America is touted globally as the land of the free and bastion of democracy. However, a scathing report on pervasive killing of Black people by U.S. law enforcement has exposed America as a major human rights offender and breaker of international law.
The report is the latest effort to hold America accountable for abuses that constitute crimes against humanity and genocide by international standards.
A commission of 12 legal experts from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe determined that police violence and killing of Black people in the United States are Crimes Against Humanity and clear violations of international law that should be investigated and prosecuted. The expert group was organized by the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence, which is a collective of legal groups.
“The commissioners were often brought to tears when we saw what was happening in the United States of America,” said Bert Samuels, a commissioner, and the deputy head of the Jamaican National Council on Reparations.
“It was a painful exercise, and we are here to tell the world what is happening in the United States,” he said.
The panel’s findings were revealed during an April 27 press conference via Zoom. The findings were the results of independent hearings held over four weeks in January and February 2021. The panel examined 44 cases from 33 cities of egregious killings and injury at the hands of U.S. police officers.
The commissioners heard from families, attorneys, and witnesses. They concluded that relevant U.S. laws and police practices doesn’t comply with international human rights obligations.
There is a pattern and practice of racist police violence in the United States that is part of a history of oppression, said the report’s summary.
In case after case, the commissioners found a pattern of “destruction, loss and manipulation” of evidence and “coverups, obstruction of justice, and collusion” between multiple law enforcement agencies in connection with the killings.
They noted that police officers and their unions, prosecutors, coroners and “independent medical examiners” are accomplices in police impunity. The report also found a pattern of creating false narratives and smear campaigns directed at victims and their families.
The Zoom press conference featured several family members of victims of police killings.
“We have to get bills passed … but there’s no good in passing laws if they are not enforced,” said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner who was killed by a White New York police officer who administered a prohibited chokehold. Mr. Garner pleaded, “I can’t breathe” in a video seen worldwide in 2014.
Ms. Carr has been involved in similar cases since her tragedy and called on rights advocates to stay vigilant. “Because when we take one step forward, it seems they push us two steps back,” she said.
“I thank the commission for recognizing my humanity as a good Black man in America, and for recognizing my brother George Floyd’s humanity and the humanity of other families across this nation,” said Philonise Floyd. He commended the group for convening and bringing to light how the United States government is perpetrating crimes against humanity.
The George Floyd killing was by many seen as a “public execution” as camera phone video went viral of former police officer Derek Chauvin suffocating Mr. Floyd to death in nine minutes of torture on a Minneapolis street.
The killing of Mr. Floyd sparked a level of worldwide interest in the plight of Blacks in America. As “horrific and egregious” as the police killings being currently witnessed, even after George Floyd’s killing, only a miniscule number are reported because the U.S federal government doesn’t track this data, said Collette Flanagan, founder of Mothers against Police Brutality.
Her only son Clinton Alexander, 25, was shot to death by a Dallas police officer in March 2013 while unarmed. He was shot once in the arm, five times in the chest, and once in the back, she said.
“In fact, there is a Derek Chauvin in every police department, and some have many,” she said, referring to the convicted cop killer of Mr. Floyd. “We know by the evidence of the many killings of Black men and women, which is almost a daily occurrence.”
Ms. Flanagan said the U.S. has a culture of “systemic racism” that is “deeply seeded and rooted” in police departments. She refutes a common argument that cops involved in infractions are merely a few bad apples.
“We are way past a few bad apples,” she said. “We are into orchards of bad apples with trees that have diseased roots … tainted with racism and White supremacists … bearing rotten fruit,” she said.
The police killing and maiming of Black life every year is indicative of the stain of systemic racism and the disease of White supremacy woven in the fabric of America from its inception. The violence dates back to the extermination of Native Americans, slavery, and the militarization of U.S. society, which continues today.
Ms. Flanagan echoed a call for the UN Human Rights Council to support the independent review of the International Commission of Inquiry into police killings.
“I strongly believe that a robust international accountability mechanism would further support and compliment—not undermine—efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States including by the Biden administration,” she stated.
The commission intends to pressure President Biden and the U.S. Congress to listen to the voices of the victims of police crimes as reflected in the recommendations of the 188-page report. The group wants the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation against the U.S. for crimes against humanity. However, the U.S. is not a signatory of the Rome Statute that established the court and has historically obstructed any attempt by the ICC to hold the U.S. accountable for any violations.
