mistake you for a drug user. Of course, all might not be as it seems.
Note: Now and again, American movies filmed in or set in the 1930s and 40s will show a cop shooting at an unarmed, running suspect. Though shocking to us now, this was not considered brutal or excessive at the time.
If you are fortunate enough to live in a relatively free country and unfortunate enough to witness police brutality, surreptitiously filming it is a good way to back yourself up.note
A common way to make a Rabid Cop character. Not to be confused with the Police Brutality Gambit, although its users hope you will. See Killer Cop for when the police officer goes a bit beyond brutality. A combined subtrope of this and Hellhole Prison is when correctional officers/law enforcement in a detention setting such as a jail or prison are just as bad, if not worse, than the other inmates for brutality. This is also pretty much certain to occur if The Bad Guys Are Cops.
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Anime & Manga
- Ginza in Speed Grapher likes to “self-defense” suspects (it’s her catchphrase and she actually uses it as a verb). This means that if she arrests you and you aren’t cooperative, she’s likely to shoot off at least one of your extremities.
- Revy mentions this while monologuing about her past in Black Lagoon.
When I was a brat, crawling around in that shithole city, it seemed God and Love were always sold out when I went looking. Before I knew better, I clung to God and prayed to Him every single night yeah, I believed in God right up until that night the cops beat the hell out of me for no reason at all. All they saw when they looked at me was another little ghetto rat. With no power and no God, what’s left for a poor little Chinese bitch to rely on? It’s money, of course, and guns. Fuckin’ A. With these two things, the world’s a great place.
- In the OVA of the El Baile de la Muerte arc, it’s revealed in a flashback that Revy was raped by a police officer, and that her alcoholic father’s lack of care about the whole thing led her to murder him.
- In One Piece, there’s one division of the Navy that, in an organization of Knight Templars and Well Intentioned Extremists, absolutely relish in this; The G5 branch. The sailors in the unit are basically thugs who love to torture pirates. Yet they’re not the worst of World Government’s enforcers, as they reserve their brutality for actual pirates, which is all you need to know about how corrupt the World Government is.
- In Sakura Gari, Masataka’s brother Takafumi dies after being tortured by the police.
- Though the general police in Death Note are perfectly reasonable (and one is even the protagonist’s father), they’re being shuffled around like chess pieces by the less-than-softhearted L. And, of course, the chief of police managed to spawn the protagonist.
- Practically enforced in AKIRA. All the police go over the top on people, arrest protestors in droves, and work for the fascist government hand in hand (which is why they aren’t stopped).
- Sin City: The Basin City Police Department are basically uniformed thugs-for-hire. When Cardinal Roark or some other Big Bad wants somebody gone and the evidence removed, they send in an out-and-out death squad. And these aren’t even the worst in the world… the ones working for Stalin were worse.
Spider: I can see a blatantly unarmed Transient man with half his face hanging off, and three cops working him over anyway. One of them is groping his own erection. Im sorry. Is that too harsh an observation for you? Does that sound too much like the Truth?
- The cops get back at Spider by beating the shit out of him outside his apartment. Of course, Spider being who he is, he just laughs off the brutal beating and threatens to bite their testicles off if they come near him again.
- The police carry riot shields with the word “SUBMIT” painted on them. When we see their shift change at one point, it involves cleaning the blood off.
- Sam & Max, in all their incarnations, do this a lot. And if they weren’t freelance police, they’d probably compensate with just plain ol’ ‘brutality’ instead. Since they’re both prime Heroic Comedic Sociopaths, all of it is, of course, Played for Laughs.
- In The Transformers: Robots in Disguise and The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, this is one of the worst flaws of Autobot authority. One of the reasons Megatron became a Big Bad was because he was brutalized when he was an innocent prisoner- up until that point he was an Actual Pacifist. The entire Autobot-Decepticon War started because of Police Brutality. Some flashbacks even show Orion Pax, who in this series was a cop before becoming Optimus Prime, beating information out of suspected Decepticons.
- In Robots in Disguise Sideswipe and Whirl, the guy who caused the spoilered incident, police the now neutral Cybertron and casually mention hating and beating on the neutrals. Prowl is the security director and has a fanatical hatred of them, and later deploys the Decepticons for crowd control (at this point the neutrals had erupted into a violent riot, and had even shot their leader), and two of them, Needlenose and Horri-bull, stay on as police, they tried to beat up a guy who was making graffiti (Prowl does have standards, though, and he stops them).
- Nextwave features a cop who goes around beating up criminals; and demanding they give him his cut. Taken Up to Eleven when he turns into a giant robot and starts destroying the city.
- Judge Dredd:
- Obviously a feature in a setting whose hero is a Judge, Jury, and Executioner, but played with somewhat. While the Judges of the Mega-Cities are violent and aggressive, there are lines and crossing them can get you forced out of the Justice Department or even sentenced to 20 years on Titan. Or even worse, the Special Judicial Squad will be sent out to execute a Judge who gets too trigger-happy on the populace.
- Played dead straight by Mega Cities where the Judges are even more corrupt than in Mega City One, however, such as Ciudad Baranquilla, which is a Police State meets Banana Republic.
- Taken to absolutely ridiculous extremes by the former Judges of Deadworld, who already considered life quite cheap before the Dark Judges decided that All Crimes Are Equal and took over. They eventually massacred their whole population to stop crime.
- Batman: Depending on the Writer, the Gotham City Police Department is plagued with these. In some stories, such as Gotham Central, it’s a case of some very (extremely) bad eggs. In others, such as The Dark Knight Returns and All Star Batman And Robin (both written by Frank Miller, the same man as Sin City) the GCPD is either full of overly-violent idiots or men that are equal levels of horribly corrupt and violent, respectively (willing to beat the absolute shit (or worse) out of a little kid to make sure he won’t testify in the murder of his own parents, for example).
- Tim becomes a aware of a pair of crooked cops who occasionally kill perps in Robin and when they walk away scot free from the arrest he helped arrange for them there he sets them up to fall hard in Red Robin.
- Bumblebee: Fallen Queen: Karen Beecher is a victim of this, which is what motivates her to become a superhero.
- In the reboot of Supper Smash Bros: Mishonh From God, Sara reports Rathalos to the police for vagrancy, and it’s explicitly mentioned that the police officers beat him. She also has this as her Final Smash, summoning a bunch of officers to beat up and arrest her opponents.
Films — Animated
- In quite a daring move for a G-rated direct to video movie, An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island features a police force who savagely beat down protesting factory workers with their clubs, are being paid under the table by corrupt factory owners, and deliberately start a race riot.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, taffy-coated Ralph accidentally trashes the grandstands in Sugar Rush and subsequently, King Candy’s two cops, Wynchell and Duncan, beat him up with nightsticks before tasering him and taking him captive.
- ParaNorman gives us this gem of a line: “What are you doing firing at civilians? That’s for the police to do!”
Films — Live-Action
- In ’71, the RUC are violent and abusive when they search the homes of Catholics for guns. When the soldiers arrive in the west Belfast neighbourhood, the local children throw water balloons (filled with urine) and verbal abuse at them. When the RUC arrive, they beat a hasty retreat.
- An early example can be found in the 1941 Film Noir I Wake Up Screaming and its 1953 remake Vicki. A detective browbeats his lieutenant into giving him the murder case of a beautiful model. He does everything in his power to pin the killing on her publicist: beating him, breaking into his apartment, and planting evidence. In truth, he’s known from the beginning that another man killed her. He doesn’t care, though.
- In Convoy Spider Mike, one of the truckers forming the eponymous convoy, is brutally beaten down by the Sheriff of a little Texas town.
- La Haine shows a particularly brutal vicious circle relationship between the Paris police and a group of teenage thugs from the local banlieues. The police raid the deprived banlieues, the people who live there fight back, which means the police crack down harder on the area, which means the people start rioting… It eventually culminates in the police shooting an unarmed teenage boy by accident, and one officer and the boy’s best friend holding guns to each other’s heads. End of film.
- With a single gunshot, just after the screen goes black, as well.
- Fallen Angel has Mark Judd, who puts on special gloves to beat a confession out of a suspect.
- Lakeview Terrace shows a newlywed couple being terrorized by a corrupt cop neighbor, who is played by Samuel L. Jackson, someone you don’t want to mess with. His only problem with them seems to be their mixed-race relationship… although it’s also possible that that’s just an excuse.
- In A Clockwork Orange, the cops beat up Alex to the point where he’s a quivering, bloody mess in a corner and offer to hold him down to let his parole officer take a few swings at him. After he gets freed, he quickly encounters his old gang members Georgie and Dim, who have been hired as cops. Hilarity Ensues.
- It becomes clear a bit later on that this hiring choice was entirely intentional.
- McQ (1974). John Wayne‘s character is implied to have beaten up suspects in the past. One occasion has a radical giving him lip in a corridor, whereupon Wayne stamps on his foot. When another cop asks what happened, John Wayne replies, “He stubbed his foot on a chair.” (The corridor is empty of chairs.)
