‘Status quo is untenable’: UN calls for end to police brutality against Black people

Highly critical UN report condemns ‘dehumanisation of people of African descent’ by law-enforcement across world

Nadine White
Monday 28 June 2021 15:40
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<p>“The dehumanisation of people of African descent […] has sustained and cultivated a tolerance for racial discrimination, inequality and violence,” the report says.</p>

“The dehumanisation of people of African descent […] has sustained and cultivated a tolerance for racial discrimination, inequality and violence,” the report says.

The United Nations has urged countries across the world, including the UK, to uproot systemic racism and end police brutality against Black people.

The report, commissioned in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, concludes that the global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer forced an overdue reckoning with racism and shifted debates towards a focus on the systemic nature of racism and the institutions that perpetrate it.

“The status quo is untenable,” the UN high commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said.

“Systemic racism needs a systemic response. There needs to be a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal approach to dismantling systems entrenched in centuries of discrimination and violence.

“We need a transformative approach that tackles the interconnected areas that drive racism, and lead to repeated, wholly avoidable, tragedies like the death of George Floyd.”

She added: “I am calling on all States to stop denying, and start dismantling, racism; to end impunity and build trust; to listen to the voices of people of African descent; and to confront past legacies and deliver redress.”

The report details the “compounding inequalities” and “stark socioeconomic and political marginalisation” that afflict people of African descent in many states across the world.

It references UK-specific examples such as that of Kevin Clarke, a vulnerable Black man, who died in police custody at Lewisham Hospital in 2018 following an incident in the Polsted Road area of Catford, southeast London.

In October 2020, an inquest jury found that Metropolitan Police officers’ excessive use of force contributed to his death.

The report looks closely at seven other global cases of police violence, including Clarke’s case: Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (United States); Janner García Palomino (Colombia) and Adama Traoré (France).

This comes months after the UK government’s race commission published a highly contested report that suggested that Britain isn’t institutionally racist.

Kevin Clarke, 35, told officers “I’m going to die” and “I can’t breathe” as he was put into handcuffs.

“The dehumanisation of people of African descent … has sustained and cultivated a tolerance for racial discrimination, inequality and violence,” the report says.

In examining deaths at the hands of law enforcement officials in different countries with varying legal systems, the report found “striking similarities” and patterns – including in the hurdles families face in accessing justice.

The high commissioner’s analysis of 190 deaths demonstrated that law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for human rights violations and crimes against people of African descent, due in part to deficient investigations, a lack of independent and robust oversight and complaint and accountability mechanisms, and a widespread “presumption of guilt” against people of African descent.

With rare exceptions, investigations, prosecutions, trials and judicial decisions fail to consider the role that racial discrimination, stereotypes and institutional bias may have played in the deaths.

This comes as Benjamin Monk, the West Mercia police officer who was found guilty of killing ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson after kicking and tasering him repeatedly, will be sentenced on Monday.

He is the first officer to have been found guilty of murder or manslaughter following a death in police contact or custody in England and Wales in 35 years.

Families of those who died after an encounter with law enforcement officials told UN human rights staff of their desire to establish the truth about how their loved ones died, to hold those responsible to account as well as to prevent others from suffering a similar fate.

Many of the families “felt continuously betrayed by the system”, and spoke of “a profound lack of trust”, the report notes, adding that “it often falls on victims and families to fight for accountability without adequate support”.

“Several families described to me the agony they faced in pursuing truth, justice and redress – and the distressing presumption that their loved ones somehow ‘deserved it’,” Bachelet said. “It is disheartening that the system is not stepping up to support them. This must change.”

The report also sets out concerns of “excessive policing of Black bodies and communities, making them feel threatened rather than protected”, citing the criminalisation of children of African descent as one key issue.

The analysis carried out by the UN is based on online consultations with over 340 individuals, mostly of African descent; over 110 written contributions.

Inquest, a leading human rights charity based in the UK, is one of the stakeholders that submitted evidence to the UN for this report.

Its director, Deborah Coles, told The Independent: “While the UK government is explicit in its denial of systemic racism, this UN report confronts them with the evidence. The disproportionate number of Black men who die after the use of lethal force and neglect by the state is at the sharp end of a continuum of violence and racism. There is a pattern of systemic racism in our policing and criminal justice system.

“Dismantling racism requires institutions and individuals to confront it, from government, to police, to health and social services.

“We welcome this damning report, which is directly informed by families bereaved by deaths in custody here and from across the globe; we hope it will spark national and international action, to prevent deaths and harm and ensure bereaved families can access justice and accountability.”

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