Racial Justice and Police Violence

Discriminatory police violence is not a new phenomenon in the United States, but reinvigorated protests and the organizing efforts of human rights defenders in the movement for Black lives and other community groups have thrust ongoing injustices committed by law enforcement officers into the public eye in recent years.

In the wake of increased outrage over extrajudicial killings of people of color by the police in the United States, the Global Justice Clinic teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law, and Professor Justin Hansford of Howard University School of Law, to pursue a project on racial justice and police violence in 2015-2016. The project aimed to increase public scrutiny of police practices and inform reform efforts by exposing the gaps between the requirements of international human rights law and the US legal framework that regulates the use of force by police and police training, methods, and accountability.

Together with its partners, the Clinic submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights an analysis of excessive use of force by police against Black Americans, as part of a thematic hearing held by the Commission in October 2015. The hearing provided an opportunity for family members of victims of police violence and legal experts to address the Commission and US government officials, who were called to respond.

The Clinic’s submission and the thematic hearing held in October 2015 helped inform the Inter-American Commission’s preparation of a report on the use of police force against African-Americans in the United States and its human rights implications. As part of that effort, led by Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and Racial Discrimination, the Commission has undertaken site visits to several locations in the United States. In December 2017, the Commission held a second thematic hearing on police killings in the United States, co-sponsored by the ACLU and RFK Human Rights. The Commission’s final report on police use of force against Black Americans is expected to be released in May 2018.

In December 2015, an abridged version of the analysis was submitted to the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the eve of its visit to assess the state of racial disparities in the United States.

The submissions provide an overview of how certain policing laws, policies, and practices fall short of international standards and contravene the international human rights obligations of the United States in ways that put Black Americans at a uniquely high risk of police violence.


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