- The V for Vendetta film has the Fingermen, who are the Norsefire party’s Secret Police. They are allowed to pretty much do anything, though as order in England breaks down, people put up with them less and less. This culminates in a Fingerman shooting an unarmed little girl who was spray-painting a V symbol. A lot of people — very mean-looking people — then come out of their houses and kill the guy despite his gun and badge.
- Of specific note is that V only meets Evey because he has to intervene to save her from a police gang rape.
Fingerman: …we exercise our own judicial discretion.
Another Fingerman: And you get to swallow it.
- Changeling has this. A mother loses her son and asks the police to get him back. They come back with the wrong kid and have her sent to the loonie bin to keep their credibility. It was a true story.
- The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has the song “We Love Violence (Join the Fuzz)” where a troupe of singing, dancing policemen extols the virtues of being able to perform violence within the law.
- In Ip Man 2, one British policeman has his buddies hold down editor-in-chief Kan while he deals out a beating.
- The first movie in the Michael Bay Transformers series had a cop threaten to “bust [Sam] up” for looking at his gun. Because reaching for a gun won’t cause people to automatically look at you.
- The first Dirty Harry movie has Harry roughing up the Scorpio Killer while in custody to learn where he had hidden a kidnapped girl, and getting called out on it. After Scorpio gets let out of custody because of it and other red tape issues, the killer pays a guy to beat the crap out of him so he can blame the beating on Harry, whose only defense is that it couldn’t have been him, ’cause if he was the one who beat him, the guy would look a lot worse.
- Subsequent films continue the trend, naturally.
Briggs: I’ve got nothing personal against you, Callahan, but we can’t have the public crying ‘police brutality!’ every time you go out on the street.
- The Fighter has some cops break Micky’s hands simply due to him being a fighter. It’s also worth noting that he didn’t do as much damage as his brother, Dickey.
- In 2010 film The Traveler, the Drifter was assaulted extremely badly to the point of coma by Detective Black and the rest of the police officers who were at the interrogation scene. This sets off the entire vengeance plot of the film.
- In Red State, the local Sheriff accidentally shoots one of the hostages, who had escaped with a rifle in hand. The ATF then panics, declares the entire Cooper family to be domestic terrorists, and orders everyone killed. The federal agents wind up murdering the remaining hostage and several unarmed people over the rest of the movie.
- The action comedy National Security kicks off with a white cop allegedly beating an innocent black man. In reality, the cop was about to arrest the guy for attempted Grand Theft Auto and resisting arrest (as well as insulting him). Then a “big-ass bumblebee” showed up, and the suspect, who is allergic to bees, asked the cop to get rid of it. Which the cop did… with his nightstick. A tourist films the whole thing from far away and from an angle that hides the bumblebee. The shot of the suspect on TV suggests he was brutally beaten up, due to his face being swollen. He shows up the next day completely fine, explaining that it was an allergic reaction to the bumblebee. He still maintains that he was assaulted, though (the cop does admit in court that he missed the bumblebee a few times and hit the guy). The cop loses his job and is jailed for 6 months (which is done more for PR than anything). When he comes out, the only job he can get is in security.
- In Menace II Society, Caine and Sharif are beaten by cops and left in a rival gang’s neighbourhood.
- This is present quite a bit in L.A. Confidential. The most noteworthy example is probably the Bloody Christmas scandal, where a bunch of alcohol-imbibed officers rough up a group of unarmed prisoners as retaliation against the beating up of a pair of cops earlier that evening.
- The setting of Pride and Glory begins with a group of corrupt cops deciding to get rid of Angel Tezo so that they can do business with another dealer. The plan starts to go downhill when Tezo escapes from a botched hit, forcing the group into a frantic search to find and kill him before anyone else in the NYPD discovers his connections with them. The corrupt cops eventually catch Tezo and have him tortured before being killed. Unfortunately, the last moments of the brutality were witnessed by Ray, another officer on the task-force which was assigned to investigate the incident, which is later followed by a private interview between a reporter and Sandy, another corrupt officer who soon commits suicide after exposing the group that he used to work with.
- Seen in In the Mouth of Madness, where a cop viciously beating an unarmed graffiti artist and threatening the protagonist is one of the early signs that something is wrong with people. He later sees a nightmare of the same scene, except that the cop has become an inhuman monster.
- In Boyz n the Hood, Officer Coffey is a black policeman who is racist towards other blacks because he thinks they’re all criminals. When he and his partner question Tre and Ricky, Coffey shoves a gun in Tre’s face to see him scared for his life and explains that he signed up specifically to rough up those he hates.
- In Killer Klowns from Outer Space, a small-town police officer tries to do this to one of the titular invaders. It doesn’t end well for him.
- Surveillance features a pair of police officers who enjoy shooting out the tires of passing motorists and then terrorizing said motorists, claiming that speeding led to the tire blowing out.
- Tales from the Hood: Billy, Newton, and Strom conspire to murder a black politician who was exposing their drug-dealing business. Their victim subsequently rises from the grave to get revenge.
- The LAPD are called out for this in S.W.A.T. when a fleeing African suspect is apprehended. The accuser knows full well that the officers are none other than Samuel L. Jackson and LL Cool J, making the suggestion either Too Dumb to Live or Played for Laughs, you pick it.
- RoboCop (1987) uses this trope to satirize the notoriously trigger-happy police forces of major American cities, and is an over-the-top parody of the “tough on crime” attitude in general. RoboCop has an Obstructive Code of Conduct that means he will Never Hurt an Innocent, but aside from that, he’s free to enforce the law using as violent means as possible as long as he technically doesn’t do anything illegal. Apparently, this doesn’t extend to throwing a perp out a window or shooting an attempted rapist in the balls.
- “Use of unnecessary violence in the apprehension of The Blues Brothers has been approved.”
- Bridge of Spies features standard beatdowns from Soviet and East German security forces. Meanwhile, American police aren’t too excited about helping James Donovan after his defense of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, leaving him to the wolves of America’s populace.
- In Suffragette, the policemen throw women to the floor and then proceed to beat them up.
- Malcolm X, a biographical film of Malcolm X, opens with alternating scenes of a burning American flag and the Rodney King beating.
- They Live: When the cops raid the homeless camp, they brutally beat people with no provocation in most cases, or use excessive force against the few who attempt to resist (including the minister, who’s blind).
- Zabriskie Point by Michelangelo Antonioni deals with LA’s counterculture of The ’60s, and features police as trigger-happy, stupid, and racist.
- Goodbye Lenin has an important scene in which an anti-government demonstration the main character takes part in is violently suppressed by the police, leading to his mother having a heart attack (his pleas for his mother are only rewarded by being herded into the back of a truck, held down, and beaten up). Justified as the setting is East Germany when it was still under an oppressive totalitarian communist regime.
- In Where the Sidewalk Ends, this the moving force of the plot. Dixon has gotten many warnings about his violent behavior towards suspects, so much so that he will be demoted if it happens again. His altercation with Ken Paine, and his subsequent death, makes him turn into a full out criminal.
- In Detroit, cops raid the Algiers Motel during the 1967 riot for the source of shots fired. By the end of the night, three black teens would be dead.
- In Den of Thieves, O’Brien and the Major Crimes Squad have no issues with beating information out of a suspect.
- Strange Days: Complaints around this have heightened racial tensions in the US during the film, and in particular the plot revolves around an outspoken rapper being killed by two cops, which is inadvertently recorded, with them trying to track down the recording.
- First Blood has its plot kick off when small-town police manhandle Rambo, a Shell-Shocked Veteran, in custody, when all they were supposed to do was clean him up for his court appearance. Their attempt to forcefully shave him presses his Trauma Button and he escapes, beginning the manhunt that forms the story. One cop spends the rest of his screentime trying to literally hunt Rambo down with a hunting rifle; he starts with trying to shoot the unarmed man on a crowded street and progresses to sniping him from a helicopter.
- No God No Master: The NYPD breaks up a rally by anarchists Emma Goldman and IWW union organizer Carlo Tresca, even though neither they nor the listeners committed any crime, liberally beating people with batons despite Flynn’s objections.
- See You Yesterday: A pair of police officers shoot Claudette’s brother due to being mistaken for robbers.
- Dark Angel: The Ascent: Two of Veronica’s victims were a couple racist white cops who harassed and then beat a black man for no reason except he was there. It later turns out the pair both had some long records of complaints for excessive force. The police officer guarding the mayor who later shoots Veronica is another example, as he does this after ordering her to stop while flying, even though she didn’t have a weapon or pose any visible threat.
- This Soviet-era political joke (note that you can be flexible about the law enforcement/intelligence agencies as long as they fit):
The FBI, GIGN, and KGB are arguing over who is best at catching criminals. Eventually, the Secretary-General of the UN gives them a challenge: to find a white rabbit in a ten-square-mile enchanted forest. Each team is given their own forest. The FBI go first: they set up a network of animal and plant informants, put the forest under 24-hour satellite surveillance, and string microphones all over the area. After a month with no leads, the Americans conclude the rabbit does not exist. The GIGN take a different approach: they set up a perimeter, then burn down the forest, killing everything inside, including the rabbit, and offering no apologies: the rabbit had it coming. Then the KGB go in. Five minutes later, they return with a bruised and bloody bear which is yelling “OK, OK, I’m a rabbit, I swear!”
