Police Brutality Goes Before UN

ferguson protest
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Hopefully, the situation is still fresh in your mind. On Aug. 9, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. There are conflicting reports of what happened, with the police offering an account that has changed several times over, each account claiming that Wilson acted in self-defense. Witnesses, however, have recounted a consistent detailing of the event, wherein Brown was unduly attacked after already being in a prone, surrendering position.

Though the names Michael Brown and Darren Wilson have become well-known, those of Brown’s parents, Michael Brown, Sr. and Leslie McSpadden, may soon come to the forefront of national attention. The two are preparing to travel to Geneva, Switzerland for the 53rd Session of the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture to present the details of their son’s death and speak on police brutality in the United States. The event will take place on Nov. 12 and 13.

This address to the UN has precedent in recent statements from the international organization. Back in August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) called on the U.S. to end the trend of excessive force by police. “[Michael Brown’s shooting] is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials,” said Noureddine Amir, the vice chairman for CERD.

We ought not understand this as a dramatic response to a sudden, unusual act of violence. McSpadden and Brown, Sr. are fighting to give voice to the continuing traumas of police brutality in the U.S.

There is, I think, an attitude of moral superiority that permeates the dominant American discourse. This is a country that has spread its military forces across the world in order to supposedly ensure the health of global democracy. Supposedly. And I have had conversations with people who, situated nicely in their comforts, wave away suggestions that civil rights in the U.S. remain to be won.

But we must consider the concrete facts. When comparing the rates between white and black people, the latter were over 20 times more likely to die in the hands of police from 2010 to 2012. This translated to 313 deaths of black people in 2012, or approximately one every 28 hours. Black people constitute 40 percent of the prison population, despite making up only 13.1 percent of the population. In New York City, 85 percent of black people and Latinos stopped by police are frisked, compared to a rate of only 8 percent for whites stopped.

The manifestations of racialized police brutality and excessive force are numerous, and even one who is totally resistant to seriously discussing American ideology cannot dispute that there are concrete differences between the way that people of color and white people are treated by the police.

This is not a time for Americans to grow solemn, turn inward and ask, “What has gone wrong?”.

Our country supports a structure of oppression and cruelty that must be confronted head-on, not as some small failing of the national ethos, but as a mechanism of violence that has existed thus far as an essential part of American society.
Our country is one built on exploitation and oppression; it is in our country’s genetic code. We were built up on slave labor, and businesses to this day benefit from forced prisoner labor.

We cannot afford to treat this as some abstract moral conundrum: this is about the deaths of innocent people by the hands of police who can frequently act with nigh impunity.

As McSpadden and Brown, Sr. prepare to speak before the UN, we can only hope that this will place pressure on the U.S. to meaningfully change. The truth is that the U.S., willful as it is, will not be easily swayed. Any pressure that will change our country’s swaggering indifference towards, and outright support of, police brutality must come from within.

These incidences do not represent ‘accidents’ or failings in the system. They are a sign that the system of law enforcement (and the legal system as a whole) is functioning as intended. The problem, then, is what the American legal framework intends to do.
This is not a problem to be dealt with easily, and solutions will not come quickly. The announcement of whether Wilson could be mere days away, and history gives us little reason to believe that justice will be served.

But I urge every reader to begin the work of uprooting the American environment of police terror— challenge the attitudes of your friends and family, research the history of police brutality, participate in demonstrations and recognize that this isn’t how it has to be.

Editorials Editor Rhett Henry is a College senior from Lawrenceville, Georgia.