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US police killings of black Americans constitute crimes against humanity, according to international inquiry

In a devastating report, human rights experts ask the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to open an immediate investigation

The systematic murder and mutilation of unarmed African Americans by the police amounts to crimes against humanity that should be investigated and prosecuted under international law, concluded an investigation into United States police brutality by leading human rights lawyers in Worldwide.

A week after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the death of George Floyd, the continuing epidemic of police murders of blacks and women in the United States has now attracted sizzling international attention.

In a devastating 188-page report, human rights experts from 11 countries hold the United States accountable for what they say is a long history of violations of international law that, in some cases, reaches the level of crimes against humanity.

They point to what they call “police killings” as well as “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhumane acts” as systematic attacks on the black community that meet the definition of such crimes.

They also call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to open an immediate investigation into prosecutions.

“This finding of crimes against humanity was not given lightly, we included it with a very clear mind,” said Hina Jilani, one of the 12 commissioners who led the investigation, to the Guardian. “We examined all the facts and concluded that there are situations in the United States that require urgent ICC scrutiny.”

Among other conclusions, the commission accuses the United States of:

violate their international human rights obligations, both in terms of laws governing policing and police practices, including traffic stops targeting blacks and race-based stops and twists;
tolerate an “alarming national standard of disproportionate use of lethal force not only by firearms, but also by Tasers” against blacks;
operating a “culture of impunity” in which police officers are rarely held accountable, while their homicidal actions are considered to be “just a few bad apples”.

Demonstrators denouncing systemic racism in law enforcement face off with a line of NYPD officers, 4 June 2020.
Source: theguardian

Commissioners also accuse African Americans of being frequently subjected to torture at the hands of the police. They claim that the use of strangulations and other violent restrictions during prisons is tantamount to torture – also a crime against humanity under international law.

Jilani, who is president of the World Organization against Torture, said last week’s guilty verdict in Floyd’s murder corroborated the commission’s views. “He clarified to us that the use of force during an individual’s arrest is not only dehumanizing, but clearly equates to torture and potential loss of life.”

The report came directly from the fomentation that swept the country after Floyd’s assassination last May. As protests erupted across the country and around the world, the families of Floyd and other blacks killed by the police in recent years have asked the UN to open an official inquiry into the shootings.

Under intense pressure from the Trump administration, however, the UN avoided being drawn into the debate. A coalition of three leading advocacy organizations – the United States-based National Black Lawyers Conference and the National Lawyers Association and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers worldwide – joined the gap, joining forces to conduct their own independent inquiry about US police brutality.

A panel of commissioners from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean was assembled to examine the police violence and structural racism that underlies it. Virtual public hearings were held earlier this year, with testimonies from family members of the victims of some of the most notorious police killings in recent times.

Among the 44 blacks who died or were maimed by the police and whose cases were placed in the commission’s spotlight were: Floyd; Sean Bell, killed on his wedding day in 2006 after the police fired 50 bullets; Eric Garner, who died in a choke in 2014, shouting “I can’t breathe”; Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old girl playing with a toy gun fired in 2014 seconds after the police arrived; Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old whose death started the Black Lives Matter movement; Freddie Gray, who died in 2015 after going through a “tough ride” in a police van; and Breonna Taylor, killed while she slept in a police raid on her home in March 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Tomiko Shine holds up a poster of Tamir Rice during a protest in Washington, 1 December 2014.
Source: theguardian

On Monday, the United States Department of Justice announced that it was conducting a civil rights inquiry into police practices in Louisville.

Jilani told the Guardian that, as a native of Pakistan, who has participated in many UN investigations of human rights abuses, she is familiar with reports of extreme brutality by police authorities. “But even I found the testimonies we heard in the United States extremely distressing. I was surprised that this country, which claims to be a global champion of human rights, does not comply with international law. “

She added that, while listening to relatives of victims of police shooting tell their stories, “it became clear that this was no longer an account of individual trauma, it was an account of trauma inflicted on an entire section of the population of the United States.”

The commission’s report puts the human impact of systemic discrimination against African Americans in strict terms. It says that the US operates two legal systems.

“One is for whites and the other for people of African descent,” he said.

During public hearings held in January and February, family members made a more personal impression of what such trauma entails. Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean Bell’s wife, testified: “Imagine living in a world where you must explain to your children that their father, an unarmed fiance on the morning of their wedding, can be justifiably killed in a volley of 50 police bullets. “

One of the most visceral reports was made by Dominic Archibald, the mother of Nathaniel Pickett, who was shot dead by a police officer in 2018 for doing nothing but walking unarmed down the street. In his testimony, Archibald began by explaining that “Nate” was his only son.

“He was my legacy, my faith in the present moment and my hope for the future. Can I put that impact in words? Would anyone understand? “, She said.

Answering her own question, she continued: “That answer is no. Nate was my perfect gift from God. When he was killed, all the hopes and dreams in my head were shattered, taken away and relegated to statistics. “

The report presents its own surprising figures. Unarmed blacks are almost four times more likely to be killed by the police than their white counterparts.

Since 2005, about 15,000 people have been killed by law enforcement – a rate of around 1,000 each year. In the same period, only 104 police officers were charged with homicide or wrongful death in relation to the facts that occurred, and of these, only 35 were convicted of a crime.

A photo of Sean Bell with Nicole Paultre Bell and one of his children at a candlelight memorial at the scene of his shooting in the Queens borough of New York, 29 November 2006.
Source: theguardian

Commissioners make several demands on the government and the United States Congress. They want to see the demilitarization of local police forces and the ban on preventive arrest warrants that allow police to break into black homes like Breonna Taylor’s without warning and often for no reason.

They also want an end to qualified immunity, whereby law enforcement officials avoid civil actions. Commissioners say the loophole “amounts to tolerating brutal police violence”.

But the most controversial demand is likely to be the summons of the ICC prosecutor to launch an investigation against the United States for crimes against humanity. It is questionable how effective this tactic would be, even if such an investigation were initiated, since the United States refused to recognize the International Criminal Court.

Jilani said he hoped the US government would see that such an action would support much needed changes. “We feel that the United States would benefit if individual police officers were further deterred from resorting to unjustified force, knowing that some kind of international criminal responsibility could be held responsible against them.”

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