- A rich old white lady in the Deep South can no longer find her jewelry case. She calls the police, telling them she suspects the new gardener, who is black. Two hours after the police arrest him, she finds the case and calls the police back, only to learn that it’s no problem, they’ve already got a confession.
- How many NYPD cops does it take to crack an egg? None. The egg tripped.
- In Bad Dreams by Kim Newman, the protagonist is a journalist who has recently been working on an investigation into police brutality allegations surrounding a racist cop named Barry Erskine who is suspected of beating a South Asian suspect to death during an interrogation. Erskine returns in another of Newman’s novels, Jago, where there’s a detailed scene of him brutally interrogating one of the protagonists to make him confess to a crime he didn’t commit.
- In A Clockwork Orange, Dim and Billy Boy abandon their juvenile acts of mayhem and destruction to beat on criminals for a paycheck.
- The Discworld books feature an entire subseries revolving around a police force. While mostly a humorous and sympathetic depiction, particularly since they’re usually the viewpoint characters, this does come up a bit:
- Played straight in Night Watch with the Unmentionables, but Vimes’ personal narration takes great care to note that beating people up in small rooms for good reasons always leads to beating up people in small rooms for bad reasons. This is pretty central to Vimes’ psychology — he’s pretty strict on himself and his subordinates because he’s a big believer in the slippery slope and he wants to make damn sure no one slides down it. However, he’s not above making the indirect threat of ‘Falling Down The Stairs’ if a suspect isn’t being cooperative. They tend to be much more agreeable afterward (but again, would you antagonize a Troll or the Six-Foot-Tall “Dwarf”?).
- The Ankh-Morpork version of “Miranda” includes such clauses as “You have the right not to throw yourself out the window”… most likely added to give a figleaf to practices under Vetinari’s predecessors, Homicidal Lord Winder and Mad Lord Snapcase.
- A mild version appears with Reg Shoe. After complaining about the lack of zombie representation in the watch, he is recruited by Carrot… and runs up a raft of complaints, all from zombies. He dismisses it by saying they “don’t understand the problems of policing in a multi-vital society.”
- In Feet of Clay someone being questioned by Detritus the troll starts saying that it’s police brutality and he yells “No! Dis is just police shoutin’!”
- Standard operating procedure in Judge Dee‘s 7th c. China.
- In 1984, Winston and Julia get beaten quite badly by the police during their arrest. It only gets worse when they’re taken to the Ministry of Love.
- Stephen King’s Under the Dome: The ‘police’ hired by the town’s tyrannical second selectman beat, shoot, rape, and kill whoever they want to without any real fear of retribution.
- There’s a book about a time traveler who was trapped in a burning building and could only travel to a certain period for a set time before being pulled back. He makes multiple trips to San Francisco and tries to stop the rape of a friend in the ’60s. His suggestion to call the police just has another friend ask if he wants the police to rape her as well.
- In Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, author David Simon follows a shift of the Baltimore Police Department homicide unit, and among other things, presents a fairly even-handed view of police brutality. To wit, at least in that department, it’s considered unethical to hit a suspect in handcuffs or to obtain a statement (not to mention the officer’s career isn’t worth it), but it’s perfectly okay to goad a suspect into striking a cop (and beating him down “in self defense”; one officer even keeps a photo of the suspect’s face afterwards), or for a suspect in a crime involving a cop or their family to “fall down the stairs” several times between being photographed at the precinct and being dropped off at central booking.
- Interestingly, the book goes into long detail, in an almost lamenting tone, that suspects actually fear the police less and less. In the old days, a suspect thought to have shot a cop was essentially in a race for their life to turn themselves in at a precinct completely across town, where they would only be beaten. If the guy was caught in the cop’s own district, he’d have been shot dead and his death justified as self-defense.
- While acknowledging that genuine brutality does exist, the book also makes the point that in the homicide unit at least, nine out of ten cases that the detectives will encounter will be criminal-on-criminal violence. The author thus argues that in most cases the detective has little personal stake in the case and little reason to want to to risk a conviction, their clear-up rate, and their career just to rough up a small-time criminal in order to prove that they murdered another small-time criminal.
- In The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar, the main character steps in to stop one such incident in 1829 St. Petersburg.
- Discussed at length in the Andrew Vachss Burke book Terminal. See the quotes page.
- Occurs in Wise Blood, in two plot-crucial moments. First, an officer pulls Hazel Motes over for driving without a license, then destroys Hazel’s car by pushing it over an embankment. Second, two police officers find Hazel lying in a ditch, barely conscious. When they tell him that his landlady wants him to return, he says he doesn’t want to, so they club him the rest of the way into unconsciousness and load him into their car. Hazel dies on the way back to his apartment.
- In Beatles, the Oslo police force cracks down on some bums pretty hard, and arrests the main character Kim Karlsen, accusing him of supplying marihuana. In a rather nasty sequence, four policemen hold him down, give him a Traumatic Haircut, and a Groin Attack, before beating the living daylights out of him. When the cops are finished, they just dump him on a country road north of town. The year for this is stated to be 1970.
- The Dresden Files: In Fool Moon, Murphy handcuffs an unresisting Dresden and proceeds to slam his head into some furniture hard enough to chip a tooth.
- While technically still falling under the trope, Harry was not a civilian at the time, he was an (irregularly) licensed private investigator on contract with the police. He was essentially getting beaten by a fellow cop for breaking procedure and the ethics of the profession.
- In It Can’t Happen Here, many of the Minute Men (M.M.s) are bullies at best and sadists at worse, perpetrating atrocities against dissenters and minorities.
- The Wardens in Theatrica verge on the brutal. Sometimes a harsh accusation from a would-be victim is enough for them to bring the full, violent force of the law down on any given individual. One warden in particular qualifies for this trope…
- In almost every Philo Vance novel, Sergeant Heath will suggest taking a suspect to the station for “some inside stuff that don’t get into the newspapers”. note Justified since those novels predate police brutality laws.
- An accepted practice, within limits, in the Provost’s Dog trilogy by Tamora Pierce thanks to Deliberate Values Dissonance. Beka and her partners frequently hit, thump, kick, and smack their suspects — but they only do it when they’re pretty sure it will legitimately help them in their inquiries. The Cage Dogs, though, count even by the setting’s standards. They get paid extra because otherwise it’s tricky to find enough people willing to do the things they do (Beka almost quit during training when she thought that she might be forced to become one, which is untrue). Most street dogs consider them little better than thugs and a nuisance that they have to resort to because of how truth spells are legally restricted.
- Thoroughly deconstructed in McAuslan: MacNeill reflects that the British Army’s reputation for gunning down rioters for little reason is pretty well-justified, but what do you do when, as a military unit wholly untrained in crowd control, you get put in front of a rioting mob with no non-lethal options, and the situation deteriorates?
- The Royal Military Police are depicted as having a fairly direct approach, often returning drunks and deserters to their regimental cells in a somewhat unconscious and battered state. How much is needless brutality and how much is just the effects of alcohol and necessary subduing methods is never elaborated on. Either way, the Gordon Highlanders’ regimental provost — its internal police force — is a model of fair-minded “tough love”. You still wouldn’t want to cross Provost-Sergeant McGarry, though.
- Officer Roscoe Rules in Joseph Wambaugh’s The Choirboys is the LAPD version. He has disdain for ethnic minorities and in one scene is seen to tear the moustache off a Latino’s face.note
- Journey to Chaos: In the first book, A Mage’s Power, there’s a complicated case — the Royal Guard that comes to arrest Eric on charges of sedition, treason, and brainwashing a princess. On one hand, they are brutal in subduing him, but that’s because he’s a professional mercenary and so is capable of hurting them if they are not quick. One of them spits on and curses him, but she is immediately punished by her immediate superior. He then apologises to Eric and tells him that she is new to the force and doesn’t know the code of conduct yet. He also tells Eric that he believes Eric’s crime to be worthy of brutality, but that would not be lawful and so he will restrain himself.
- Played for Black Comedy in Declare. A British spy has to be briefed by his handler, so he’s arrested by the Lebanese police so they can talk in secret. Because the KGB might have an informant inside the police station, a doppelganger is being roughed up in another cell. The tense briefing keeps getting interrupted by a policeman so he can inflict the same injuries; first a black eye. Then a bloody eye. Then coffee spilled on his shirt. Eventually The Handler says they’d better wrap up their meeting “before they break the poor man’s legs.”
- A major part of The Infected, where in the beginning the protagonist, one Brian Yi, is brutalized and nearly killed by the police for being a filthy Infected (mutant, essentially). This so profoundly affects him, he becomes convinced all policemen are monsters, and in future misunderstandings, has to be restrained from killing cops by his peers. Which causes the police to try and murder him, which makes everything worse… The initial event is later retconned as mind-control, sympathetic police characters are introduced, and all of the other characters seem to regard Brian’s hostility to the police as a nuisance and a serious liability. The message seems to be that police brutality exists and is terrible, and neither tacitly accepting this or making blanket attacks against the police are okay.
