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We Charge Genocide!

By Linn Washington Jr. —News Analysis— | Last updated: Jun 12, 2020 - 9:30:38 AM

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America’s Shame: How Authorities Persistently Ignore Abuses By Police

Police brutality against Blacks was a core concern in the petition sent to the United Nations by an interracial group of Americans in 1951.

That petition charged the U.S. government with committing “genocide” against Blacks in violation of UN Charter and its Genocide Convention. That petition charged the federal government “with mass murder of its own nationals, with institutionalized oppression and persistent slaughter” of Blacks based solely on their race.

Signers of that 1951 genocide petition included extraordinary luminaries like scholar Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and actor/activist Paul Robeson.

The White power structure has continuously ignored brutality and protected abusive police. Photo: Linn Washington

The federal government’s reaction to that petition evidenced a persistent problem in American history: failure to forthrightly address abusive policing.

Instead of the U.S. President and Congress working to address police brutality and other racism related problems presented in that petition, the U.S. government unleashed a diplomatic and dirty tricks campaign that quashed the petition.

That petition contained a poignant observation with relevance today: “Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet.”

The “New Acts of Genocide” addendum section of that petition sent to the UN over six decades ago listed instances of fatal police shootings of Black men in Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas.

That petition presented terror from police racism before detailing the acts of other “racist terrorist organizations” like the Ku Klux Klan.

Persistent failures to address institutional racism—like police terror—provide a reason why far more cities erupted across America recently over abusive policing than the 1967 riots in over 20 cities triggered by police brutality. The presidential panel appointed to study those riots, the Kerner Commission, issued a 1968 report with recommendations for changes in police practices. Few cities implemented those reforms.

The Kerner Commission report stated: “To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white oppressions. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes.”

That assessment about racist policing noted in the Kerner Commission’s report is hauntingly similar to an assessment contained in the 1951 petition.

The 1951 petition stated, “To many an American the police are the government, certainly its most visible representative. We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy.”

Before dismissing that 1951 petition and the 1968 Kerner report as “old stuff” with little contemporary relevance consider this following:

Before a policeman in Minneapolis, Minn., murdered George Floyd on May 25, and before police in Louisville, Ky., murdered Breonna Taylor on March 13, two White vigilantes with law enforcement backgrounds murdered jogger Ahmaud Arbery near his home in Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23.

According to the 1951 petition prepared for the UN’s Commission on Human Rights, in Brunswick, Ga., on July 11, 1947 authorities murdered eight Black prisoners “because they refused to work in a snake-infested swamp without boots.” (Black inmates were frequently ordered to work like slaves in dangerous circumstances.)

Abusive policing—from false arrests to fatal shooting—is a systemic fault encouraged and/or ignored by authorities for decades.

The 21st Century advent of cell phone video technology has provided visual evidence of illegal police brutality that police and their enablers like politicians, press pundits and preachers have denied for decades.

The murders of Taylor, Arbery and Floyd have highlighted a long-ignored element in the perpetuation of abusive policing: the role of prosecutors.

Prosecutors are those justice system authorities responsible for ensuring that all receive justice irrespective of color, class or creed. Prosecutors have historically refused to hold police accountable for illegal brutality thus contributing to the continuation of abuses.

Prosecutors in Georgia initially refused to charge the killers of Ahmaud Arbery. After cell phone video of Arbery’s murder surfaced after his slaying, Georgia state authorities filed charges that Brunswick area prosecutors refused to lodge.

Prosecutors in Minneapolis initially resisted to file charges against that policeman shown kneeling on George Floyd’s neck as he begged for help. And prosecutors in Louisville have not filed charges against the cops that killed Breonna Taylor who worked as an EMT.

That 1951 petition and the 1968 Kerner Commission report are among stacks of chilling documentation of racist police abuse against Blacks that persistently gets short shrift from authorities in particular and American society in general.

In 1998, for example, two respected organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, each issued reports that assailed abusive policing across America. The Human Rights Watch report examined police brutality in 14 cities including Minneapolis.

According to that 1998 HRW report, in Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was killed by a policeman, the “police force has a history of using excessive force.”

Despite that documented history, the new prosecutor elected in Minneapolis in 1998 refused to file charges in over two dozen fatal police brutality related incidents during that prosecutor’s tenure. That prosecutor also refused to file charges against the policeman who killed Floyd when that policeman was involved in a non-fatal incident of brutality. That prosecutor was Amy Klobuchar, currently a U.S. Senator from Minnesota an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic Party 2020 presidential candidacy.

In May 1985 Philadelphia, Pa., police registered an ugly “first”— the first police urban bombing in America. That police bomb sparked an inferno that killed 11 MOVE members (including five children). Local and federal prosecutors rejected charges against any police or city officials involved with that blatant brutality. Local prosecutors even refused to file perjury charges against police caught lying during the grand jury investigation of that fiery brutality that destroyed 61 homes in a Black community and left 250 people homeless.

Although racism is a rancid element in abusive policing, abusive police practices aren’t exclusive to avowed racists.

Yes, Philadelphia’s infamous Frank Rizzo had a record of racism. Rizzo, the Philadelphia police chief turned mayor, was sued by federal authorities in 1979 for actively aiding police brutality. Rizzo’s police, for example, killed more people in 1975 than police in New York, a city far larger than Philadelphia. That 1979 federal lawsuit was another ugly “first” for Philadelphia— the first federal lawsuit against a mayor and city officials for police brutality.

Black Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter did not have a racist record.

Yet, during Nutter’s 2008-2015 mayoral tenure, Philadelphia police arrested nearly 28,000 Blacks for marijuana possession. Those arrests were 5.7 times higher than possession arrests for Whites, whose pot usage exceeded Blacks. That marijuana possession arrest disparity arose primarily from the discriminatory Stop & Frisk police enforcement championed by Nutter and implemented by Nutter’s police commissioner who was also Black.

A Black police commissioner lobbied current Philadelphia mayor James Kenney to spurn his campaign pledge to end Stop & Frisk that annually subjects thousands of law-abiding Blacks to humiliating, harassive police encounters.

In October 1968, a respected Black lawyer in Philadelphia wrote a commentary that condemned racist Stop & Frisk against Blacks in Philadelphia. That commentary cited a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article critical of Stop & Frisk prejudice against Philadelphia Blacks published in 1950—one year before issuance of that genocide petition.

The murder of George Floyd was the spark this time. But 70-plus years of failure to earnestly address abuse policing is what fuels the fury.

Linn Washington is a powerful writer and professor based in Philadelphia.