Modern-day ‘lynching’ brings calls for justice

The most recent fatal shootings of Black men by police in Tulsa, Okla. and Charlotte, N.C. have prompted a state of emergency in America, with comparisons to lynching and continued calls for investigations by the Department of Justice.

There are three months left in 2016, and already, police have killed at least 714 people – many of whom were unarmed, mentally ill, and people of color, according to the Washington Post, which has started keeping a database of police killings across the country.

As no surprise to many, Blacks and members of another minority group – Native Americans – are being killed at the highest rates in the United States: 194 Black Americans have been killed by police so far this year,.

February and March were the deadliest months this year, with 99 people killed by police in each month. Police have killed 59 people in September alone.

The disturbing statistics have led the United Nations to declare that police killings of Black people in the U.S. as reminiscent of lynchings. The U.N. issued the report to the Human Rights Council, asking that the government do more to protect African-Americans.

The hard-hitting criticism – drawing a comparison between modern police behavior and mob killings of Blacks in the 19th and 20th centuries – comes at a time of renewed racial tension and more police shootings of Black males.

  • • On Sept. 14, 13-year-old Tyre King was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio who were responding to an armed robbery call. Police said that King ran when they approached him and then pulled a weapon from his waistband, which was later found to be a BB gun, a toy that couldn’t even fire bullets.
  • • On Sept. 16, Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby fired the fatal shot that killed Terence Crutcher after the truck he was driving broke down on the road. In a video captured by the Tulsa Police Department, Crutcher can be seen walking back to his truck with his arms raised, just before he was tased then shot. Shelby was charged with felony manslaughter.
  • • On Sept. 20, police in Charlotte, N.C. shot and killed 43 year-old Keith Lamont Scott at an apartment building. Witnesses said that Scott was sitting in his car reading a book when plainclothes officers approached him and asked him to exit his vehicle. Police later released body-worn camera and dashboard camera video footage of the incident. None of the videos show Scott holding a gun or pointing a weapon at the police.

The deaths of Blacks at the hands of law enforcement led to the U.N.’s criticism of police brutality in America.

“Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching,” said the report by the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

A report by a non-profit organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, found that 3,959 Black people were killed in “racial terror lynchings” in a dozen Southern states between 1877 and 1950.

The U.N. report was based on a visit to the U.S. in January by a five-member group. Anger over police tactics has risen as fatal encounters with African-Americans, many of them unarmed, have sparked protests and unrest across the country.

Although the U.S. has made efforts at reform, the U.N. group said it remained “extremely concerned” about the human rights situation of African-Americans.

“In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” the report said.

“Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Police killings go unpunished because initial investigations are usually conducted by the police department where the alleged perpetrator works, because prosecutors have wide discretion over presenting charges, and because the use of force is not subject to international standards, the experts’ group said.

The group recommended that the U.S. create a reliable national system to track killings and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, and end racial profiling, which is “a rampant practice and seriously damages the trust between African Americans and law enforcement officials”.

To improve race relations, education should be “accompanied by acts of reconciliation” to overcome bigotry and past injustices, while federal and state laws should recognize the negative impact of enslavement and racial injustice, the report added.

The Congressional Black Caucus has also spoken out on the state of emergency, calling for the government to act – now.

“It is time for the Department of Justice to take aggressive action and put an end to what appears to be the targeting of and profiling of African-Americans that result in their death,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said while reading a nearly two-page letter that she and Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) delivered to Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s office.

“Officers enjoy the presumption of credibility, whereas victims endure the presumption of guilty. For too long, this dynamic has helped to protect law enforcement officers from being brought to justice.”

Waters recited the names of Blacks who have been killed by police in recent years including Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Terence Crutcher.