SECTION 1: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
1. The purpose of the Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racial Police Violence (Commission) is to examine whether widespread and systematic racist violence in policing against people of African descent in the United States of America (U.S.) has resulted in a continuing pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Commissioners find a pattern and practice of racist police violence in the U.S. in the context of a history of oppression dating back to the extermination of First Nations peoples, the enslavement of Africans, the militarization of U.S. society, and the continued perpetuation of structural racism.
2. The Commission was established in the wake of the public execution of George Floyd, after millions of people saw him tortured and choked to death by police officer Derek Chauvin. Massive protests against police violence towards people of African descent erupted throughout the U.S. and around the world. The families of Mr. Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown and Philando Castile joined 600 rights groups and petitioned the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) to appoint a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate systemic racist police violence and attendant human rights violations against people of African descent in the U.S. After succumbing to enormous pressure by the U.S. and its allies, the HRC instead directed the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to prepare a report on systemic racism and violations of international human rights by police against Africans and people of African descent throughout the world.
3. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers, National Conference of Black Lawyers, and National Lawyers Guild then launched this Commission of Inquiry to examine systemic racist police violence against people of African descent in the U.S. The twelve Commissioners—judges, lawyers, professors and experts from Pakistan, South Africa, Japan, India, Nigeria, France, Costa Rica, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, the United Kingdom, and Jamaica—held public hearings from January 18 to February 6, 2021.
4. All cases selected for the hearings involved the egregious and unjustified killing or maiming of individuals of African descent in the U.S., including: (1) the killing of unarmed individuals who posed no threat of death or serious bodily harm; (2) the killing of individuals fleeing the police who posed no serious threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officers they were fleeing or others; (3) the use of, or threat to use, physical or psychological intimidation to extract confessions; and (4) the maiming of individuals fleeing the police and/or who posed no serious threat of death or serious bodily harm to others.
5. There has been a long-standing scourge of white supremacy and racial capitalism, as well as slavery and its legacy, in the U.S. in which two systems of law exist: one for white people and another for people of African descent. Under color of law, Black people are targeted, surveilled, brutalized, maimed and killed by law enforcement officers with impunity as being Black is itself criminalized and devalued. Invariably, when a police killing of a person of African descent is known to have been unjustified, it is dismissed as merely the action or collective actions of “a few bad apples.” This excuse obscures the real problem, however, which is structural racism, embedded in the U.S. legal and policing systems.
6. The Commissioners conducted hearings into the cases of 44 Black people, all but one of whom was killed by police. The individual not killed was left paralyzed by police. Family members, attorneys, activists, and experts testified about the details of the killings, how the killings affected the families and communities of the victims, impediments and lack of access to remedies and the resulting impunity for perpetrators. After hearing the testimony and reviewing national data, the Commissioners conclude that both the relevant laws and police practices in the U.S. do not comply with the international human rights obligations of the U.S.
Summary of Findings and Recommendations
7. The Commissioners find violations of the rights to: life, security, freedom from torture, freedom from discrimination, mental health, access to remedies for violations, fair trial and presumption of innocence, and to be treated with humanity and respect. The Commissioners find violations of the State’s duty to provide medical care to detained persons; to ensure investigations of extrajudicial killings that are independent, competent, thorough and effective; and to provide prosecution of suspects and punishment of perpetrators to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable The Commissioners find that U.S. laws and police practices do not comply with the international standards on the use of force, which require legal basis, legitimate objective, necessity, precautions, proportionality, protection of life, non-discrimination, and accountability.
8. The Commissioners find that, within the cases they examined, a disproportionate use of excessive force by police led to the deaths of the 43 Black people in the cases they examined. This unlawful disproportionate use of force included shooting and the use of restraints and Tasers. The Commissioners find a alarming, national pattern of disproportionate use of deadly force not only by firearms but also by Tasers against people of African descent. The Commissioners similarly find a pattern of unlawful and excessive force employed against people of African descent by chokeholds and compression asphyxiation, by kneeling or standing on the victim, by cuffing the victim face down and by applying pressure to the victim’s head and neck.