The report recommends that the U.S. government acknowledge the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, slavery, colonization and colonialism were Crimes against Humanity and past injustices and crimes against Black people in the U.S. must be addressed with reparatory justice.
But questions loom as to how Washington would respond to the independent international inquiry.
Judge Peter Herbert of the United Kingdom, one of the commissioners, believes the Biden administration would be more amicable to the discussion, compared to the previous President Donald Trump.
He also believes public sentiment is leaning toward change, citing global reaction to George Floyd’s murder with mass demonstrations not seen since the antiwar protests of the 1960s.
“Young people all across the globe did immense damage to the United States reputation,” said Judge Hurbert.
Judge Hurbert raised the possibility of global boycotts of American products as was done to topple White minority rule in South Africa.
U.S. fought international scrutiny
“I completely agree with the findings and recommendations of the International Commission of Inquiry,” said Roger Wareham, a human rights attorney with the International Secretariat of the New York-based December 12th Movement.
“I think that it is a timely exposé on the international level of the crimes committed by the U.S., currently and historically,” he told The Final Call.
The inquiry was organized by the commission in conjunction with a mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council for a report on systemic racism, and violations of international human rights law against Blacks by law enforcement agencies globally. The mandate was the result of a global uprising after the killing of Mr. Floyd.
The issue of “blue on Black” violence was taken to world bodies for support and justice. The families of Mr. Floyd, and other police victims like Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown and Philando Castile and 600 rights groups petitioned the Human Rights Council to appoint a “UN Commission of Inquiry” to investigate systemic police violence.
In June 2020, the Human Rights Council strongly condemned “the continuing racially discriminatory and violent practices perpetrated by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent.” In particular, the council noted the death of Mr. Floyd and other U.S. Blacks.
However, the council caved in under U.S. bully tactics to stop the forming of a special UN Commission. It directed its High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, to prepare a report by June 2021 on systemic racism by law enforcement on Blacks in America and globally, which lawyers argue was a compromise to diminish a specific focus on U.S. violations.
“The United States fought tooth and nail not to have an international commission,” said Attorney Lennox Hines, the coordinator of the commission. “And instead argued that the problem is a global problem … to deflect any particular focus on the United States.”
The “International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States” was formed by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, along with the National Conference of Black Lawyers, and the National Lawyers Guild to independently investigate if widespread police “killings and maiming” of Blacks continue as a pattern of U.S. violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
America: A recalcitrant offender
The global impact of the George Floyd murder was a black eye on America’s own carefully crafted international image. The U.S. holds an outsized influence, in the amount of money it gives at the UN and its ability to pressure nations to bow to its will, commissioners conceded. They expressed no illusions about the U.S, ability to wield power to counter the report and blunt calls for action.
But, they were optimistic when answering a Final Call question on how to counter U.S. efforts to avoid accountability.
“The comment on the United States outsized role at the United Nations is accurate,” said Atty Hinds. “However, we have to utilize it in contradictions that exist.”
He said political dynamics are changing at the United Nations with Kenya assuming the rotating presidency of the Security Council later this year and other potential advantages. Atty. Hines said plans are underway to mobilize the African Union, which made an initial appeal to the Human Rights Council to take up the issue of police victimization of U.S. Blacks.
“We are going to mobilize within the continent of Africa, including in Kenya, to bring pressure upon the African Union, so that they in turn will be able to put pressure on the Security Council and on the Human Rights Council,” Atty. Hines told The Final Call.
“This is not going to be an easy task,” he admitted.
However, commissioners expressed optimism about getting international support with a report featuring concrete findings, bolstered by the expertise, reputation, and impartiality of the 12 international experts.
The report on U.S. violations comes at a time of an intensifying universal cry for justice from the masses of people worldwide against state repression and rights violations by their own governments.
As brutal treatment by law enforcement is documented and independently exposed through camera phones and spread virally, world condemnation of violations is more frequent and America can no longer skirt the issue, said commission members.
The commissioners concluded that the use of force against unarmed Blacks is motivated by racial stereotypes and biases resulting in targeting Black and Brown people for questioning, arrests, and detention.
