Story at a glance

  • Systemic racism in the United States is killing Black Americans at higher rates than other populations, including at the hands of law enforcement.
  • Internationally, human rights lawyers have condemned police violence against Black Americans and brutality against citizens.
  • Victims of police violence and their families are asking the United Nations to step in and take immediate action.

The families of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Philando Castile and more than 100 other victims of fatal police violence are asking the United Nations (U.N.) to step in to address excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers in the United States. The call follows a recent report by human rights lawyers condemning systemic racism within U.S. law enforcement and police brutality against Black Americans. 

"We cannot exaggerate the unfathomable importance of this issue for millions of people and its implications on the full enjoyment of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms for people of African descent, Indigenous Peoples, and racial and ethnic minorities. In the United States alone, there are over a thousand people killed by law enforcement every year, below are just some of the signatures of the many family members, whose loved ones were killed by police that you will never hear of in the mainstream media. They have long been denied justice and accountability and treated as second class citizens; the opportunity to begin rectifying this wrong rests in your hands," wrote the families and dozens of civil society organizations in an open letter to Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.


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The letter cites a recent resolution adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Commission in June last year that commits to the "promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers."

As part of this, the resolution provides for a report on "systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent," as well as "government responses to anti racism peace process peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists."

"While we were disappointed that the Council adopted a watered-down resolution due to enormous diplomatic pressure from the United States and other allied countries, we consider the outcome of the urgent debate a crucial first step towards full accountability for systemic police violence against Black people in the United States and more generally against people of African descent around the world," says the letter, which recommends that the U.N. prioritize the investigation, specifically into the history of racist policing in the United States and by reaching out to affected communities, and hold public hearings for transparency. 


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Published on May 11, 2021