Police Brutality (CERD Shadow Report, 2008)

Since the advent of the first state-sponsored police forces in the U.S. – slave patrols - racialized
policing has been a feature of the American landscape. Indeed, racial profiling and police
brutality have their roots in enforcement of Slave Codes, and later Black Codes and Jim Crow
segregation laws. We Charge Genocide, a petition submitted to the UN by the Civil Rights
Congress in 1951, documented thousands of incidents of police violence against African
Americans alone. Police brutality against Native Americans has also been a constant of colonial
culture in the U.S. Official studies, as well as those of domestic and international civil and
human rights organizations, have consistently found that people and communities of color are
disproportionately subjected to human rights violations at the hands of law enforcement officers,
ranging from pervasive verbal abuse and harassment, racial profiling, routine stops and frisks
based solely on race or gender to excessive force, unjustified shootings, and torture.
Increased national and international attention was brought to bear on the issue of police brutality,
its widespread nature, and its disproportionate impact on people of color in the U.S. in the 1990s
following the release of a videotape documenting the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles
police. Over the course of the ensuing decade, U.S. NGOs, including the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty
International documented widespread abuses by law enforcement agents across the country.
Indeed, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism has stated that "[t]he use of
excessive force by police against African Americans, Asian Americans, Arabs and Indians has
been cited as one of the most pressing human rights problems facing the United States." In
2000, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, an independent, bipartisan agency established by
Congress in 1957, reviewed the findings of its 1981 report Who is Guarding the Guardians: A
Report on Police Practices, and concluded that “[m]any of its findings and recommendations
still ring true today,” noting that “[r]eports of alleged police brutality, harassment, and
misconduct continue to spread throughout the country. People of color, women, and the poor are
groups of Americans that seem to bear the brunt of the abuse…”
Since this Committee’s 2001 review of the U.S., during which it expressed concern regarding
incidents of police brutality and deaths in custody at the hands of U.S. law enforcement officers,
there have been dramatic increases in law enforcement powers in the name of waging the “war
on terror” in the wake of September 11, 2001. Consequently, both public discussion and
accountability with respect to the use of excessive force against people of color and racial profiling have eroded significantly. Systemic abuse of people of color by law enforcement
officers has not only continued since 2001 but has worsened in both practice and severity.
According to a representative of the NAACP, “the degree to which police brutality occurs…is
the worst I’ve seen in 50 years.”
Moreover, racial profiling by law enforcement officials and racially disproportionate
concentration of law enforcement efforts continues to afflict African American, Latino/a and
Native American communities in the U.S., and post September 11, has escalated with respect to
Arab, South Asian, Middle Eastern and Muslim men and women. As recognized by the
Declaration of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and
related intolerance, such racially discriminatory conduct, policies, and practices on the part of
law enforcement agencies substantially contribute to persistent racial disparities in the criminal
justice system and in the incarcerated population. As law enforcement officers typically
represent the initial point of contact with the criminal justice system, racially discriminatory
stops, searches and arrests, particularly in the context of the “war on drugs” and "quality of life"
strategies, fuel racial disparities in incarceration rates in the U.S.
This report addresses the U.S. government's failure to comply with its obligations under the
Convention to prevent and punish acts of excessive force, rape, sexual abuse, and racial profiling
committed by law enforcement officers against people of color. While the U.S. government
references various law enforcement training programs in its report, it is clear that that these are
ineffective in addressing and deterring violations of the Convention by law enforcement officers.
This report will also examine the failure of existing legislative and judicial remedies cited by the
U.S. as evidence of its compliance with the Convention to afford victims of racially
discriminatory law enforcement practices vindication of their human rights, financial
compensation, or systemic change. It concludes by offering concrete recommendations to bring
the U.S. into compliance with the Convention.