Grand jury verdicts in the United States which resulted in the decisions to not bring to trial the cases of two unarmed African-American men killed by police forces have sparked “legitimate concerns” regarding policing practices across the country, a group of United Nations human rights experts said today.
Michael Brown, an African-American teenager from Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, an African-American man from New York City, were both killed in separate incidents by white police officers after they had reportedly surrendered. Their deaths, and the grand jury decisions which followed them, have set off a wave of protests across the US against what many perceive to be a broader pattern of lethal police brutality directed at minorities, say the UN rights experts.
“There are numerous complaints stating that African-Americans are disproportionally affected by such practices of racial profiling and the use of disproportionate and often lethal force,” the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, said in a news release.
“African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be pulled over by police officers for minor traffic offences than white persons. Such practices must be eradicated.”
The UN experts welcomed US President Barack Obama’s proposed measures to address what has been described as “consistent allegations of inappropriate policing practices” through trust-building initiatives between police forces and the communities they are assigned to protect. But, the experts cautioned, such measures should also “recognize the need for training and to ensure that minorities are recruited into the police in which they are under-represented.”
“The Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s cases have added to our existing concerns over the longstanding prevalence of racial discrimination faced by African-Americans, particularly in relation to access to justice and discriminatory police practices,” added human rights expert Mireille Fanon Mendes France, who currently heads the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
“We urge a comprehensive examination of all laws that could have discriminatory impact on African-Americans to ensure that such laws are in full compliance with the country’s international legal obligations and relevant international standards.”
The Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, meanwhile, expressed concern over the grand jury decision to avoid a trial process which, she said, would have ensured that justice take its proper course, particularly in light of the apparent conflicting evidence that exists relating to both incidents.
“The decisions leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities,” Ms. Izsák explained.
Demonstrations in opposition to the grand jury decision on Eric Garner’s death spilled into their second consecutive night last night as protestors fanned out across New York, targeting the city’s most well-known locations, including Brooklyn Bridge and the ferry terminal to Staten Island, where Mr. Garner Lived. While the New York protests have been largely peaceful, according to media reports, confrontations between demonstrators and police in Ferguson have led to eruptions of violence including looting and the burning of cars.
Both the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, urged protestors and police to allow for peaceful demonstrations and refrain from fuelling further violence.
The Rapporteurs’ concerns follow a statement made by the UN human rights chief last week in which he expressed deep concern about the “disproportionate number of young African-Americans who die in encounters with police officers, as well as the disproportionate number of African Americans in US prisons and the disproportionate number of African-Americans on Death Row.”
“It is clear that, at least among some sectors of the population, there is a deep and festering lack of confidence in the fairness of the justice and law enforcement systems,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said.