The Body Count Rises: A Call for International Oversight of U.S. Police Killings

September 23, 2016
Sunyata Altenor

The police killing of Keith Scott in Charlotte is simply the latest evidence that the United States is fundamentally unable to protect communities from state-sanctioned violence. Therefore, I’m calling for an international response from agencies designed to monitor and hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations around the world.

While the media tends to see each of these incidents in a vacuum, the bigger picture underscores the need for oversight and action from another source: According to a comprehensive database published by The Guardian entitled The Counted: People Killed by Police in the U.S., law enforcement has killed 791 people in 2016 alone. This is a staggering and unacceptable figure. Only 13 police officers have been convicted of murder or manslaughter since 2005, in spite of the abundance of cell phone and police videos that suggest a much higher murder rate.

The spate of police killings around the country argues for serious investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice as well as local and state police forces, yet what little has been done seems more geared toward demonizing the victims and protecting the status quo than engendering any change. Increased legislative efforts to limit public access to police bodycam and dashcam footage is but one example of where official priorities lie.

People in the U.S. are no longer willing to put up with police departments continuing to offer paid leave and deskwork for officers who kill black, Latino and indigenous people. In addition to documenting and drawing attention to racist state violence, social movements throughout the United States – many led by black women – have developed proposals to address the assault on our people. Those proposals have gone largely unheeded.

Many people in the U.S. recognize that the criminal justice system is broken and that it will not fix itself. In other countries around the world, the U.S. supports international oversight mechanisms to end impunity and increase accountability. For example, the U.S. has provided the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala with millions of dollars in order to strengthen Guatemala’s judicial system and prosecute criminals, regardless of whether or not they are state officials.

It is long past time to invite a similar commission to the United States. This has been a central demand of black social movements for more than 50 years, and today it is more relevant than ever. We are in the midst of a human rights crisis, and the Obama administration has been unable to make black lives matter to representatives of the state.  They are killing us, and we need international oversight in order to reign in state-sponsored violence against civilians throughout the U.S. Applying the same international human rights standards to the U.S. that the government expects of other nations has been a central theme of my work for the last three decades, and will be at the top of the priority list for a Green Party administration.

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