The report summary said U.S. law enforcement officers operate on predetermined “racist associations between Blackness and criminality.”
In 43 cases, the commissioners found disproportionate use of excessive force by police led to the deaths of the victims. The unlawful force included shootings, restraints and tasers and is part of an alarming, national pattern, said commissioners.
America is a killing field, considering that in 2020 more than 1,100 people were killed by police, with Blacks killed more than twice the rate of others. Statistics show Blacks are 3.5 times more likely than Whites to be killed by police when not attacking or unarmed.
Currently one out of every 1,000 Black men can expect to succumb to police violence over the course of his life, which is a number 2.5 times the same for White men, said the report.
Black women are not spared from extrajudicial killings. They are 1.4 times more likely to die in this manner than White females. The war on drugs is a significant driver of police violence against Black women and girls. Numerous studies have concluded that Black women are excessively subjected to “pretextual traffic stops,” a law enforcement tactic otherwise known as racial profiling.
Black immigrants abused in America
Commissioners also noted, as outsiders looking into the U.S., that immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa suffered the same fates as Blacks at the hands of U.S. police.
The report said Black immigrants are not safe and subjected to losing their lives while Black.
These realities crush the myth of America as the exceptional land of the free. The numbers of Black immigrants killed by law enforcement raises a challenge that America has yet to address, systemic criminalization of Black life.
Alfred Olango, a 38-year-old Ugandan refugee who was shot and killed by police in California in 2016 and David Felix, a 24-year-old Haitian immigrant killed by N.Y. police in 2015 are examples.
An infamous case was the September 2018 killing of 26-year-old accountant Botham Jean from St. Lucia in his own apartment by off-duty Dallas Police officer Amber Guyger. Lawyers for the jailed ex-cop filed an appeal on April 27 to overturn her 10-year sentence.
A long history of efforts on the world stage
Today’s effort by the commission is not the first time police infractions and killings of Blacks were brought to the United Nations or its Human Rights Commission.
“It continues a century long tradition of Black people taking our situation to the international arena,” Mr. Wareham explained.
After the brutal 2014 police slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, Missouri, and vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, a delegation of activists and families presented before a UN panel in Geneva, Switzerland, documenting their concerns about U.S. compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination treaty.
Concerning police violence, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric reiterated the UN’s stance, calling for thorough investigations.
“We’ve always said that police forces around the world need to have adequate human rights training,” she said.
For Black America, heavy handed repression from law enforcement has remained a reality.
There were efforts to different efforts to internationalize the plight of U.S. Blacks at different times in history.
In December 1951, actor/activist Paul Robeson and William Patterson submitted a petition from the Civil Rights Congress to the United Nations. The petition was titled, “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People.” The petition was signed by nearly 100 U.S. intellectuals and activists including Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.
Police brutality was a central issue in the petition that charged the U.S. government with committing “genocide” against Blacks in violation of the UN Genocide Convention.
“To many an American the police are the government, certainly its most visible representative,” the petition read.
“We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy,” it said. The petition characterized police violence as a new form of lynching.
Although America has worked hard to conceal the reality, Black America fits the legal definition of genocide. The word “genocide” was first coined by Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin in 1944. It consists of the Greek prefix genos, meaning race or tribe, and the Latin suffix cide, meaning killing. Genocide was first recognized as a crime under international law in 1946 by the United Nations General Assembly and codified as an independent crime in the 1948 “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”
Based on the current convention Black people fall under an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group through “killing members of the group; and “causing serious bodily or mental harm” to members of the group, argued advocates for charging the United States.
Make America know her sins
Longtime activists see the growing attention on American police violence as a win.
“In this globalized world we live in … all these things are intertwined in that we can have allies in our struggle and the international community can be our allies,” stated Mr. Wareham.
Commission leaders said the report’s objective is to hold the U.S. accountable by the international community.
“I think the idea of commissioners being outside the United States makes it very difficult for the U.S. to hide from the recommendations,” said Bert Samuels, commission member and attorney from Jamaica.
He said the U.S. regularly steps to other nations about rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. “We are used to the United States looking at our countries, so now that we are looking into the U.S., we are hoping that as outsiders making these recommendations, we will be seen to be objective and that help will come to the United States,” said Mr. Samuels.