- Sargent Haig of The Mental State starts out as a general Jerkass with a Hair-Trigger Temper who frequently resorts to manhandling inmates to get them to calm down. Then, once the prison starts adopting increasingly more liberal approaches to reforming offenders, his behaviour worsens and he ends up taking it out on one of the weaker inmates, nearly beating him to a pulp.
- In Renegadepress.com‘s “The Ride”, finding himself in trouble with the law, Jack decides to write a story about police brutality for the titular website.
- Adam-12: Several episodes have addressed the subject, usually using one-shot characters.
- While Malloy was almost always able to keep his cool even with the most smug of villains, he blows it in the 1974 episode “X-Force” and is suspended without pay for four days after a suspect he had arrested complains that he was injured. Malloy had arrested a suspected child molester (the crook had raped a 6-year-old girl who lived in the neighborhood), and when the pedophile made a snide remark about how the little girl “got what she wanted,” Malloy shoves him against a wall, twists his arm, and puts the handcuffs on too tight. (Reed — who ironically was taught by Malloy about keeping his cool in the early seasons — shows up to calm his veteran partner down, and eventually has to make a statement backing the complainant.)
- Malloy and Reed have also been victimized by claims of police brutality, particularly in the episode “Good Cop: Handle With Care.” There, two rogue freelance journalists harass our protagonist officers as they go about their daily work, eventually catching their prey as Reed and Malloy were in the midst of handling a hallucinogenic subject who had gone into a violent seizure. As the officers take the drugged-out man to the emergency room for detoxification, the photographer snaps a picture; the man had a bloody nose, the result of his head hitting the seat frame as he was shaking violently and uncontrollably. However, the journalists’ story makes it out to be classic police brutality. Sgt. Mac McDonald (the officers’ superior) questions Reed and Malloy, who are of course cleared (although this is not ever explicitly stated in the episode). In the end, the journalists’ harassment of Reed and Malloy and insistence that they were rogue cops out to brutalize people leads to them interfering wih an arrest and getting an innocent bystander shot.
- In Boardwalk Empire, the Atlantic City police are less “police” than they are glorified muscle for Nucky Thompson’s criminal empire, what with his brother being Sheriff and everything.
- Two New York cops beat information out of Lucky Luciano, telling him they can do whatever they want because they’re the law. It turns out that they’re shaking Lucky down on behalf of Arnold Rothstein.
- Dragnet got in on it at least once as well, in an episode showing the police application process of the time. Friday and Gannon were suspicious of one applicant with a 6-month gap in his background history, and it was discovered he’d been kicked off another town’s sheriff force for police brutality.
- In another episode, Friday and Gannon deal with an officer who got angry at being called a pig and having his uniform shirt torn by a drunk man. It’s a crossover, with Reed and Malloy as the backups.
- In Fortitude, when Frank Sutter is suspected of Charlie Stoddard‘s murder, DCI Anderson goes to arrest him and, upon finding him naked in Elena’s shower, he goes berserk and punches him repeatedly in the head.
- Life On Mars: DCI Hunt has a tendency to let his anger be his guide in investigation/interrogation rather than a sense of due process. Yeah, forget things like “facts” or “due process” or “the truth”: Let’s just go out and reenact scenes from Death Wish.
- Note that the traditional explanation for suffering injuries while in British police custody is “falling down the stairs”; bonus points if this is in a police station where the cells are on the ground floor.
- It should also be noted that the conflict between the old-style policing of Gene Hunt and the modern/futuristic policing of Sam Tyler is the central dramatic conflict in the show, but even then, there are external forces in the 1970s for the police to rein in such brutality, as evidenced in the series finale.
- Ashes to Ashes (2008) plays it for laughs more often.
Gene Hunt: One more thing, luv, about police brutality. Expect lots of it.
- In the series The Last Detective, while the protagonist is a By-the-Book Cop, his DCI is an Old-Fashioned Copper — think a washed-up Gene Hunt. In one episode, the latter talks nostalgically about no longer being able to have suspects “fall down the stairs”.
- One Anvilicious episode featured zombie cops whose brutality was so extreme that it would have been unbelievable for regular human cops to behave in such a way. They shot Wesley just for approaching them while they were harassing Gunn and a few of his friends. Of course, it was the LAPD. While certainly not condoning police brutality, the episode briefly explores another side of this trope, when Gunn tells a drug-dealing acquaintance of his that it’s people like him that can make police think they have to cross the line. It also notes that before the zombie cops were brought in, the neighbourhood had one of the worst crime rates in the city… but it had plummeted since.
- Another example in “A New World” when Connor confronts Angel while Tyke and his gang have them at gunpoint. The LAPD storm in and show no interest in trying to make the arrest, instead choosing to execute everyone, shooting Angel and trying to kill a fleeing Connor. Compare and contrast the Buffy episode Two to Go where the Sunnydale police are unsure of what to do with a vengeful Willow but keep her at gunpoint as she rips open the prison.
- Late in season seven of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer,]] with the Hellmouth working overtime, it corrupts the police to target the forces of good, in this case holding off the potentials while they attempt to kill Faith.
- Vic Mackey and others from The Shield. The show was inspired by the horrific scandal at the LAPD’s Rampart Division, which included some rather eye-popping allegations: A bank robbery planned by a police officer, multiple suspects killed with weapons planted on them for justification, actually joining the “Bloods” street gang, stealing drugs from the evidence locker for hip-hop producer Suge Knight, and murdering Notorious B.I.G.
- In The Wire, officers regularly assault hoodlums, including minors, in their custody, though few officers are portrayed as actual corrupt cops. It’s simply considered part of “the game”. Assaulting regular citizens, however, isn’t allowed. For example, when Herc mistakes a deacon for a drug-runner, he gets fired for roughing him up.
- During a raid on the Pit where the Barksdale stash houses are located, Bodie punches the elderly “hump” known as Pat Mahon. This prompts Herc, Carver, and Kima to engage in a three-man beatdown.
- More notable is when Bird is arrested and brought in for interrogation. Before they even start the interrogation, Jay Landsman takes a Polaroid of Bird’s injuries so that Bird can’t claim they were inflicted in custody. Except, Bird continues to use vulgar language and lewd remarks at his interrogators (especially against the lesbian Kima Greggs), prompting Daniels to ceremoniously tear up the Polaroid, before he, Landsman, and Kima deliver a three-man beatdown to Bird.
- Another is when Roland Pryzbylewski pistol-whips a fourteen-year-old boy in the face, blinding the kid in one eye. This goes so far beyond the pale that even Herc and Carver (who are responsible for a lot of police brutality themselves) stare at Prez and Carver verbally asks, “What the fuck’s the matter with you?” Despite his partners and Daniels covering for him and coaching him about what to say to IID, Prez gets taken off patrolling entirely and his gun taken away after the incident. An uncomfortable moment happens a few episodes later, when the detail nabs one of the Barksdale gang’s runners, and Prez immediately recognizes him as the guy he attacked.
- Anthony Colicchio, one of the Western District cops in Carver’s Drug Enforcement Unit squad beginning in season 3. He enforces drug rules by brute force, eschewing any subtlety or understanding of the streets, and sports the soldier’s mentality that Major Colvin decries as detrimental to good law enforcement. He increasingly goes off the rails in seasons 4 and 5, becoming more brutal and aggressive. The final straw is when he attacks a school teacher who is just politely asking him to move his patrol car out of the way so the teacher can get to work. Carver is disturbed by Colicchio’s complete lack of remorse and refuses to cover for him, writing him up for excessive force and conduct unbecoming a police officer.
- Eddie Walker is a notoriously corrupt patrol officer in the Western District, feared on the streets because of his willingness to inflict police brutality on anyone from Omar to little kids, and to engage in acts such as robbing suspects before they are arrested. For instance, he breaks a sixth grader’s fingers because the kid stole a car and went on a joyride simply for that fact it meant that Walker would have to fill out extra paperwork. Some cops see his brutal, no-holds-barred methods of policing as the only way to keep street kids in line, while others (most prominently McNulty) see Walker as an asshole who shouldn’t be on the force.
- McNulty, of all people, is the only main character in the show’s fictional version of the Baltimore Police Department who is never shown to physically harm a citizen. It’s possible he picked this up from working under Bunny Colvin, who was also disdainful of excessive force and the “soldier mentality,” and found himself frequently frustrated with the younger, more militant and aggressive cops under his command. McNulty is also never alleged or implied to have participated in any offscreen police brutality. His aforementioned attitudes toward cops Walker and Colicchio, and his preference for other modes of peacekeeping and investigation, are consistent with this portrayal. It’s implied throughout the series that other cops don’t much like or trust him, and it might be that way because they are afraid he would not cover for them.
- Parodied on Whose Line Is It Anyway? a couple of times:
- In game of “Hollywood Director,” Brad, playing a cop responding to a car accident between Ryan and Wayne, immediately after arriving on the scene, beat up Wayne for no other reason than because he’s black.