9. The Commissioners find that the use of force against unarmed people of African descent during traffic and investigatory stops is driven by racial stereotypes and racial biases resulting in U.S. law enforcement agencies routinely targeting people of African descent for questioning, arrest and detention based on racist associations between Blackness and criminality. Because law enforcement authorities are constitutionally enabled to engage in pretextual stops, Black drivers are targeted by police officers who suspect them of crimes for no reason other than the color of their skin. The Commissioners find that pretextual traffic stops are a common precursor to police killings and uses of excessive force against people of African descent.
10. The Commissioners find that race-based street stops, otherwise known as “stop-and-frisk,” are a form of “order maintenance” policing that drives not only racially disparate rates of arrests, but also often triggers the use of deadly force by police. These stops are frequently based on police officers’ racial suspicion rather than reasonable suspicion. The continual harassment of Black people via stop-and-frisk is reminiscent of the socially accepted practice during the era of the slave patrols, when every white person had the right to control the movements and activities of Black people.
11. While the Fourth Amendment could serve as an important bulwark against police violence in Black communities, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment in a manner that expands state power to inflict violence against Black people. After the landmark Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s, the Court gave police nearly unfettered power, which they employ liberally to stop people whom they assume to be criminals, with little or no evidence.
12. Nevertheless, the Commissioners find a pattern of police violations of the Fourth Amendment rights of Black people to be secure in their persons, houses and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures. These violations include the securing of warrants that lacked probable cause due to reckless disregard for the truth of the allegations, including some based on information from unreliable informants. The Commissioners find a proliferation of the use of risky no-knock warrants. Police illegally entered the homes of many Black people without a valid warrant or exigent circumstances. And police repeatedly stopped Black people with no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. These Fourth Amendment violations invariably led to the use of excessive force, and ultimately, to police killings of Black people.
13. The Commissioners find that cis- and transgender Black women, girls and femmes are disproportionately killed by police in the United States. Cis- and trans Black women are routinely subjected to humiliating treatment, disrespect and mis-gendering by police who have injured or even killed them. The Commissioners find that the War on Drugs is a significant driver of police violence against Black women and girls. Numerous studies have concluded that Black women are disproportionately subjected to pretextual traffic stops, a law enforcement tactic otherwise known as racial profiling.
14. The Commissioners find that after victims of racist police violence are killed, their families and communities remain devastated. Many Black people are killed in broad daylight to intimidate communities and because officers don’t fear accountability. Spouses are widowed, children grow up without parents, and relatives suffer unimaginable pain. Generations of Black families are traumatized. Black people often suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of inter-generational psychological and emotional trauma from witnessing racist police violence. Distrustful of police, Black people refrain from calling the police.
15. In case after case, the Commissioners find evidence of an alarming pattern of destruction, loss and manipulation of evidence, coverups, obstruction of justice, and collusion between various arms of law enforcement in connection with the unjustified killings of unarmed persons of African descent. Police officers and their unions, prosecutors, coroners and “independent medical examiners” are accomplices in the service of impunity. The Commissioners also find a troubling pattern of creating false narratives and smear campaigns directed at victims and their families.
16. The Commissioners note the lack of independent and impartial review of police killings including the absence of judicial review of prosecutors’ virtually unfettered discretion. The Commissioners further note that the failure to remedy police misconduct amounts to condoning repeated instances of brutality that ultimately culminate in use of deadly force. The Commissioners find the police defense of qualified immunity amounts to condoning brutal police violence against persons of African descent, and creates a culture of impunity whereby offenders are not held accountable and families are left without redress.
17. The Commissioners find that the brutalization of Black people is compounded by the impunity afforded to offending police officers, most of whom are never charged with a crime. Those who do face charges are regularly acquitted or escape time in custody. Since prosecutors rely on officers for investigation and testimony, they have an inherent conflict of interest when reviewing police misconduct. The grand jury is often complicit through doing the prosecutor’s bidding and refusing to indict officers who then get away with murder.
18. Since the advent of the so-called Global War on Terror, the U.S. has prosecuted endless illegal and expensive wars, which enrich defense contractors. U.S. domestic police forces have benefited from these endless wars as well. Under Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon has distributed $5.4 billion worth of military equipment to police agencies since the law was passed a generation ago. Of that amount, $980 million–or 18 percent–was disbursed in 2014 alone. That was the year Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others were killed and when the Black Lives Matter movement intensified its opposition to police killings.
