The United States of America’s law enforcement isn’t exactly known as the most trustworthy and reliable. In fact, cases of police brutality and unnecessary harassment is commonplace in many American cities. In the case of the West Memphis Three, discussed in the movie, West of Memphis, three teens’ lives are ruined because of inadequate police work. The law enforcers of our country hold biases toward racial groups and age groups, depending on what part of the country they’re in, that severely affects the efficiency of their work and the efficiency of their ability to protect the people
In the West Memphis Three case, three teenagers were arrested for murder. Damien Echols age 18, Jessie Misskelley age 17, and Jason Baldwin age 17. The victims, Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were all eight years old. They were found dead, bound, naked and beat in a creek. The police, almost immediately, decided the crime was part of a satanic ritual and arrested the three boys on the account that they were on record for being involved in occult activity.
With little evidence, the police turned to witnesses to prove the boys’ guilt, However, there were no witnesses. So the police took it upon themselves to create their own witnesses. A woman named Vicki Hutcheson gave a testimony in court claiming the boys invited her to an occult meeting at the creek the night of the murder. She later admitted that she was coerced by the police and the testimony was false. Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison and Echols was given the death penalty, although the three were released before it could be performed.
In later years, the case was studied more thoroughly. The alleged cuts on the boys from a serrated knife turned out to be post mortem bite marks from snapping turtles in the creek. Jessie Misskelley gave a confession to the police in 1993, clear and simple. It was later discovered that the cops held Jessie for over 12 hours in an interrogation room, bombarding him with fake stories and thinly veiled threats. What makes it worse is that Jessie had an IQ of 72, making him borderline intellectual functioning. He was a minor being questioned alone. Jessie stated that he was given his Miranda Rights but did not understand them. In the court, it was ruled that he did in fact understand them and knew exactly what he was saying in his brutal interrogation. The West Memphis police took advantage of a mentally challenged, seventeen year old boy and scared him into admitting to a crime he did not commit. All of this and more was uncovered by private investigators and hired medical examiners. These are just a few examples of the botched and biased police work done on the West Memphis Three case. The three teens were odd balls in their town which can be seen as a reason for a negative bias. In the end, the conclusion was made that majority of the police work was faulty but nonetheless, the citizens of West Memphis still believed it.
In our country, the majority tends to blindly accept whatever the law enforcers say. It’s a bias we have. We think that police officers are protectors of the people and the innocent. However, one cannot properly protect and serve if they have severe biases themselves. As shown in the West Memphis Three case, there’s a bias surrounding those who don’t fit the ilk of the majority of society. This bias is widely believed by Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were oddballs in their small town. They’re lower class teens from a small town and have a negative stereotype surrounding them. Trouble seeking, poorly raised, bored teens who seek something to do and end up getting involved in occult activity. These assumptions were made about these boys and, therefore, they were falsely accused of a crime they did not commit.
A term that’s been coined in the past few years is bias-based policing. It’s the idea that racial profiling is beginning to take over law enforcement. A study was performed, involving a race IAT, that had the following results; “Officers were initially more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects.(Gove )” However, the scientists who performed this experiment came to the conclusion that the bias can be fixed. “After extensive exposure [for example, repeated trials] to the program, the officers were able to eliminate this bias.(Gove )” Our country’s law enforcement has spent years doing their job based on stereotypes. The bias has become so strong and prominent that IAT tests were performed, along with many more experiments to produce hard proof.
In 2011, the Supreme Court released the three men. 18 years and 78 days later, Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were hardly given justice. Falty police work ruined 3 men’s lives and, due to country wide law enforcement bias, police have been unable to do their jobs. In order for police to properly bring justice to those who deserve it, they must be devoid of bias and see only the facts. They can not let their own personal opinions, whether they’re subconscious or not, cloud their judgement. In order for us to have efficient law enforcers, they must come to terms with their biases and correct them. Only they can fix themselves.
Gove, T. n. page. <http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=2499&issue_id=102011>.