- Another game had Ryan and Colin playing a Good Cop/Bad Cop pair of dishwasher repairmen; the game ended with Wayne stuffed into his dishwasher.
- Wayne played one himself during a game of Let’s Make A Date, when he’s given the character of a power-mad highway patrolman. “I don’t think anybody gave you license to talk, here in Callihappimussisoopi County!”
- Parodied a number of times on The Young Ones. In one episode, after Rick has been eulogising Felicity Kendal, a policeman breaks into the house, hits him with a chair, and says “Let me assure you that I would not have done that if you had been Felicity Kendal”.
- In another episode, a man rings the doorbell to the student’s flat. He is accosted by a policeman:
Cop: Ho ho ho. Hahahahaha. Well, Mr. Sambo Darkie Coon, I’ve got your number. You’re nicked.
[We see the man’s face. He’s clearly white.]
Man: Is there anything the matter, officer?
Cop: Ho ho ho, oh dear me. Don’t we talk lovely, Mr. Rastus Chocolate Drop. Now listen here, son. I’ve done a weekend’s training with the S.A.S. I could pull both your arms off and leave no trace of violence. Lord Scarman need never know.
Man: What seems to be the trouble, officer?
Cop: That’s white man’s electricity you’re burnin’, ringin’ that bell. That’s theft. I’ve got your number, so hold out your hands.
Man: Officer, I represent Kellogg’s Corn Flakes car competition. I—
[The cop removes his sunglasses and sees the man for the first time.]
Cop: Oh. Sorry, John. I thought you was a nigger. Now, Sir, carry on.
- In another episode, a man rings the doorbell to the student’s flat. He is accosted by a policeman:
- In the first episode of Sledge Hammer!, the titular officer holds a purse-snatcher at gunpoint and orders him to beat himself up. This is typical of how he treats suspects.
- In another episode, Sledge pitches the benefits of being a cop on the basis that he gets paid to legally beat up and kill people.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Detective Eliot Stabler gets away with a disgusting amount of this, probably because people consider the guys he badgers and brutalizes deserving of their fates. Even though he occasionally does it to an innocent man.
- Stabler’s the worst example, but he’s not the only one: all the main detectives (and the persecution lawyers, occasionally, and the various ADAs) run this trope with a T.
- A first season episode of Due South had Ray beating a Mafia don senseless (after the Mafia don agreed to talk to him in private, in a locked room) and threatening to tell the entire neighborhood about it unless he agreed to stop harassing a local shoemaker that the Mafia don had ordered a hit on for stealing a hundred bucks from a church’s poor box. note
- Ray made a point of leaving his gun and badge in the car before he went inside to confront the Don, so he wasn’t beating the crap out of him as a cop, but as a member of the community (that said, still a cop, still an unlawful beatdown, still counts). This had some serious unintended consequences later in the show, eventually resulting in Louis’s death.
- There’s a Running Gag in Arrested Development wherein George Sr. or his twin brother (or one of them disguised as/mistaken for the other) gets tackled by the police and then one officer clubs them on the head. There was also an instance in which George Sr. was captured by Mexican police who were in a vengeful mood on account of a defective product George had knowingly marketed in the country. He fakes his death and has it reported that the police beat him to death — this actually is what probably would have happened had he not satisfied the officers with a legal argument (read: paid them a large bribe).
- Happens now and then on COPS, but of course, it’s never acknowledged.
- Babylon 5:
- Michael Garibaldi tries to put a random Jerkass‘s head through a tabletop when he refuses to stop talking trash about Marsies during a period of violence on Mars. It no doubt didn’t help that Garibaldi’s ex-lover lived on Mars, and he had been unable to find out if she had been harmed in the fighting.
- Usually, however, Garibaldi (and those reporting to him) avert the trope, particularly when Sheridan has Morden detained indefinitely on unspecified charges:
Garibaldi: “Look, out there I may play it fast and loose, but in here I play it by the book. Now charge him, or cut him loose!”
- Implied to be imminent but averted when the treacherous assistant security chief who shot Garibaldi in the back is caught. The security men taking him into custody ask Captain Sheridan to “take a walk” while they deal with him; Sheridan declines.
- In the original CSI, there was a variation on the trope. One of the CSIs slugged a perp, but everyone was ticked off at the guy in general, and Brass calmly said something about not seeing it that way, that the perp attacked the CSI first.
- But then averted in a crossover with Without a Trace. Brass stops Agent Malone from roughing up a suspect, telling him that in their house they do things by the book.
- Stella has gotten called for this a couple of times on CSI: NY. Danny got sent home for it after getting overly rough with a Neo-Nazi suspect (who turned out to be innocent).
- On an episode of Frasier, Marty won’t stop haranguing Niles’s lawyer girlfriend with evil lawyer jokes. Finally, after he asks her, “How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?” she retorts, “How many cops planted it there?”
- The Bill started off as a realistic low-level police procedure series, but as time went on, got more and more soap-opera like and unrealistic. By the end, the easiest way to cut crime in Sun Hill would have been to close down the station and ask the local drug gangs to keep order instead.
- Bottom played this for laughs in an episode where they were exploiting identity parades for cash. At the end of the episode, the character staging the crimes is found out and looks at the camera. Cue the usual random, mindless violence — by Chief Inspector Grobbelaar and his goons.
- In Oz, Alvin Yood (Prisoner 01Y218) is a former small town Sheriff jailed for beating a minor who spat on him during an interrogation.
- The X-Files: Mulder and Scully are usually extremely polite and understanding when interrogating suspects, but Downplayed Police Brutality happened in the episode “Paper Hearts”. Mulder gets frustrated while he interrogates Roche, a convicted child molester and Serial Killer, and he hits him very hard in the jaw. A guard walks in, surprised, but when Roche complains, he says he didn’t see it. The fair-minded and just Agent Scully is visibly upset and mad at Mulder, but doesn’t report him. They have to account for this action, though, because it was videotaped, and their supervisor AD Skinner pulls out a What the Hell, Hero? speech.
- On Banshee, the townspeople are astounded by how brutal Lucas Hood, the new sheriff, can be toward criminals, but since the local criminals have been running roughshod over the town for years, everyone just figures Pay Evil unto Evil and shrugs it off. Furthermore, most of his beatdowns occur during fights where he has a distinct disadvantage (3-1 odds against him, facing a champion MMA fighter, etc.) One deputy objects to Lucas hitting a handcuffed prisoner, but since the criminal has been selling poisoned ecstasy to kids, the issue is not raised again. What the townspeople do not know is that Lucas is not really a cop. He is an ex-con who saw the real Lucas Hood get murdered and assumed the dead man’s identity.
- A plot point in an episode of Starsky & Hutch, where a corrupt lawyer hires two thugs to impersonate the titular duo and tail them in a replica of the Torino, beating up everyone the real Starsky and Hutch met with and allowing witnesses to see them, in order to frame them for brutality and get them fired.
- Slightly subverted in an episode of Murder, She Wrote. The prime suspect in Tainted Lady has been harassed by an older sheriff since she was in high school. This got so out-of-hand that he forced himself on her twice. He was even about to rape her while she was in a prison cell.
- In Barney Miller, of all places, it happened, and Inspector Luger, of all people, was the culprit, when Barney let him handle a routine job “for old time’s sake”. Given Harris’ description of how he handled the suspect — who was a simple purse snatcher — Luger threatened to use physical violence on the man and even threatened him with his weapon. When Barney later confronted Luger about it (which he had to delay doing because of an emergency) and Luger protested that cops “don’t always do things by the book”, Barney agreed with him, angrily scolding him and saying that he was doing it by the book by reporting the case to Internal Affairs.
- In Person of Interest, Reese ends up joining the NYPD as Detective John Riley in season 4 under a false identity the Machine created to hide him from Samaritan. In one episode, he’s sent for mandatory counseling after an excessive force incident where he shot a fleeing suspect in the knee from the upper deck of a tour bus. It’s in large part Reality Ensues: Reese is used to dealing with opponents that way from his days as an operative for the Machine, but he can’t do that kind of thing as an actual cop.
- Blue Bloods has a mixed record on this. On the one hand, some episodes have bit characters get brought down on account of this.note On the other hand, one of the show’s recurrers is the Rev. Darnell Potter, a fairly blatant Malcolm Xerox strawman of (most recently) Black Lives Matter who loves to create police brutality controversies for his own aggrandizement, and who somehow has never caught plot armored main cast member Danny Reagan at his many excessive force incidents.note
- The Man in the High Castle:
- Frank is arrested and detained by the Kempeitai (Japanese Military Police) for his Jewish ancestry. Whilst in custody, he is stripped naked, brutally beaten, and threatened with execution by firing squad or extradition to Nazi-controlled America.
- It shouldn’t be a surprise that the SS in the German-occupied portion of the United States also resort to torture tactics to force information out of their suspects. Obergruppenfuehrer John Smith actually orders one of his men to beat a captured member of the resistance to death, even though he’s unconscious and can’t answer any questions. This is a ruse to make people believe he died without talking, as ordinarily they would have stopped if he did.
