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News > World

Experts: US Must Tackle Legacy of Slavery

  • A woman joins a Black Lives Matter protest in Charleston, South Carolina.

    A woman joins a Black Lives Matter protest in Charleston, South Carolina. | Photo: Reuters

Published 29 January 2016

The delegation of U.N. experts raised alarm over police brutality and impunity, mass incarceration, and racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system.

United Nations experts have joined voices criticizing racial inequality, violence, and discrimination in the United States, calling on U.S. authorities on Friday to address the country’s legacy of racism and injustice, including the widespread problem of police killings.

“Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of African Americans today,” said Mireille Fanon Mendes France, head of the U.N. Expert Group on People of African Descent, at the end of a fact-finding mission in Washington, D.C.

The human rights experts found that the treatment of Black communities in the U.S. is a human rights crisis that urgently needs a solution, echoing many of the criticism launched by the Black Lives Matter movement. The U.N. group likened the epidemic of police killings of unarmed Black people and the collective trauma it creates to the history of “racial terror and lynching” suffered by Black communities in the past.

“The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education, housing, employment and labour, and even food security, among African Americans and the rest of the U.S. population, reflects the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights,” said Mendes France.

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The delegation welcomed some recent efforts at reform, including President Barack Obama’s move to ban solitary confinement for juveniles, but stressed that more needs to be done, particularly regarding police brutality and impunity, mass incarceration, and racial bias in the criminal justice system that disproportionately criminalizes Black and poor people.

“We understand these changes are part of a larger effort to pass criminal justice reforms now pending in Congress, and a lot more needs to be done,” said Mendes France.

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The comments come at the end of a 11 day delegation, headed by Mendes France, that visited Washington D.C., Baltimore, the town of Jackson, Mississippi, Chicago, and New York City to hear about the situation of racism and “Afrophobia” from affected families and organizations and assess official efforts to combat discrimination.

As the Black Lives Matter movement and a number of incidents including police killings, criminalization of Black communities in protest, and impunity for abuses against Black victims have highlighted, the U.S. is still plagued by structural racism and discrimination.

The U.N. delegation is expected to present a report on the findings of U.S. mission in September 2016.

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