Key Takeaways: OHCHR Civil Society Consultation on Racial Justice
By Rebecca Contreras, SDG Research Lead, and Emma Marszalek, Advocacy Assistant
The Consultative Process & Resolution 43/1
On February 18, 2021, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) hosted a virtual consultation with civil society regarding Human Rights Council Resolution 43/1, entitled “Promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers.” Resolution 43/1 was adopted on June 19, 2020 amidst the racial reckoning that erupted both in the US and globally in response to George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s killings last spring.
The resolution obligates the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive report on “systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims”; and to examine “government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists”.
In preparation for the report, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 47th session in June 2021, the OHCHR hosted this consultation to “gather further information, updates, views and opinions on the issues raised by Human Rights Council Resolution 43/1.” The goal of the consultations is to give civil society organizations, affected communities and individuals, and other sources of expertise the opportunity to share their experiences and insights. By directly engaging with affected individuals and organizations, the OHCHR ensures that diverse and important points of view are heard and incorporated into its agenda for transformative change. The event is a testament to the importance of directly engaging with relevant stakeholders — meaning the people who are directly impacted by and working to address the issues — when promoting global goals.
After an introduction by Mona Rishmawi, Chief of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non Discrimination Branch at OHCHR, the conversation on February 18th was divided into four sections, each corresponding to one of the issues addressed in the report: systemic racism; violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies; government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists; and accountability and redress for victims. In each section, attendants could present interventions of 4 minutes each, followed by opportunities for interactive dialogue, questions, and interventions from the floor. This article includes key takeaways from the first section.
The first section on systemic racism was moderated by Dominique Day, Chair of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. Interventions from a diverse set of organizations touched upon a variety of important issues. For example, Kerry McLean of the US Human Rights Network brought attention to the often ignored experiences of women, children, and people with mental illness in relation to police brutality. “It is not just Black men but also Black women who are killed by police,” she said; many women have dehumanizing encounters with police such as arbitrary and invasive body searches. McLean also explained that Black children’s abusive relationship with law enforcement begins early due to the criminalization of Black children in school and the School-to-Prison pipeline; School Resource Officers disproportionately discipline Black students compared to white students. Finally, McLean noted the vulnerability of people with mental illnesses, who are involved in 1 one 4 police shootings. Black people with mental illnesses are especially likely to be killed while experiencing a mental health crisis due to racial profiling. Given the experiences of these three groups, McLean asserted that an intersectional approach to examining the problems of systemic racism and police brutality is necessary to devise effective solutions.
Another speaker, a professor of criminology from George Mason University named Faye S. Taxman, discussed the phenomena of mass criminalization, incarceration and supervision that have expanded over the past 5 decades. Taxman explained that the net of criminal justice has expanded to various areas of society, such as mental health, disorder, and drug use, leading to more people being involved in judicial processing and having criminal records. The way the US is processing people, she asserted, is not in alignment with human rights. Taxman suggested restorative justice as a potential avenue to reduce the mass criminalization and incarceration of Black people.
Hershel Daniels, speaking on behalf of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, discussed his organization’s 10-point tool which provides public safety programs. He highlighted the Black and Blue Public Safety Initiative which addresses the disproportionate arrests of Black people in the United States (Outline in Annex 1).
Joia Crear-Perry from the National Birth Equity Collective drew attention to the ways in which Black women and their bodies have been the targets of state control and recommended taking gender inclusive approaches and consider both immediate and long term considerations, contextualizing police violence against Black people and women and taking steps to ensure reproductive justice for Black women.
Creation of a National Civilian Complaint Authority Training and Consultative Program as part of the Black Folks Plan Black and Blue Public Safety Institute (BfP-BBPSI and or Institute) modeled on Cincinnati’s Citizen Complaint Authority (CCA) and the best of class peers. The Institute will be a revised and updated superset of the CCA incorporating public safety solutions for Black Folks in the USA. It will create local treatment solutions that will yield a community policing solution for all people and build into its best practices for investigative solutions for police misconduct.
Institute will create a model for change in the police use of force and operations based on an updated U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services according to President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force report and recommendations along with studying the December 2020 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice report along with other resources from the Department of Justice and interested parties to public safety. It will be a model that eliminates the blue wall of silence and fear. It will be a model that translates into a partnership of accountability for the individual officer and local station unity with the community. It will be a model whose goal is to integrate metropolitan community policing based on best of class de-escalation techniques.
The Institute would address the effects of institutional racism on public safety, staff and develop programs to address it. We envision support for a National Healing team to address those Police Officers traumatized by the Blue Code of Silence & the Black Community traumatized by such systemic racism as we enact evidence based best of class methodology to help America honor our social contract of equality before the law. They would support local team action.
The Institute will coordinate the effects of public safety on People of African Descent and develop collaborative programs to address it along with other marginalized groups such as People with Disabilities, Indigenous People and Hispanic People. We will create coalitions at the local level to do this work in public safety, the prevention of crime and the reentry of those from crime.
We support the creation of academies of learning and training with a public safety track and/or first responder academies. Graduates of these academies are part of our growing up “our” police force and other first responders we need. Instructors and or top graduates will lead citizen patrols in point 6 & rapid response teams described in point 7.
We will create in local Community Reinvestment Coalitions “Citizens On Patrol.” Citizens On Patrol and or C.O.P are citizens who patrol their communities acting as “Eyes and Ears” for public safety. By patrolling their community, on a regular basis, C.O.P groups become more familiar with their community and are better able to recognize “suspicious” activity and notify the appropriate authorities. Not all occasions require an armed officer of the law. Other common duties performed by C.O.P groups as traffic control at accident scenes, special events, crime scenes, fires, in addition to focused patrols in high crime areas for deterrence. Our Citizens On Patrol are to be augmented by the latest Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR).
We will create a Civilian Public Safety Rapid Response Model. In this model, which can be implemented at a local level by any Community Reinvestment Coalition, infrastructure will include drones & C4ISR technology ready to assist in oversight, verification of the successful adherence to the equitable enforcement of laws & statutes in alignment with the US Constitution which is the basis of America’s Social Contract. This rapid response infrastructure, that could use drones and C4ISR technology to respond, is meant to respond to situations like that in the death in police custody of #GeorgeFloyd.
We will create a national law firm with offices in all states that would protect the human, civil and economic rights interests of People of African descent and allied people. This law firm would start operation by examining the Minneapolis Minnesota Police Union Contract as it has already been stated by the union that their members were terminated in violation of the contract and this will give us a model to develop a best practice on. This will be a model that we use to embed in these contracts the best practices in policing, including best of class de-escalation techniques, that come out of the work of the aforementioned institute.
A Transnational Investigative Firm that coordinates the common & uncommon interest of People of the African Diaspora and allied marginalized people while sighting current violations of our world wide social contract of upholding Human Rights as described in the United Nations. This firm would also manage safe houses for domestic violence survivors and a local witness protection network.