US must combat police violence against Black people, UN experts warn
The US must move beyond piecemeal reform and slogan-making and tackle the ongoing scourge of police brutality and law enforcement’s discrimination against Black people, a United Nations mission has concluded at the end of a historic two-week tour of the country.
UN experts completed their first official visit to the US as part of a system of global inquiries set up by the human rights council after the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020. As they ended their tour on Friday in Washington DC, the experts called for a nationwide commitment to address discrimination suffered by Black Americans in their daily dealings with the law.
“In the US, racial inequity dates back to the very creation of this country and there’ll be no quick fixes,” said Dr Tracie Keesee, one of two independent UN experts who conducted the visit. “To this day, racial discrimination permeates through encounters with law enforcement – from first contact, arrest, detention, sentencing and disenfranchisement.”
What was needed was a “whole government approach”, Keesee added. “This needs to be more than a slogan and calls for reform.”
In the course of their 15-day mission Keesee and Juan Méndez of Argentina, visited six US cities: Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York. Their mission was to investigate excessive use of force, militarised policing, racial profiling and other human rights violations by law enforcement and penal agencies against Black Americans.
As they crisscrossed the country, the experts had emotional encounters with families of the victims of police killings and other law enforcement abuses.
In Minneapolis, where a white police officer murdered George Floyd on 25 May 2020, the panel spent time with the mothers of Philando Castile and Amir Locke, who were also killed by law enforcement in the city.
Locke’s mother, Karen Wells, told the visiting experts: “You are probably wondering, why is there an empty chair right here? Because that’s where Amir should be sitting. All of the families now have an empty chair.”
Presenting their preliminary findings, Keesee said that they had witnessed a pattern that could be traced to what she called the “deep intrinsic legacy” of slavery and legalized discrimination. She said that across the country there remained “a lack of awareness and acknowledgment of the extent to which racial inequities” were still prevalent.
The result was a “culminating exhaustion in the Black community”, the UN expert said.
Méndez, a former UN special rapporteur on torture, said that he had been moved throughout the visit by the “harrowing pain of victims and their families, and the resounding calls for accountability”.
“We support those calls for accountability,” Méndez said.