UN report reveals alarming rates of police brutality and racial injustice in the US

By Robert J. Hansen | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Sacramento Sheriff Jim Cooper. OBSERVER file
Sacramento Sheriff Jim Cooper. OBSERVER file

A recent United Nations report shows that Black people in the United States are three times more likely to be killed by police than if they were white, and 41/2 times more likely to be incarcerated.

Three experts, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, Dr. Tracie Keesee and Profesor Juan Méndez heard testimonies from 133 affected individuals, visited five U.S. detention centers and held meetings with civil society groups, as well as government and police authorities in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York.

The report notes that nationally there are more than 1,000 cases of killings by police each year, but only 1% result in officers being charged.

The experts warned that if use-of-force regulations in the United States are not reformed by international standards, killings by police will continue.

Dr. Keesee said the testimonies she heard on how victims do not get justice or redress were “heartbreaking” and “unacceptable.”

“All actors involved, including police departments and police unions, must join forces to combat the prevailing impunity,” Keesee said.

In Sacramento, police shot and killed a Black man in August and another in September.

The Sacramento NAACP condemned the police shooting and killing of Dante Day on the light rail, as reported in The OBSERVER.

Advocates and families of both men said they were experiencing mental health crises and were crying out for help.

The U.N. report insists that armed police officers “should not be the default first responders to every social issue in the U.S.,” including for mental health crises or homelessness, and called for “alternative responses to policing.”

The U.N. experts said racism in the U.S., “a legacy of slavery, the slave trade, and 100 years of legalized apartheid that followed slavery’s abolition,” continues to exist in the form of racial profiling, police killings and many other human rights violations.

Keyan Bliss, a member of the Sacramento Police Review Commission, felt validated by the U.N. report.

“I consider it vindication of what many of us in the Black community have been naming and citing for generations,” he said.

Bliss said the report aligns with the local Black community’s deep experience with police and being “targeted and more heavily scrutinized relative to the rest of the county demographics.”

Bliss cited a report that found police used force against Sacramento’s Black residents 4.5 times more often than other racial groups.

“That was twice the national average during that time period,” Bliss said.

Sacramento Office of Public Safety Accountability Inspector General Dwight White said an audit of Sac PD performed by his office mirrored some of the U.N.’s findings. That audit revealed that Sacramento police handcuffed a 10-year-old Black child.

“Even in those two years what we saw was for certain vehicle-code violations, on a smaller scale, the only people that complained were Black and Latino people,” White said. “Our report was a lot shorter … we still saw some things that were similar to [the U.N.] report, racial disparities and young Black children being treated differently.”

Former Portsmouth, Virginia, Police Chief Tonya Chapman described her department as using discriminatory practices and abusing its authority. Chapman, Virginia’s first African American police chief, said that though she worked tirelessly to change a dysfunctional culture, she was forced to resign after enduring friction between city leaders, as well as issues between the community and police following several officer-involved shootings.

“This is all too common with police leaders,” Dr. LaTesha Watson, director of the Sacramento Office of Public Safety Accountability said in an email to The OBSERVER. “As the first African American female chief of police in the state of Nevada and of the Henderson Police Department, I faced similar issues.”

Watson said she led in a challenging environment with a complicated history embedded in nepotism, favoritism, internal dissension and gross misconduct.

“I experienced how accountability can bring out the worst in individuals,” she said. “Ensuring accountability on every level within a dysfunctional organizational environment created mere hysteria. The supervisor’s union launched a smear campaign filled with untruths and frivolous complaints to refrain from being held accountable.”

Such examples, Watson said, illustrate how the playbook utilized by law enforcement unions nationwide is the same by launching smear campaigns to get rid of the very leaders sent to reform the dysfunctional organizational cultures.

“Courageous leadership is a necessary ingredient of police reform,” Watson said. “Police accountability is nonexistent in the absence of effective management and leadership. Ineffective management and leadership create dysfunctional police organizational cultures in which varied types of misconduct are considered acceptable.”

Sacramento Police Review Commission member Keyan Bliss. OBSERVER file
Sacramento Police Review Commission member Keyan Bliss. OBSERVER file

The U.N. experts condemned the “appalling” overrepresentation of people of African descent in the criminal justice system. They expressed concern over instances of children from the diaspora being sentenced to life imprisonment, pregnant women in prison being chained during childbirth, and persons held in solitary confinement for 10 years.

Since September 2022, seven inmates at the Sacramento County jail have died. None of the deaths are being investigated.

The Sheriff’s Office does not request that Inspector General Francine Tournour or internal affairs personnel respond to the jail to launch an investigation unless there appear to be policy violations by deputies, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Reporting by The OBSERVER revealed the Sheriff’s Office failed last month to tell a Sacramento family until six days after he had been moved that their loved one, 25-year-old Tyus Hutton, was sent from the main jail to Sutter General in critical condition and is on life support.

Sheriff Jim Cooper, the second Black sheriff in California history, is keenly aware of the issues facing law enforcement within “our community.”

“We cannot ignore the inequalities in income, education, public safety and opportunity families still face today,” Cooper told The OBSERVER. “I am committed to improving the lives in our community and finding better ways to serve all of us. The criminal justice system has evolved over the years; however, there is still more work to be done.”

The U.N.-commissioned experts said the problem is “not just a few bad apples.”

“We reject the ‘bad apple’ theory. There is strong evidence suggesting that the abusive behavior of some individual police officers is part of a broader and menacing pattern,” Méndez said.

He stressed that the police and justice systems reflect prevalent attitudes in U.S. society and institutions and called for “comprehensive reform.”

Police authority granted to the wrong individual is not just detrimental to that specific organization but to the entire profession, Watson said.

“The world is full of good people as well as bad,” she said. “The consequences and backlash of officers involved in wrongdoing is felt in every police organization around the world.”

The experts highlighted the burden of a “work overload” on police officers, as well as systemic racism within police departments, saying all need to be addressed.The report made 30 recommendations to the U.S. and all its jurisdictions, including the nation’s more than 18,000 police agencies.

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