1961 November 17

U.S. Civil Rights Commission Finds Police Brutality “A Serious Problem” Nationwide


A report by the U. S. Civil Rights Commission, released on this day, identified police brutality as a “serious problem” nationwide. The Commission’s findings soon proved to be prophetic. Police use of excessive force, unjustified fatal shootings of African-Americans, and discriminatory arrest patterns would be major causes of the urban riots that erupted in the summer of 1964 and continue for three more summers. The Kerner Commission report on the riots, issued on February 29, 1968, confirmed the role of police misconduct as a serious problem and a cause of the riots.

The 1963 Civil Rights Commission report was the first national report on police misconduct since the 1931 Wickersham Commission Report, Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, issued on August 10, 1931. Congress created a new weapon for addressing police misconduct on September 13, 1994, when it passed the Violent Crime Control Act, which contained a provision for Justice Department law suits against police departments where there is a “pattern or practice” of violating citizens’ rights.

The Civil Rights Commission: “The Commission’s studies indicate that police brutality in the United States today is a serious and continuing problem in many parts of the country.” (p. 26)

Read the Report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Book 5. Justice (1961):

Find all the historical reports of the Civil Rights Commission: http://www.law.umaryland.edu/marshall/usccr/titlelist.html

Learn more about police misconduct: Samuel Walker and Carol Archbold, The New World of Police Accountability, 2nd ed (2014)

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