FCN Editorial Vol 17 No 38 July 21, 1998
Americans are bombarded daily with media reports about human rights abuses in some foreign country where "democracy" has yet to arrive. China, Nigeria, Libya, Sudan are but a few of the targets of American propaganda that seeks to turn the American populous against the targeted country to serve U.S. foreign policy objectives.
But a recent Human Rights Watch report citing unchecked police brutality that runs rampant throughout the United States hardly drew media coverage. This is the same Human Rights Watch that was referenced by the U.S. State Department to highlight alleged abuses in Sudan.
The 440-page report charges that shoddy internal investigations do not hold police officers accountable for abuse, and that police rarely are prosecuted. Civilian review boards formed to monitor police abuse in many cases are a joke. The report says such boards often lack funding and access they need to monitor police adequately. Sadly, according to the report, cities are paying out tens of millions of tax payer dollars annually to settle civil suits that brought remedy to abuses that police departments seem unwilling to rectify.
Human Rights Watch based its report on research conducted in 14 major U.S. cities over a two-year period. The cities include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
The research revealed what many people in the Black community have known for a long time-that police abuse is significantly higher in communities populated by people of color. But the report makes known something that many in the Black community may not be aware of: Police brutality is a violation of international human rights treaties by which the United States is bound. The report says the data was "hard to obtain" because the internal affairs units "operate under a cloak of secrecy" and are reluctant to release "even basic information about their activities."
Futhermore, the U.S. Justice Department thumbed its nose at a 1994 request from Congress to compile statistics and produce an annual report on the use of excessive force nationwide, the report suggests. To date, no such report has been published.
While a few bad apples tarnish America's law enforcement agencies, the well-meaning professional police officer is not helping his/her case much because the offending officers "are usually protected by the silence of their fellow officers," the report says.
Human Rights Watch offers the following recommendations for reform:
· make federal aid to police departments conditional on regular
· create a policy of zero tolerance for abuses
· provide adequate funding and political support for civilian review boards
· establish early warning systems to identify "at risk" officers
· hire special prosecutors in each state to handle criminal prosecutions of police.
Police departments in major cities also should bring their numbers of Black officers to a level that reflects the Black population of that city, and Blacks should be promoted to higher offices in more equitable numbers. In many cities, Chicago is a good example, white officers outnumber Black officers four-to-one, while that city's Black population is equal to or greater than the white population. Additionally, many acts of abuse are racially motivated, and even Black officers are sometimes the victim of racially-motivated police abuse by fellow officers and fear for their own lives.
A major step in stopping human rights violations against American citizens by police would be for Congress to show some muscle in forcing the Justice Department to comply with its 1994 request to provide an annual report on police use of excessive force.
Congress can sanction countries all over the world for violating its demands and can even threaten foreign businesses with sanctions for doing business with "outlaw" countries. But Congress can't force its own Justice Department to produce an annual report?
We find that hard to believe. Congress just doesn't have the will to protect its citizens from its internal paramilitary forces, it seems.
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