The families of more than 140 Black people killed by US police—including relatives of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Michael Brown—urged the United Nations in a letter on Monday to push forward with its plans to investigate systemic racism and policing in the US and beyond.
"The epidemic of police violence has been directly and disproportionately targeted at people of color,” the letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet reads, which was also signed by numerous civil rights and activist groups. “Indigenous People and people of African descent experience the highest rates of fatal police shootings, followed by Latinx people. ”
“We believe that a robust international accountability mechanism would further support and complement, not undermine, efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States, especially in the context of police violence against people of African descent,” the letter continues.
Last summer, many of these families pushed the UN to investigate the US specifically for the huge amounts of police violence it directs towards people of colour. In response, the international body announced a resolution urging 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 well as an investigation into systemic racism against Africans and their descendants around the world.
Monday’s letter says this decision was a “watered-down resolution due to enormous diplomatic pressure from the United States,” but nonetheless thanked the body for being “the world’s collective human rights conscience.”
The new letter also urged the UN Human Rights Council to make specific recommendations to relevant countries after its investigation, including those that take into account reparations for slavery and colonialism, which the letter described as “grave violations of international law.”
Last year, the families also called on the UN to conduct public hearings and community outreach, as well as examine the history of “racist policing” in the US and the “entrenched impunity” that allows police to kill Black people without facing any consequences.
In 2019, Black and indigenous people were three times more likely than white people to be shot by police, and officers were one of the leading causes of death for young men of colour.
Between 2013 and 2020, according to Monday’s letter, more than 98 per cent of the time, police who killed people faced no charges.
“Police violence is not a uniquely American problem, but the impunity and disproportionate killing of Black, Brown and Indigenous people at the hands of law enforcement are,” Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s human rights programme, told The Guardian. “It requires the entire international community to act.”
The renewed calls for UN accountability are part of a growing international movement to hold the US, which often criticizes other countries for human rights violations, responsible for its own abuses at home.
Last month, a group of top human rights lawyers in 11 countries accused the US policing system of committing crimes against humanity against Black people, including “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhuman acts,” which could merit investigation and eventual prosecution before the International Criminal Court.
The Trump administration withdrew the US from the UN Human Rights Council in 2018, citing a perceived anti-Israel bias, and the Biden administration rejoined the body.