UN Investigative Body Examines Systemic Racism in US Policing
The United Nations has launched an investigative body called the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement. The panel was established in 2021 in response to the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. Its aim is to promote “transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement for Africans and people of African descent,” according to a UN press release. The panel will examine laws, policies, and practices regulating the use of force by law enforcement officials, including how they hold up against international human rights standards.
The panel will also examine government responses to peaceful anti-racism protests and violations of international human rights laws. The panel has visited Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, and is concluding its visits this week in New York City.
Civil society groups from across the country have called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to take a leading role in investigating systemic racism in U.S. policing systems. The Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in law enforcement, also known as EMLER, was established in April 2021. Its mission is to investigate human rights abuses such as excessive use of force, racial profiling, and over-policing by law enforcement in the United States. EMLER also aims to identify how these issues can be traced back to slavery and colonialism. This mechanism's experts will be listening to victims, families, and officials for the first time, learning how the human rights violations they have documented over the past two years are affecting communities in the United States.
The UN experts have been touring the United States, including visits to Washington DC, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York City. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, the panel spent time with the mothers of Philando Castile and Amir Locke, who were also killed by law enforcement in the city. The panel also heard from Black Minnesotans who have experienced racism at the hands of law enforcement, including those who have been incarcerated or have lost loved ones to police brutality.
Formerly incarcerated Minnesotans who had been sent to solitary confinement or segregation as juveniles told the UN panel how days left alone while in need of therapy or support left them with lifelong trauma and mental health issues. The UN has long recommended member states prohibit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has condemned the United States’ failure to curb police violence, saying in an interview with The Guardian that brutality against Black Americans had escalated since George Floyd’s murder. She has reintroduced a resolution to condemn police violence worldwide and has also proposed a House resolution condemning police brutality worldwide, calling for reallocating funding in the US toward mental health programs, counseling, and violence prevention; ending the use of militarized equipment and police tactics in the US and abroad; and prohibiting the sales of arms, ammunition, and “less-lethal” equipment to countries with documented human rights violations.
The UN panel will present a report on its findings to the UN later this year. The experts noted that slavery has left a deep and long-lasting entrenched legacy on the country, which can be perceived through generational trauma. Racial discrimination permeates all contacts with law enforcement, from the first contact – at times already in school – by means of racial profiling, arrest, detention, sentencing, and disenfranchisement in some states. The data available indicates a significant and disproportionate impact on individuals of African descent in all of these areas. The panel has called for addressing and unpacking the issue of poverty as it impacts people of African descent, moving from a criminal justice response to a human rights-centered response to poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness.
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