UN Committee Against Torture and Police Brutality in the United States

Up until now, I’ve been silent here at Twice Cooked about the Michael Brown shooting, Eric Garner, and the two shameful grand jury decisions that have allowed their killings to go unexamined because the perpetrators wear blue and the victims are brown. In part, that silence is a practical matter: the same confluence of life stuff that has reduced my posting frequency about food has eradicated my ability to post about politics. And in part, that silence is because I don’t feel I have anything new to add to the conversation: police violence is well inside my sphere of horror, but far outside the sphere of issues to which I can claim any kind of knowledge, firsthand, scholarly, or otherwise.

But this morning, I think that may have changed. I think that I can indeed add something useful. Last week, the United Nations Committee Against Torture released a report about abuse in the United States. It covers many of the usual suspects for this sort of report: Guantanamo, prisoners’ rights, and the death penalty. But there is also a section about police brutality that is specific and relevant here.

Early in November, Michael Brown’s family traveled to Geneva to appear before the Committee (Washington Post reports).  And while they are not specifically mentioned in the report, the influence of Ferguson, and the pattern of institutional violence that has made the events in Ferguson so explosive, is definitely present.  The Committee, the report reads, expresses its deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.  Unarmed black individuals, I think we could probably all agree, is a significant choice of words.

As far as I can tell, the Committee Against Torture’s report [PDF] has received little in the way of media coverage, thus far. And it definitely deserves to be read. So it seems to me that the thing to do is to post that section here in full.

Excessive use of force and police brutality

26. The Committee is concerned about numerous reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and LGBTI individuals, racial profiling by police and immigration offices and growing militarization of policing activities. The Committee is particularly concerned at the reported current police violence in Chicago,especially against African-American and Latino young people who are allegedly being consistently profiled,harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers. It also expresses its 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. With regard to the acts of torture committed by CPD Commander Jon Burge and others under his command between 1972 and 1991, the Committee notes the information provided by the State party that a federal rights investigation did not develop sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that prosecutable constitutional violations occurred. However, it remains concerned that, despite the fact that Jon Burge was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, no Chicago police officer has been convicted for these acts of torture for reasons including the statute of limitations expiring. While noting that several victims were ultimately exonerated of the underlying crimes, the vast majority of those tortured — most of them African Americans — have received no compensation for the extensive injuries suffered (arts. 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16).

The State party should:

(a) Ensure that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism with no institutional or hierarchical connection between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators;

(b) Prosecute persons suspected of torture or ill-treatment and, if found guilty, ensure that they are punished in accordance with the gravit y of their acts;

(c) Provide effective remedies and rehabilitation to the victims;

(d) Provide redress for CPD torture survivors by supporting the passage of the Ordinance entitled Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.

Definitely — if this is useful, please pass it on.