The U.N.’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent recommends African Americans receive reparations for years of “racial terrorism.”
Last week, the working group, which reports to the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, presented its findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The team was invited by the U.S. government to visit the country from January 19-29 to offer an assessment. Cities visited include Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Jackson, Mississippi; Chicago, Illinois; and New York City.
The group met with representatives of several government departments and offices, including the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The visit focused on both good practices and challenges faced in realizing the human rights of African Americans and people of African descent. It gathered information on forms of racism; racial discrimination; xenophobia, which has resulted in housing discrimination; excessive police force; and mass incarceration, to name a few issues.
“Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, a systemic ideology of racism ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to impact negatively on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today,” the report states.
Lynching in the U.S.
The mission also looked back in detail at slavery and the brutal practice of lynching. The report refers to lynching as “a form of racial terrorism that has contributed to a legacy of racial inequality that the United States must address.”
“Thousands of people of African descent were killed in violent public acts of racial control and domination and the perpetrators were never held accountable,” the report states.
In 2015, The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) released the report “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.” Between 1877 (the end of Reconstruction) and 1950, the report states, there were 3,959 racial-terror lynchings of Blacks — at least 700 more than has previously been reported.
The EJI report focused on the 12 most active lynching states in the country: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The UN panel suggests reparations can come in the forms of “a formal apology, health initiatives, and educational opportunities,” as well as “psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation.”
Last month, John J. DeGioia, Georgetown University’s current president, announced unprecedented steps to make amends for slavery, including issuing a formal apology to the descendants of its former slaves and offering descendants preferred admissions. In 1838, the university sold 272 enslaved people to pay off an operations debt.
“Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching,” the U.N. report states.
The working group is “deeply concerned at the alarming levels of police brutality and excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement officials” against Blacks in the U.S.
According to the panel:
“In addition to the most recent and well-known cases of killings of unarmed African Americans — such as the cases of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and Laquan McDonald — the Working Group received information about many other similar cases.”
The group “met with a considerable number of relatives of African Americans allegedly killed by police officers that are still seeking justice for their loved ones, including Tyrone West, Tyron Lewis, Jonathan Sanders, Oscar Grant, Tony Robinson, Marlon Brown, India Kager, Ronald Johnson, Mohamed Bah, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland and Alonso Smith.”
The panel also points to a lack of an official national system to track killings committed by law enforcement officials. Federal authorities informed the panel, “18,000 police departments and law enforcement agencies in the United States are not obliged to report these types of incidents.”
“Killings of unarmed African Americans by the police is only the tip of the iceberg in what is a pervasive racial bias in the justice system,” the report states.
“We are very saddened by what we heard, the testimonies about police violence and killings, and about the problem of impunity about those responsible not being held to account,” Ricardo Sunga III, chairperson of the working group, said in an interview with WBUR on Friday. “And we see the need for these killings, certainly, to be addressed. And part of that is looking at what happened beforehand. Because only then can we better understand.”
Criminal Justice Reform
The panel said it acknowledges the work of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division regarding access to justice, investigations of excessive use of force by the police and patterns of discrimination.
It names initiatives, such as:
– The Fair Sentencing Act;
– The Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative;
– The report and recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to strengthen community-police relationships across the country;
– The new Guidance for Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Regarding the Use of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, National Origin, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Or Gender Identity;
– White House Initiatives such as My Brother’s Keeper and on Educational Excellence for African Americans, aimed at addressing opportunity gaps and improving educational outcomes for African Americans;
– The new report from the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections that shows punitive mandatory sentences for drug crimes represent the primary driver for prison overcrowding.
The recommendations of U.N.’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent are nonbinding and unlikely to influence Washington, according to The Washington Post.