Skip to main content

On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Warns Against Police Use of Excessive Force, Noting That Unarmed Americans Are Being Shot for Merely Holding a Cell Phone

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In its latest “Constitutional Q&A,” The Rutherford Institute tackles the troubling use of excessive force by police who have shot and killed Americans of all ages, many of them unarmed, for standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has very little to do with an actual threat to their safety. 

The Institute’s report notes that in recent years, Americans have been killed by police merely for standing in a “shooting stance,” holding a cell phone, behaving oddly and holding a baseball bat, opening the front door, running in an aggressive manner holding a tree branch, crawling around naked, hunching over in a defensive posture, wearing dark pants and a basketball jersey, driving while deaf, being homeless, brandishing a shoehorn, holding a garden hose, and peeing outdoors. Most recently, in March 2018, Sacramento police fired 20 times at a 22-year-old African-American man in his grandparents’ backyard, mistaking his cellphone for a gun. Stephon Clark died of seven gunshot wounds while police deliberated on whether or not to render emergency medical aid.

The Rutherford Institute’s “Constitutional Q&A: Excessive Force” is available at

“With alarming regularity, unarmed men, women, children and even pets are being gunned down by police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, and all the government does is shrug and promise to do better,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People.  “That police are choosing to fatally resolve encounters by using their guns on fellow citizens speaks volumes about what is wrong with policing in America today, where police officers are dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon their fellow citizens as armed threats and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”

Incidents involving police use of excessive force, meaning a force that is objectively unreasonable and unnecessary, are becoming disturbingly commonplace as police adopt more confrontational, aggressive and violent tactics in dealing with those whom they are supposed to “protect and serve.” For example, a recent study found that in the year 2012 alone, persons visited hospital emergency rooms almost 140,000 times as a result of encounters with police, including over 55,000 fatal and nonfatal injuries. In the one-year period beginning June 2015, there was an average of 136 arrest-related deaths each month. The high number of police-inflicted injuries is not surprising considering how widespread training that instills a “warrior mindset” in law enforcement officers has become, leading police to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”

As The Rutherford Institute points out in its “Constitutional Q&A: Excessive Force,” at a time in which public officials are more focused on maintaining order and amassing greater government powers than with protecting the rights of the citizenry, it is imperative that Americans know and understand their rights, especially the Fourth Amendment, and how it pertains to the potential use of excessive force.


Copyright 2020 © The Rutherford Institute • Post Office Box 7482 • Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482 (434) 978-3888
The Rutherford Institute is a registered 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are fully deductible as a charitable contribution.