- When We Rise: Many feminist and gay rights protesters are beaten up by police without reason. This is especially angering to them since the police fail to protect many women and gays against violent crimes.
- Averted in an episode of Knight Rider, when a small-town cop tries the nightstick-to-the-taillight version. Unfortunately, KITT is armored like a tank, including the taillight lenses. Michael just stands there and smirks.
- Guerrilla: The police are shown to beat people just for talking back. Later, they deliberately beat a black leader to death after he was identified for them by an informant. This is one of the grievances the activists have against them.
- Chicago Justice: “Uncertainty Principle” involves Kevin Atwater being accused of murdering a suspect due to this. It turns out he was innocent, however.
- Jessica Jones (2015): Will Simpson. He is first introduced being commanded by Kilgrave to attack Trish Walker. After Jessica breaks Kilgrave’s control, Simpson proceeds to help Jessica and Trish in their plans to take down Kilgrave. Notably, he tries to use torture to interrogate one of Kilgrave’s bodyguards who clearly doesn’t know anything, and he has a hermetically sealed room all set up to contain and torture Kilgrave.
- Dear White People: What sets up the second plot in the climax of Episode 5 of Season 1 – when Reggie eventually quarrels with a white student over N-Word Privileges at a party, campus police show up with an immediate assumption that Reggie was the instigator and demand identification while virulently dismissing Joelle when she comes to his defense. Reggie’s quip “Fuck these pigs” provokes one of the officers to draw his gun on him, conjuring a scene that where people of color have either experienced and/or unfortunately not survived to tell the aftermath while the surrounding students are horrified and pleading with the officer to withdraw his firearm. Fortunately, though Reggie shakingly complies with fear for his life and does leave with it, he’s understandably broken by the confrontation.
- Inspector George Gently is set in the 1960s, when such practices were widespread. However, Gently himself is fiercely opposed to it and will come down hard on any officer he finds indulging in police brutality. This becomes especially relevant in “Gently Between the Lines”, when Gently and Bacchus are asked to investigate when a suspect dies in police custody, seemingly after being assaulted by three officers during a riot. Gently’s superiors expect him to just sweep the whole incident under the rug, but they underestimate Gently’s devotion to justice.
- The Doctor Blake Mysteries: In “The Call of the Void”, Sergeant Bill Hobart delivers a severe beating to a man accused of being a homosexual. He later becomes a suspect when the man turns up dead.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look gives us this in the “Community Support versus Police” sketch.
- Equal Justice: One entire episode revolves around police officers that are on trial for beating a suspect, while in another Barry gets an officer to ease off while arresting one of the disabled activists by threatening to prosecute him over this.
- The Gifted: We see mutants often suffering from this. Before he hated them due to mutants inadvertently killing his daughter, Jace actually opposed it as a cop (his partner tased a mutant for simply not providing ID).
- Midnight Caller: Lieutenant Zymak is accused of beating up a black teenager in “The Reverend Soundbite.” He was actually beaten during a gang initiation, and made up the lie to avoid getting in trouble with his parents.
- Innocent: When Detective Yusuf follows his ex-wife’s new boyfriend and accosts him on the street, the latter films the encounter while proclaiming police brutality, and uploads the footage to the internet. The viral video not only causes trouble for the police department, but also lands Yusuf in hot water with his ex.
- In A Very English Scandal, Norman is beaten for trying to file a report on Jeremy Thorpe; the officer interviewing him immediately handles him roughly, warning him against trying to go against the politician.
- The I-Land: The warden had Chase beaten up while tied to a pole by the guards, as his punishment for her escape attempt. As her legs were free, she still kicked a number of them black and blue in return.
- The Outer Limits (1995): In “Corner Of The Eye” the police at the beginning attack a homeless camp without even giving them an opportunity to disperse, striking people with their batons for no reason.
Mythology and Religion
- In the Song of Songs from The Bible, the Shulamite endures a bit of this as she goes out into the night to find her Beloved when he paid her a visit, but then soon left.
The watchmen found me
as they went about the city;
they struck me, they wounded me;
they took away my mantle,
those watchmen of the walls.
- Common enough to be a Trope Maker for a music trope: the Anti-Police Song, an entire subgenre of Protest Song, with this as one of its main driving factors.
- The song “Police Truck” by the Dead Kennedys is about a group of cops taking out a van for a night of drinking, beating drunks, and gang-raping a prostitute.
- Also their cover of “I Fought the Law”, about police brutality in general and about Dan White, the assassin of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, in particular.
- System of a Down‘s second album Toxicity focuses on this on a couple of songs, such as on “Deer Dance” and “Prison System”.
- Subject of many a Gangsta Rap Protest Song, most notably Music/NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police” from Straight Outta Compton and Ice-T/Body Count‘s “Cop Killer”.
- Body Count also did “Black Hoodie”, about someone killed just for wearing one and running from the cops; and the very political “No Lives Matter”.
- “Out to Get Me” from Guns N’ Roses depict actions from the cruel LAPD.
- The song “Bad Boys” by reggae group Inner Circle is often thought to talk about cops, and when you look at the big picture about this song, its message is “When you’re caught by the cops, you’re pretty much dead”.
- The Body Count song “Cop Killer” addresses this.
- The parody song GO COPS plays with this for all its worth.
- The German punk band called Wizo has a song which called Kopfschuss (Headshot). The song is esp about Wolfgang Grams (was a member of the Red Army Faction, a German far-left terrorist organisation), who got killed by German elite cops at the train station in Bad Kleinen.
- The Frank Zappa songs “Concentration Moon” and “Mom & Dad” from We’re Only in It for the Money are about police shooting hippies and smashing them in the face with rocks.
- David Bowie‘s “Life on Mars?” from Hunky Dory has the lyrics “Take a look at the law-man/Beating up the wrong Guy/Oh Man! Wonder if he’ll ever know…/He’s in the best selling show?”
- The music video for Billy Idol‘s “Shock to the System” starts out with an amateur cameraman videotaping police brutality in action during a riot, only for himself and his camera to be beaten to a pulp. They fuse together Terminator-style, and the rest is history.
- Michael Jackson‘s “They Don’t Care About Us” has the lyric “I’m a victim of police brutality”; of the two videos made for it, one is set in a prison with menacing guards and Michael as one of the prisoners — plus footage of the Rodney King beating. He also lists police brutality as one of the things people should worry about more than his personal life in his List Song “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” from Dangerous
- Rage Against the Machine‘s “Live at the Democratic National Convention” video.
- Birmingham Six by The Pogues is about the wrongful detention and conviction of six men of the right nationality who were within fifty miles of an IRA bombing outrage in Birmingham, England, who were beaten and tortured into confessing by the West Midlands Constabulary.
There are six men in Birmingham,
In Guildford there’s four of ’em,Picked up and tortured and framed by the Law
While the filth get promotion, they’re still doing time,
For being Irish in the wrong place and at the wrong time!
- Bob Marley‘s “Rebel Music” from Natty Dread about being pulled over for marihuana possession.
- DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince‘s “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” from Rock the House, details a scenario where Prince ends up getting chased by police for assault after a hooker cried rape in retaliation for refusing her sexual advances:note
I was ducking though alleys, right and left
But when the cops caught up, they almost beat me to death!
- In Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl, The Authority (the group-created villain) is often The State, and is filled with images of riot cops and police brutality.
- Assaults by corrupt Green-level police goons is one of the many many dangers faced by inhabitants of Alpha Complex in Paranoia.
- Public Order, the Buro police force in Feng Shui‘s 2056 juncture, are nearly always some flavor of this, barring the one or two good ones who wind up becoming PCs. Some of the cops in other junctures aren’t much better, especially if you have the Ascended as your enemy.
- The Adeptus Arbites of Warhammer 40,000, being essentially Judge Dredd IN SPACE!, do their jobs very enthusiastically. They justify it by stating that if they didn’t, the planet would soon be overrun with criminal gangs, Chaos cults, and genestealers… and keep very quiet about how many Imperial citizens join gangs and cults in search of some extra firepower to keep the Arbitrators off their backs.
- In Shadowrun, the player characters can interact with police from a variety of jurisdictions. The UCAS (i.e. the streets) were patrolled by Lonestar (motto: Blam! Blam! “Freeze!” Blam!) until 4th edition, when Knight Errant won the Seattle law enforcement contract; they can be just as brutal, are a subsidiary of Ares Macrotechnology (i.e. the biggest developer of weaponry in the world), and are eager to prove they’re more capable and less corrupt than Lonestar (who still run the prisons, and a lot of laid-off Lonestar cops are now working on the other side of the law as Shadowrunners). Each Megacorporation has its own private security force as well — and since corporations make their own law, to them Miranda is just the name of a hispanic guy. A run against Aztechnology may put you up against Leopard guards (whose brutality is just to tenderize you before the ritual blood sacrifice), while Mitsuhama Computer Technologies pioneered the concept of “Zero Zero” security. “Zero penetration, zero survival.”
