The United States must eradicate “system racism” against Black people in law enforcement and criminal justice, United Nations-appointed independent rights experts said in a new report released on Thursday (Sept. 28).
“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,” Tracie Keesee, a member of the U.N. human rights expert group that visited the United States in May, said.
The U.N. experts went on a six-city (Atlanta, Chicago, D.C., L.A., Minneapolis, and New York City) tour. They heard testimony from 133 affected individuals, observed detention centers, and met with government officials and civil society groups.
”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,” Keesee stated.
Investigators expressed serious concerns about several practices, including authorities disproportionately sentencing Black minors to life in prison, chaining pregnant incarcerated women during childbirth, extensive periods (up to 10 years) of solitary confinement, forced labor, and denying voting rights to formerly incarcerated people.
They highlighted several key disparities: Police kill Black people three times more than Whites; courts incarcerate Blacks 4.5 times more than Whites, and only 1 percent of officers are charged in the more than 1,000 cases of police-involved shootings each year.
“We reject the bad apple theory. There is strong evidence suggesting that the abusive behavior of some individual police officers is part of a broader and menacing pattern,” Juan Mendez, a member of the U.N. human rights team said.
“Law enforcement and criminal justice institutions in the United States share and reproduce values, attitudes and stereotypes of US society and institutions. These must be reformed.”
Officers told the investigators that work overload and racism within police ranks harm their mental health. “Expecting law enforcement officers to respect and protect human rights also presupposes a culture of respect and wellbeing within the ranks,” KeeSee said.
Among its recommendations, the report urges authorities to find alternatives to using armed police officers in cases involving mental health crises, homeless individuals and school discipline.