United Nations experts call for new approaches to policing in United States

United Nations experts are expressing grave concern over the latest killings of unarmed African-American men, particularly Keenan Anderson, who suffered cardiac arrest and died after he was tasered six times by a member of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death by Memphis, Tennessee, police.

“The brutal deaths of Keenan Anderson and Tyre Nichols are more reminders of the urgency to act,” said Yvonne Mokgoro, chairperson of the UN International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement.

Both men died in January, not even 1,000 days after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest over a suspected twenty-dollar crime, on May 25, 2020.

United States law enforcement officials killed at least 1,176 people in 2022, making it the deadliest year on record for police violence since 2013 when experts first started tracking such killings nationwide.

Anderson was a cousin of Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The UN experts have sought detailed information on both the Anderson and Nichols incidents from the government of the United States, on the ongoing investigations and regulations applicable to the use of less-lethal weapons vis-à-vis applicable human rights standards.

Protesters wearing red shirts with “I Am Keenan Anderson” printed on the front. On the back: “I was killed by a cop at a traffic stop.”

In both cases, the experts stressed that the force used appears to have violated international norms protecting the right to life and prohibiting torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It is also not in line with standards set out under the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

“While we acknowledge the role of less-lethal options to reduce the risk of death or injury inherent in police conduct, any use of force by law enforcement officials must be guided by principles of legality, precaution, necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination and accountability,” said Juan Mendez, member of the Expert Mechanism.

“The use of less-lethal weapons continues to raise serious concerns when it comes to States’ obligation to protect the right to life and the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment. Such weapons can cause death, serious body injuries and permanent disability,” noted Morris Tidball-Binz, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Lisa McCormick addressing a BLM protest in Trenton following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
Progressive activist Lisa McCormick addressing a BLM protest in Trenton following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

“We observe that, in cases like these, police officers use Tasers as a routine protocol to incapacitate non-compliant or individuals going through mental health crises, who often do not appear to pose a serious danger to themselves or others. We remain highly concerned about the excessive use of tasers in law enforcement, especially in light of their inherent potential for misuse,” Mendez said.

“Police and law enforcement bear special responsibilities to protect their citizens and to uphold their rights”, said Alice Jill Edwards, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. “When this basic function is overtaken by unlawful and uncontrolled violence, it causes ordinary people to fear their own police. Only community-led and -designed solutions will do in such circumstances.”

Responding to the death of Tyre Nichols, the experts stressed that in addition to effectively investigating, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators and providing redress to victims and their families, US authorities should show determination in questioning and reforming an institutionalised police culture that permits criminal assault under the guise of law enforcement and public safety.

“We have called on authorities to ensure prompt accountability and reparation,” said Tracie Keesee, a member of the Expert Mechanism. “While we note that in the case of Tyre Nichols, five police officers have been criminally charged, and were dismissed following an administrative investigation, the horrifying footage of his beating is an alarming reminder of the urgent need of genuinely new approaches to traffic safety, traffic stops, and public safety more broadly.”

“Following the invitation of the government of the United States of America received last December to visit the country, the UN International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement will be conducting a much-needed official mission to the US in April 2023. We will engage with the government and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that police brutality is addressed with determination and that victims and their families obtain justice,” Mokgoro said.

%d bloggers like this: