THIS week, I went through a damning UN report about discrimination against particularly people of African descent in the US. It was scathing. But then again, that was unsurprising.
There have been way too many reports of brutal attacks on African-Americans across all states in the US in the past. The main culprits – men and women in uniform, the police – are all a law unto themselves when it comes to the rights of the black people and other minorities in the land often projected as a haven for freedom, democracy and a bill of rights.
According to the UN International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement, “systematic racism against people of African descent pervades America’s police forces and criminal justice system”.
From the report, as quoted above, it seems like African-Americans are truly caught between a rock and hard place. Not only are they object of ridicule, scorn and often fatal attacks from the law enforcement officers, “the justice system” – the courts – are also stacked against them.
This, in my view, reflects the deep, deep depths of the scourge of racism in the US society. And, unless a murder is as public as that of say, George Floyd, the mainstream media seldom make the plight of the minority black population a focus of their interest.
In other words, the entire system is heavily pitted against people of African descent who are born-and-bred and living in the US in 2023.
I emphasise the time because I do not wish this to sound like a report from yesteryears. It is fresh, having been issued a mere eight weeks ago by a reputable body with no malicious intent to cause the reputational damage to the US authorities.
The report is based on highly credible research conducted by the UN Mechanism’s officials who heard testimonies from some 133 affected individuals. They also visited five detention centres and also held meetings with civil society groups.
They also interacted with “a range of government and police authorities in the Districts of Columbia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis (where George Floyd was killed when a white police officer put his knee on his neck for nine minutes, suffocating him) and also in New York City.
It is clear, therefore, that the research findings are credible. It was a qualitative research project that left nothing to chance.
An expert member of the Mechanism, Tracie Keesee, says in the report: “In all the cities we went to, we heard dozens of heart-breaking testimonies on how victims do not get justice or redress. This is not new, and it’s unacceptable.”
Keesee adds: “This is a systemic issue that calls for a systemic response. All actors involved, including police departments and police unions, must join forces to combat the prevailing impunity.”
For me, the racial discrimination-inspired fatalities aside, what I find to be truly a case of rubbing salt into the wound is the “prevailing impunity”.
In other words, law-breakers – in police uniform or plain clothes – can wilfully unleash mayhem upon their fellow country men and women on grounds of their race in the full knowledge that consequence management is zero.
That is how the system is structured. To fight against it is to hit against a brick wall. It’s a sad state of affairs for people of colour living in the US. The dice is heavily loaded against them and it’s all because of the colour of their skin.
Hence, the UN Mechanism was shocked and condemned “the general overuse of incarceration and criminal supervision”. It also condemned “the appalling over-representation of people of African descent in the criminal justice system”.
The report is so devastating that it really paints a picture of America rarely seen globally.
It found that “racism in the US – a legacy of slavery, the slave trade, and one hundred years of legalized apartheid that followed slavery’s abolition – continues to exist today in the form of racial profiling, police killings, and many other human rights violations”.
The sad truth about such excesses is that they take place every day, with “impunity”. And where suspects are caught and brought before the courts, oftentimes justice is hardly ever done.
I know that detractors of the UN Mechanism’s report will argue otherwise, claiming that the judiciary is independent. The fact laid bare is, however, that the rot runs too deep and too broad across the system.
So sad, because in law, all citizens are presumed equal before jurists. Yet in practice the opposite is true. This is a daily reality for scores of African-Americans.
Subtle racism, concealed in all manner of nefarious activities, is a constant source of discomfort for Black families in the land of their birth.
According to the UN Mechanism’s report, “of the more than 1000 cases of killings by police each year, only 1% result in officers being charged”.
The report further warns that the killings will most likely continue to be lived experience for many African-Americans, “unless use of force regulations in the US are reformed in accordance with international standards”.
The administration of President Joe Biden – the Democrats – historically project themselves as more pro-Black than their counterparts in the Republican Party.
But the reality is, it all looks immaterial as to which party governs at any particular time – the rotten, racist system remains intact.
Biden himself ascended to power over his public posture that sought to project his political opponents led by former president Donald Trump as racist. From the report above, it all looks like the case of “the pot calling the kettle black”, pardon the pun.
Finally, one of the authors of the report, an expert in the name of Juan Mendez, declares: “We reject the ‘bad apple’ theory. There is strong evidence suggesting that the abusive behaviour of some individual police officers is part of a broader and menacing pattern.”
He adds: “Law enforcement in the United States share and reproduce values, attitudes and stereotypes of US society and institutions. These must be reformed.”
These are damning findings by a reputable body that has no baggage. Reflecting on the mirror, one only hopes that the Biden administration will take the report to heart and seek to redress the glaring fault lines as duly highlighted.
The US must become home to all of its people regardless of their skin colour, religion, creed or sexual orientation. “The leader of the Free world”, as the US is often referred to, must lead by example. But then again, one can only see through the disguised racism in Washington’s foreign policy towards the Palestinian people that perhaps racial discrimination is in fact America’s stock-in-trade.