August 9, 2015
UNDER INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW, BLACK LIVES MATTER
Are you empathetic or apathetic about the systemic killing of unarmed black men by police officers across the country?
Did Jonathan Ferrill’s life matter to Charlotte police officer Randall Kerrick when he mercilessly shot him 10 times, killing the injured and unarmed former FAMU student who was only seeking assistance after his car crashed? Would Ferrill have killed Kerrick if he were white?
Would Samuel Dubose be stopped, let alone gunned down, by University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing if he were white?
Most police officers work hard to protect the public for wages hardly commensurate with the trying issues they confront daily. Yet, we are in the midst of a national crisis, and the disheartening lack of empathy for victims of the fascist-like killing of black men, women and children across the country raises questions about the prevalence of white-supremacist ideology in American culture. State violence against blacks has reached a new plateau that has violated the International Bill of Rights and shocked the conscience of the international community.
Racial equality is an essential human-rights principle. In 1964 Malcolm X prophetically argued that the only way to combat state violence in the U.S. is by filing human-rights claims before the United Nations to “indict Uncle Sam for the continued criminal injustices that our people experience in this government.”
It’s ironic that 50 years later the parents of Mike Brown testified before the U.N. Torture Committee for the unjust killing of their son. How much progress have we made?
For the first time in American history, the international community has expressed unwavering concern about the welfare of African-Americans. The U.S., by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1994, is obligated to condemn and eliminate racism, guarantee equality before the law, protect African-Americans from unlawful state violence and bodily harm, and ensure that all public authorities including all police agencies treat racial minorities with dignity.
The extrajudicial killing of black men has become an issue of concern for the United Nations. In its review of U.S. compliance with CERD in September 2014, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed great concern about the “brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials” against African-Americans. It sternly urged the U.S. to “combat and end” racial profiling by all law enforcement officials as well as racially motivated surveillance, monitoring and intelligence gathering.
The CERD Committee called on the U.S. to promptly investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators, re-open and investigate cases when new evidence is presented, adequately compensate victims and “intensify its efforts to prevent the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials.” It also called upon the U.S. to “eliminate racial disparities at all stages of the criminal justice system” including amending “laws and policies leading to racially disparate impacts at the federal, state and local levels,” especially among juveniles.
The CERD Committee’s concerns were echoed by other U.N. human-rights committees and the current and former U.N. high commissioners for human rights, who sternly condemned police brutality against African-Americans and the disproportionate number of blacks on death row.
CERD’s scathing pronouncements were endorsed by five U.N. experts. All five articulated critical misgiving about the lack of racial diversity in police agencies, grand-jury decisions not to indict in the face of conflicting evidence, the pattern of excessive force aimed at African-Americans and racial profiling.
The era of denying America’s race condition has ended. We are a post-Jim Crow society unwilling to confront and lay to rest our violent white-supremacist cultural psychology. Accordingly, deadly police force and racialized violence has compromised America’s assumed moral hegemony among allies and adversaries.
The targeted killing and maltreatment of African-Americans, particularly men, amounts to systematic and fundamental human-rights abuses. These abuses have galvanized the conscience of the world and must be challenged in international forums, including by filing human-rights claims in the United Nations and other international bodies.
Jeremy I. Levitt is a distinguished professor of international law at Florida A&M University College of Law.