- The Bluecoats in Blades in the Dark. If you get caught with zero Heat, then they’ll just beat you to the most damage you can survive, and you don’t even get a Resistance roll because they don’t stop until you’re injured.
- Virtually every law-enforcement officer (except two) encountered in the game Mirror’s Edge until you learn that all of them except the two who aren’t the Rabid Cop personified turn out to be Law Enforcement, Inc. instead.
- Several characters will accuse you of this in PoliceQuest. However they are usually criminals that you are arresting. Intentionally trying to invoke this trope, though, will result in a game over. You can only use minimal required force.
- The Onett Police Force in EarthBound decides that the best response to a young boy’s request to open a closed road is to have five officers try to beat him up. Since said boy has Psychic Powers, it doesn’t end well for the police. There’s a strong implication that they’re being controlled, or at least influenced, by the Big Bad Giygas.
- Can be an Invoked Trope in The Sims series. Police officer is one of the occupations you can give a Sim, and there’s nothing stopping you from having said sim have traits such as Insane, Evil, Grumpy, Mean, or similar once you can start assigning personality traits within the games (2, 3, and 4), and nothing preventing you from having said officer engage in unpleasant and offensive and violent interactions with everyone he or she meets and destroying everyone’s property.
- In Half-Life 2, the Civil Protection officers (who’re somewhere between cops and low-ranking Combine soldiers) are absolute scum. Anyone who so much as looks at them funny gets a beating (the player character merely coming near them makes them threateningly activate their stun batons), they mess around with people just because they can, and the La Résistance character operating undercover as one mentions being ‘way behind on my beating quota’; it’s not certain whether he was joking or not. The only halfway nice cop you come across is one who flicks a can out of a rubbish bin and tells you to pick it up and toss it for a chuckle, and doesn’t even threaten you. Throw it at his head and you get a whack or two with no permanent effect. They’re implied to be 100% human on many occasions, so they don’t even have the excuse of being brainwashed minions. They’re not a threat to anyone able to fight back, either, just unskilled bullies through and through: Gordon with the HEV suit and just a crowbar can crack the skulls of two of them without a thought, and they almost invariably get slaughtered by Resistance members armed only with MP7s. Throwing the One Free Man into the fray just makes the Curb-Stomp Battle end faster.
- Mortal Kombat
- Stryker shows police brutality in his x-ray move, fatalities, and some parts of his fighting style. Though to be fair, Mortal Kombat is brutal. He’s even fond of shouting it!
Stryker: Police brutality, coming up!
- Jax’s ending from Mortal Kombat 4 should have ended with him putting on shades and the theme song from CSI: Miami:
- In Fable, the guards around town beat you if you don’t have enough money for a fine… and attacking in self-defense raises more charges against you. Kind of justified in a medieval setting, but still excessive.
- One of the patients in Amateur Surgeon is a police officer named Officer Brutality… though, apart from his name, not a whole lot implies that he’s particularly tough on criminals. After all, he did go to back alley surgeon Alan Probe for treatment.
- Occurs in Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, wherein the city has enacted draconian measures to prevent graffiti, including assaulting graffiti artists with deadly force. One early level forces you to sneak away from a scene while two officers beat a graffiti artist to death while discussing how they’ll decide he “resisted arrest.”
- The FUZZ side-missions in Saints Row 2 have the main character disguising themselves as a police officer and committing wanton acts of police brutality (like breaking up a strike with a flamethrower) for a COPS-style reality TV show.
Cameraman: Time for some vulgar abuse of power!
- Devil Survivor: Zigzagged this trope.
- Good Light — The first cop you see risks his life trying to protect civilians from demons. It’s only once law and order have broken down that you start seeing brutal cops killing for their own gain. Even soldiers start to do this, albeit to destroy all summoning comps so the lockdown will end, which is a hopeless effort.
- Bad Light — At the end of Day 4, when some of the more-maligned cops get their own demon-summoning COMPs, they decide that since Tokyo is locked down and isolated, that they’re gonna disregard law and order (or rather, what little of it remains due to, again, Tokyo being cut off from the rest of Japan) and murder some civilians. After seeing one civilian die at their hands, the cops then turn their attention to you and you’re forced to fight them.
- Lieutenant Carter Blake from Heavy Rain. He assaults Ethan’s therapist for refusing to answer his questions, attacks a mentally disturbed suspect who turns out to have nothing to do with the case, and if Ethan gets arrested, Blake will proceed to beat the hell out of him, only stopping when Ethan falls unconscious.
- All of the Grand Theft Auto games contain this; police will often shoot you for hitting their car. You’re often guilty of much more, so perhaps they’re justified. However, you can usually run over three or four pedestrians before they’ll take any notice. Corrupt police officers are obviously abundant in the Crapsack World and will often hire the player for hits. Particularly notable is San Andreas, where the Big Bad is a corrupt CRASH officer and the final mission takes place during what are basically the GTA world’s version of the Rodney King riots.
- The online portion of the fifth game takes this up to Daniel Shaver levels, where the LSPD is aggressive to the point where even looking at an officer funny results in shooting said “suspect” in the back.
- Alan Wake has Agent Nightingale, who at first tries to arrest Alan for the disappearance of Carl Stucky (whom Alan is forced to kill in self-defense). Nightingale is trigger-happy (twice shooting at Alan while a civilian is standing right next to him), a drunkard, and repeatedly blames Alan for various things that he has no control over, such as during one episode where he’s screaming about how it’s Alan’s fault that the Dark Presence is attacking the police searching the woods for him. Averted with Bright Falls’ sheriff, who repeatedly calls Nightingale out on his actions and even helps Alan throughout the story. Nightingale isn’t even a real agent, having been fired prior to the game’s start for drunken behavior. Nightingale’s just a jerk targetting Alan to give his own life some meaning. He’s also not necessarily in control of his actions; he’s just written that way.
- In Liberal Crime Squad, if you try and fail to run away from the police, they can beat you senseless, even if you were just spraying a graffito. With Death Penalty and Police Regulation laws at arch-conservative levels, it overlaps with Disproportionate Retribution: Death Squads execute on the spot any criminal they catch, no matter their crimes.
- In one level of Super Scribblenauts, Maxwell takes on the role of a police officer, and is eventually tasked with dispersing a peaceful hippie crowd without killing anyone. And “killing” is the center word. Sure, he can just type “megaphone” and make them disperse… or throw tear gas and flashbangs at them. Or sic a guard dog. Being a game where you can use any word, the Video Game Cruelty Potential is pretty much unlimited.
- Max Payne:
- Chapter 7 of the first game is titled “Police Brutality” and, fittingly, features Max (then an undercover cop) interrogating a crook at gunpoint after killing all of his henchmen. The crook tries to call Max out on “police brutality”, to which Max calmly replies that he rates pretty high on it. Of course, by that point Max was “so far beyond the point of no return [he] couldn’t even remember what it looked like when [he] had passed it”.
- In the third game, Max runs afoul of the UFE, who go beyond shooting back at favela gangbangers to beating down and executing unarmed civilians apparently just for the crime of being in the vicinity. They’re actually killing witnesses of their illegal organ harvesting ring.
- The Krimzon Guard in Jak II: Renegade go significantly past merely brutal and into openly murderous. Their Establishing Character Moment isn’t when they cudgel a terrified Jak into unconsciousness; it’s when they proclaim “Surrender and die!”
- Implied several times in Mass Effect.
- In the backstory, we have the First Contact War. Started when the turians encountered the humans breaking the law. The humans being obvious newcomers and a completely unknown species were politely informed through pictographs that that what they were doing was illegal… Oh wait wrong card, actually they proceed to attack without warning or given reason, entering a skirmish war with the human government, and then proceed to attack and occupy a colony, killing presumably hundreds of human civilians in the process (it’s mentioned they weren’t shy about using Orbital Bombardment to destroy entire city blocks). It’s explained in background material that among themselves, such force is justified: turians are mentally incapable of surrender unless faced with the threat of absolute annihilation. But when they turned that tendency on the humans, they were rightly chastised by their compatriots, and likely had huge repercussions for the turian people as a whole.
- In Mass Effect, when Garrus tells Shepard about one of his cases where he brought in one of the suspect’s assistants for questioning, Shepard can respond that they don’t believe that Garrus was just questioning the assistant, which Garrus doesn’t deny.
- In Mass Effect 2, when you meet Officer Bailey, you walk in on him telling one of his subordinates to “make [the suspect] scream a little.”
- This is standard operating procedure for a surprising amount of Security players in Space Station 13, to the point where some servers had to have Security’s batons cause an officer to electrocute themselves if they try to beat someone with it while the baton is turned on.
- Fallen London: It’ll depend on which cops it is you’re challenging. Regular constables are somewhat nastier than most modern cops when it comes to beatings, but violence isn’t quite their first resort, it’s simply always on the table. But the Velocipede Squad has a bad case of this. Even when there’s no actual arrests involved, someone will get the crap kicked out of them. Doesn’t matter if you’re a docker with a hundred bar brawls under their belt, the sons of the local nobles, or even a huge clay golem, you’re getting your vicious beating.
