Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent


The National Lawyers Guild, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and National Conference of Black Lawyers along with 600 groups requested that the United Nations Human Rights Council convene an investigation into the pattern and practice of murder in the United States directed against the African American population.  Whining ensued. The UN capitulated to the threats of the U.S. and threw the hot potato over to the high commissioner to prepare a report about police violence against Africans throughout the world.  The result was an International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the U.S. The report was released mid-April 2021.

The commission consisted of twelve commissioners from Barbados, India, South Africa, France, Costa Rica, UK, Pakistan, Japan, Jamaica, Nigeria, Antiqua & Barbuda.  It consisted of five law professors, a judge, and six lawyers.  Hearings on forty-four cases occurred from January 18-February 26, 2021.  All were murders but one in which the victim was paralyzed.  The goal was to see if there was a pattern of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The commission found such a pattern and practice of racist police violence in the U.S. from genocide against First Nations, enslavement of Africans, militarization of society, and perpetuation of structural racism.

The Commissioners found violations of the rights to: life, security, freedom from torture, freedom from discrimination, mental health, access to remedies for violations, fair trial and presumption of innocence, and to be treated with humanity and respect. They also found violations of the State’s duty to provide medical care to detained persons; to ensure investigations of extrajudicial killings that are independent, competent, thorough and effective; and to provide prosecution of suspects and punishment of perpetrators to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.  The Commissioners found that U.S. laws and police practices do not comply with international standards on the use of force, that require legal basis, legitimate objective, necessity, precautions, proportionality, protection of life, non-discrimination, and accountability.

The Commissioners said this disproportionate use of force by police lead to the deaths of 43 people and the paralyzing injury to the 44th.  The force wasn’t just guns but restraints such as chokeholds and neck pressure and Tasers.   Racial profiling lead to traffic stops dangerous for people of African descent.  So called “stop-and-frisk” were aimed at “order maintenance” that not only drove racially disparate rates of arrests but also use of deadly force by police. The commission harkened back to the acceptable practice during the era of slave patrols when every white person could control the movements and activities of any Black person.

They blamed the Supreme Court for some of this behavior by gutting the protections of the Fourth Amendment and giving states nearly unlimited power including immunity for police officers. They noted that police often kill Black people in the daylight with an audience deliberately to intimate the community knowing they face no accountability. They also pointed to the ill-named War on Drugs as a significant driver of police violence.

Investigation of these murders was inevitably followed by loss and manipulation of evidence, coverups, obstruction of justice, and collusion between various arms of law enforcement.  Police unions, prosecutors, coroners, and medical examiners all are accomplices. When officers are charged, they are usually acquitted or never spend any time in custody.  Smear campaigns against victims and their families are common. The inquiry pointed out that the Pentagon distributed $5.4 billion worth of military equipment to police who have to use those weapons against someone.

The Commission recommended that the International Criminal Court begin an investigation for  Murder, Severe Deprivation of Physical Liberty, Torture, Persecution of people of African descent, and other Inhumane Acts under Article 15.

They recommend to the U.S. that it appoint an Independent Expert on Systemic Racist Police Violence, demilitarize; end impunity of officers; accept ICC jurisdiction; remove non-self-executing language in ICCPR or pass legislation to implement Article 20 that prohibits propaganda for war and speech that promotes hatred of racial or religious groups or incites discrimination or violence against people of racial or religious groups; enforce the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, that the U.S. has ratified; ratify other human rights treaties (the U.S. has ratified few); divest federal resources from incarceration and policing; fund initiatives for non-punitive and non-carceral approaches to community safety; combat institutional racism; mandate de-escalation; prohibit no-knock warrants; and follow international law on the use of force.

On the underlying elephant in the room, they recommend that the U.S. acknowledge that the slave trade was a crime against humanity and the major source for racism today. Reparatory justice is necessary. They suggest the Caribbean Community’s Ten-Point Action Plan on Reparations that includes a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities, an African knowledge program, psychological re-habilitation, technology transfer, financial support, and debt cancellation.

In the press conference that accompanied the release of the report the mother of one of the victims pointed out that while the families of people murdered by the police cannot access victim services funds, the officer who murdered the person can for the PTSD s/he experienced from the murder.  Some audience members were stupefied by this vindictive display of malevolence on the part of the government.

One more report; one more finding; one more opportunity to take action or bury our heads in the sand.  Let’s be sure we are really turning the corner on racism in the U.S. and not just walking around the block.