19. The Commissioners find a prima facie case of Crimes against Humanity warranting an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The crimes under the Rome Statute include: Murder, Severe Deprivation of Physical Liberty, Torture, Persecution of people of African descent, and other Inhuman Acts, which occurred in the context of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population of Black people in the U.S.
20. The International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States draws attention of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the findings and recommendations in its report and urges the High Commissioner to support the following in her report mandated by the Human Rights Council in its Resolution 43/1:
a. Constitution by the UNHRC of an independent Commission of Inquiry mandated to conduct full investigation into incidents of police violence against people of African descent in the United States and to determine, in particular, whether the level of violence constitutes gross violation of human rights and whether crimes under international criminal law have been and continue to be committed;
b. In order to establish a continuous process to monitor systemic racist police violence in the United States, the appointment by the UNHRC of an Independent Expert on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States;
c. Call for the demilitarization of law enforcement throughout the United States; and
d. Call for end to impunity and for accountability of police officials resorting to racist violence and unjustified force before independent civilian review boards and in criminal and civil proceedings of the justice system in the United States.
21. The Commissioners call on the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, upon receipt of the report of the Commission of Inquiry, to initiate an investigation into Crimes against Humanity (Article 7), pursuant to her/his powers under Rome Statute, Article 15.
22. The Commissioners call on the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government to:
a. Accept the jurisdiction of the ICC in relation to the U.S. under Article 12 with respect to any and all Crimes against Humanity as defined in the Rome Statute;
b. Sign the Rome Statute of the ICC and transmit it to the U.S. Senate for consent to ratification;
c. Remove the non-self-executing language in the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and/or pass full implementing legislation of this treaty, including the provisions in Article 20, which prohibits propaganda for war and speech that promotes hatred of racial or religious groups or incites discrimination or violence against people of racial or religious groups;
d. Fully enforce the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the U.S. has ratified.
e. Ratify all other international human rights treaties, as well as regional treaties;
f. Support legislation aimed at divesting federal resources from incarceration and policing as well as ending the criminal legal system-driven harms that have disproportionately criminalized Black and Brown communities, LGBTQIA people, Indigenous people, and disabled people, and instead, utilizing funding initiatives, and invest in new non-punitive and non-carceral approaches to community safety;
g. Create an effective and robust system of combating institutionalized racism within all law enforcement agencies, to be monitored by an independently elected body, in consultation with civil society organizations committed to principles of civil liberties and non-discrimination;
h. Remove the personal immunity that protects individual police officers from civil lawsuits filed by members of the public, and impose a clear duty on police officers to de-escalate all encounters before force is used; and
i. Develop policies and support for legislation to demilitarize policing throughout the United States and accomplish a complete overhaul of current policies and training practices including, but not limited to: (i) outlawing use of force except in conformity with UN Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement during arrest, custody and assembly based on: precaution, necessity, and proportionality; (ii) outlawing chokeholds and outlawing other subduing tactics that cut off breathing or blood circulation; (iii) outlawing excessive use of Tasers; (iv) prohibiting no-knock warrants; and (vi) outlawing use of force except in conformity with UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, including, for example:
(a) Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as much as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result; and
(b) Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall: (1) exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved; (2) minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life; (3) ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment; and (4) ensure that relatives or close friends of the injured or affected person are notified at the earliest possible moment.
23. The Commissioners recommend that the U.S. executive and legislative branches acknowledge that the transatlantic trade in Africans, enslavement, colonization and colonialism were Crimes against Humanity and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance. Past injustices and crimes against people of African descent in the U.S. must be addressed with reparatory justice.
24. The Commissioners also recommend that the U.S. Congress establish a commission to examine enslavement and racial discrimination in the colonies and the U.S. from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. The Commissioners urge the U.S. to consider seriously applying analogous elements contained in the Caribbean Community’s Ten-Point Action Plan on Reparations, which includes a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities, an African knowledge program, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer, financial support, and debt cancellation.