- Prison Architect can have this enforced by the player. Normally, armed guards are in Thou Shalt Not Kill mode, and don’t kill with their firearms. Set the prison to operate on free-fire however, and watch as a prisoner gets their brains blown out for starting a fistfight.
- If a prisoner has the “Cop killer” reputation, the guards aren’t exactly going to treat them kindly. Usually, guards will beat a prisoner unconscious for getting violent. For the same crime, a cop killer will be readily beaten to death.
- Persona 5: The protagonist is beat and drugged by police at the beginning of the game, after he is caught at the end of a heist. Notably, a police detective will threaten to break one of your legs if you refuse to sign a False Confession.
- In DmC: Devil May Cry, despite Kat getting on her knees and putting her hands up, the SWAT team shoots her in the shoulder and stomps on her repeatedly before arresting her. And Dante, who is stuck in Limbo, is Forced to Watch it happen without being able to do anything about it.
- Dwarf Fortress has the Hammerer, a noble whose sole purpose in life is to deliver brutal beatings to anyone who is convicted of a crime, justly or otherwise, and can still cripple or kill their targets without facing any retribution, since that’s their job. Deprived of a hammer, they will cudgel your poor dwarves with whatever they have on hand… or with their bare hands (and feet, and teeth), with little or no loss of efficacy.
- In PAYDAY 2, Cloakers basically function like the Witch from Left 4 Dead: they jump on the player character, incapacitating them with one hit and then stand there, exclusively beating the everloving crud out of them with a nightstick while spewing Trash Talk. It’s heavily implied that Cloakers are The Friend Nobody Likes among the Police because their overzealous use of force towards criminals appalls them.
- In Call of Juarez: The Cartel, you play a trio of Dirty Cowboy Cops on a off-the-books crusade against The Cartel. Consequently, a lot of what you do involves excessive violence, including some very uncomfortable instances.
- In City Under The Hill, more often than not, Refugees caught attempting to gain access to the City are killed. In fact, it’s preferred that they’re dead.
- The Podunkton police force in Sluggy Freelance like to indulge in this. Their chief officer is actually a former mafia enforcer.
- Engaged in by The Pun Police in The KAMics.
- In Sinfest, a savage beating for a thief.
- In Quantum Vibe, the police on Luna planted drugs on Nicole after discovering she was from L-5 and beat her so badly she spent the next three days in a healing vat. She also didn’t get her phone call until she brought it up to the judge, and in prison they arranged for her cellmates to beat her up so they could hold her for assault.
- Thusfar in Visseria, the members of the Highguard law enforcement whose actions have been important to the story have not had any qualms with dealing with suspects in ways that range from questionable to extreme.
- Elliot, from El Goonish Shive, had to google it to learn that this trope is Truth in Television.
- Futurama has Smitty and his robot companion URL, who are just poster children for police brutality. Awwww yeah.
- Family Guy mocks this to hell and back. In one episode, Peter finds out that he has black ancestors, and everybody starts treating him differently. When a cop pulls him over for speeding, Peter is perfectly polite, and the cop doesn’t act unusually until he remembers that particular little tidbit.
Officer: Are you that white guy who’s actually a black guy?
Officer: We need backup, stolen vehicle here.
Peter: But this is my car.
Officer: Suspect getting belligerent.
Peter: But I’m not –
Officer: Officer down! [falls to the ground]
- In Breaking Out Is Hard to Do, Joe explains even if she’s Peter’s wife, he couldn’t give Lois special treatment while beating and arresting her for shoplifting. Lois doesn’t get upset at him for it, telling him she had it coming.
- In another episode, Joe gets a new police cruiser which has a robotic system for painlessly subduing perps and placing them in handcuffs. When Cleveland tries it out — Joe’s sudden realization and shouted warning a second too late — a computerized voice yells out that he’s resisting and arms come down and start beating him with batons. It goes further, crying out “Look out! He has a gun” and planting evidence.
- This is also subverted on one occasion, where some LAPD officers are violently beating Peter. Then it turns out they’re just doing it so Lois can get a good picture. Double Subverted when the cop takes one last kick into Peter’s side when no one is looking.
- Lampshaded in the episode where all the police have been sent out-of-town, and every white person on the street suddenly unzips themselves, revealing themselves to be black people in disguise, who promptly sing “Everybody Rejoice (Brand New Day)” from The Wiz.
- In Cool Hand Peter, the gang is arrested on a trip to the South by a corrupt super-racist sheriff who frames them for a broken tail light and drug possession because Cleaveland and Joe showed more integrity than Peter (who was being an asshole but was ignored by the sheriff for being white and healthy). The prison camp they’re in is mainly run by the police, and only gives 19th-century technology to the prison workers. Soon after, they brutalize Cleaveland two times after Peter continues to insult them (and whack Peter in the gut for a third). And after they’ve served their time, the warden extends their sentence indefinitely and responds to their escape with shoot-to-kill orders extending to the police. By the end of the episode, Joe has had enough, and brutalizes the Sheriff with the same methods to make it clear that his usual tactics make him a thug hiding behind a badge.
- The Simpsons: Police Brutality appears often, mostly parodied and played for laughs, but occassionally subverted.
- In “D’oh-in’ in the Wind”:
Chief Wiggum: Chief Wiggum: OK, boys, set your nightsticks on “whomp”.
Eddie: [twirling his nightstick] Uh, mine’s stuck on “twirl.”
- In “The Parent Rap”, Wiggum is shown reading Miranda Rights off of a teleprompter, and the text instructs the officer to punch the suspect in the belly after reciting the right to remain silent (with the implication that the rest of the oath is also accompanied by “gestures”).
- In one episode, Homer spots a bunch of cops beating up on Snake and stops them. Turns out Snake’s shirt had caught fire and the cops were trying to beat it out.
- In “The Boys of Bummer”, after Bart makes a mistake in a baseball game, the crowd turns against him and throws beer at him, to the point where Chief Wiggum hurries him in to his police car, only to drive back to the stadium. He opens the car roof and the crowd continues to throw beer at Bart. In the same episode, when Bart gets Driven to Suicide, he encourages him to do so.
- In “Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays”, there is a riot in the form of a wave of angry babies at Roofi’s concert, who converge on police officers and are beaten off with batons.
Lou: I don’t feel right clubbing women and children, chief.
Wiggum: I hear ya. Some days are tougher than others. Just close your eyes and club.
- In “D’oh-in’ in the Wind”:
- Duckman: One episode comes back from a commercial break where three LAPD officers Kick, baton, and tase Duckman. It’s then revealed that they were beating him on their break.
- South Park:
- In one episode, where Cartman is made a police officer, he immediately starts to abuse it, doing things like stopping Stan’s dad for speeding. He was driving the speed limit.
- In “Chef Aid”, the officers who arrest Chef hit him with their batons.
- He also does things like that when he’s made hall monitor at school. He immediately becomes a parody of Dog the Bounty Hunter and starts assaulting and “bear-macing” kids for slightest transgressions. Then he becomes the Batman (Chris Nolan version) Expy the Coon, and decides to take the law into his own hands, such as scratching a guy for making out with his girlfriend. Cartman thought he was stopping an attempted rape, despite the girl very loudly screaming “Yes!”
- The actual South Park PD is known for being pointlessly violent, particularly when it comes to black people.
- Spongebob Squarepants:
- One episode had the titular character get arrested by the police because he didn’t invite them to a party he was throwing.
- Humorously subverted in another episode, where two cops appear to be beating a suspect, when in reality they were fixing a parking meter.
- In “SpongeBob’s Last Stand”, police officers arrest SpongeBob and Patrick before abandoning them in the middle of Nowhere, all because they wanted to stop a highway from being built over Jellyfish Fields.
- In the Valentine’s Day special of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Kevin, acting as hall monitor, gives Edd detention just for standing up for Eddy, and all this over his hatred for the Eds.
- In The Brothers Grunt, police officers fire tear gas into a karaoke bar and proceed to beat Frank senseless.
Cop: Tell him what he’s won, Sarge!
Sarge: You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, we have the right to kick you in the face, hit you with bags full of oranges, and pummel you with telephone books. You have the right to an attorney, one who couldn’t get a real job, so they’re forced to handle state charity cases.
- In Bojack Horseman‘s “Chickens”, this is referenced in a throwaway line:
Officer Meow-Meow Fuzzyface: Don’t worry ma’am. We’ll bring your daughter home, dead or alive.
Kelsey Jannings: Alive. Alive!
Fuzzyface: We’re the LAPD, ma’am. We’ll probably make the right call.
- In the Kaeloo episode “Let’s Play Cops and Robbers”, Mr. Cat becomes a police officer and decides to question Quack Quack (who he knows isn’t guilty) about a crime. He takes him away for “questioning” and then tortures him while yelling at him to confess to the crime.
Nothing to see here, move along.
Published at Mon, 27 Jan 2020 10:22:00 +0000
Source: Police Brutality – TV Tropes