"Extrajudicial killings of Black Americans by policemen in the United States is one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations recorded in history," said Collette Flanagan, founder and CEO of Mothers Against Police Brutality, which is among the group signatories.
"I am in hopes that the U.N. will summon the courage from its previous extraordinary works to hold the U.S. accountable for its violations of human rights by establishing a commission of inquiry," said Flanagan, whose son, Clinton Allen, was shot to death by a Dallas police officer in March 2013.
The letter to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet comes ahead of her report on systemic racism and law enforcement abuses against people of African descent, which is expected to include the context of slavery and colonialism.
That report was ordered by a U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolutionpassed less than a month after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, last year. His death prompted an earlier letter signed by victims' families and hundreds of groups. The new letter to Bachelet notes that "the council adopted a watered-down resolution due to enormous diplomatic pressure from the United States under the Trump administration and other allied countries."
The signatories--which include relatives of Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Michael Brown as well as the ACLU, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, U.S. Human Rights Network, and the International Service for Human Rights--urge the UNHRC to establish an independent commission of inquiry into the police killings and attacks on racial justice activists and journalists covering protests.
"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, and it requires the entire international community to act," said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program, in a statement.
"If the Biden administration is serious about addressing police violence and its pledge to lead by the power of example, it should welcome international scrutiny into the nation's domestic human rights record," he added. "The administration must heed the pleas of George Floyd's family and hundreds of other family members of victims of police violence to establish a U.N. commission of inquiry to hold the U.S. accountable for the rampant systemic racism that perpetuates law enforcement violence."
"While we commend the Biden administration for leading a cross-regional joint statement on countering racism and signaling other policy changes to address racial inequities," the letter says, "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 families and groups highlight that U.S. police kill nearly 1,000 people per year--including over 300 so far in 2021--but national data show that "98.3% of killings by police from 2013-2020 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime. Between 2005 and 2015, only 54 officers were charged after police-involved killings, despite the thousands of such incidents that occurred over the same time period."
"Impunity for police killings in the United States, especially those of people of African descent, continues unabated despite the recent settlement in the George Floyd civil lawsuit and the guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis City police officer who murdered him," the letter adds. "Furthermore, federalism in the United States, long-standing legal obstacles to achieving justice for police killings, and decentralized police institutions of over 18,000 law enforcement agencies (that are not directly accountable to the federal Executive Branch) make it extremely daunting to end impunity, even for well-intentioned federal administrations."
The signatories urge Bachelet to remind members of the UNHRC "that the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism were grave violations of international law that require states to make reparations proportionate to the harms committed and to ensure that structures in the society that are perpetuating the injustices of the past are transformed" as well as to call on them to "adopt a national plan of action to eliminate systemic racism and racial discrimination and to double their efforts and allocation of resources to achieve racial equality including through the adoption of reparations schemes to remedy historic racial injustices."
The families and groups also sent a second letter Monday to ministers of foreign affairs of African states, expressing appreciation for their governments' leadership on the topic and urging them to continue pressuring the UNHRC to establish an inquiry. They write, "We share the high commissioners assessment that we cannot let the urgency felt in the council in June 2020 subside."
"It's past time for our nation to tackle racial inequity, injustice, and discrimination that permeates American life and institutions," said Sakira Cook, senior director of the Justice Reform Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "While progress has come slowly, hopefully an international inquiry can help produce transformative change more rapidly."
Vickie Casanova-Willis, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, applauded the "courageous and historic actions of family members and allies which generated an outcry that has reverberated around the world."
"Their heart-wrenching cries for justice demand full accountability and implementation of the recommendations in [the June 2020 resolution] to ensure that not one more person is murdered by state violence, as police continue to execute African American/African/African Descendant people at a genocidal rate," she declared. "Continued solidarity demanding human rights standards of accountability is vital to ensure they did not die in vain."