The United Nations Committee Against Torture released its report on the United States and its compliance with the Convention Against Torture. Remarkably, the committee indicated it was particularly concerned with reports of police violence in Chicago against young black and Latino people, who are allegedly profiled, harassed and subjected to “excessive force” by officers.
Earlier this month, a US delegation appeared before the committee as all countries that are signatories to the treaty banning torture are supposed to do every four years. Committee members were able to ask officials in the delegation any questions. Delegations from civil society organizations were also able to submit “shadow reports” on the US that committee would use to help them review the country’s record.
The US government’s insistence that a federal law specifically prohibiting torture is unnecessary, holds a “restrictive interpretation” of how the treaty applies to “any territory” under US control, captives remain in indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay prison and hunger strikers are subject to cruel and inhuman forced-feeding and the failure to appropriately hold officials accountable for torture were each some of the concerns.
Yet, even more remarkable was the fact that an entire section on police brutality and “excessive use of force” in the US solely focused on the Chicago Police Department.
The committee expressed “deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals. In this regard, the committee notes the alleged difficulties to hold police officers and their employers accountable for abuses.”
“While noting the information provided by the delegation that over the past five years 20 investigations were opened into allegations of systematic police department violations, and over 330 police officers were criminally prosecuted, the Committee regrets the lack of statistical data available on allegations of police brutality and the lack of information on the result of the investigations undertaken in respect of those allegations,” the report added.
The committee proceeded to address the issue of torture committed by Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge and other police officers between 1972 and 1991 and share its dismay that no officer has been “convicted for these acts of torture for reasons including the statute of limitations expiring.”
It acknowledged that a federal investigation had asserted there were no “prosecutable constitutional violations” uncovered, however, the committee criticized the fact that the “vast majority of those tortured—most of them African Americans—have received no compensation for the extensive injuries suffered.”
What stands out is how what has been happening in St. Louis County, Missouri, particularly Ferguson, went unmentioned in the report. There is nothing about the shooting of Michael Brown. The increased militarization of police activities is noted, but the primary concern of the committee is Chicago police.
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This is largely a result of a Chicago-based grassroots organization, We Charge Genocide, which produced a thorough “shadow report” and traveled to Geneva to present their findings to the UN committee. And the organization was pleased with their success, that the group’s experiences formed the “bedrock” of the committee’s concerns and recommendations.
“We went to Geneva as a delegation of We Charge Genocide with the intention of getting Chicago visibly named as a site for systematic, horrific & punitive police violence against Black and Brown youth on a daily basis, and it is safe to say that we achieved our goal,” the organization declared in a statement provided to Firedoglake.
The organization was “overwhelmed with gratitude” that police violence was “specifically named as a deep concern.”
“While going to Geneva to present our report on police violence against Black & Brown youth in Chicago was not our end goal as We Charge Genocide, we feel a slight sense of relief in the fact that the violence that Black and Brown youth systematically experience every day in Chicago is now getting the attention, internationally, that it deserves, which will only serve as an uplifting foundation in our continued work in challenging police violence in Chicago.”
Additionally, the committee highlighted Dominique Franklin Jr. of Sauk Village, Illinois, who died after Chicago police used a taser on him. The committee recommended that the US establish a “high threshold” for taser use and expressly prohibit “their use
on children and pregnant women.”
Without the efforts of We Charge Genocide, the committee would not have mentioned Franklin in its section on restricting the use of tasers.
There also would have been no recommendation that the Chicago City Council pass the “Reparations for Chicago Police Torture Survivors” ordinance.
The committee’s criticisms and recommendations were released at a time when protests against police violence are happening all over the country after a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.
“This report—along with the voices of Americans protesting around the country this week—is a wake-up call for police who think they can act with impunity,” American Civil Liberties Union Human Rights Program Director Jamil Dakwar said. “It’s time for systemic policing reforms and effective oversight that make sure law enforcement agencies treat all citizens with equal respect and hold officers accountable when they cross the line.”
UN Committee Against Torture report on US record [PDF]