The world observed Human Rights Day on Dec 10. The United States, often called the champion of democracy, is also observing Human Rights Week. Throughout his speech, President Joe Biden has once again reiterated his belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Biden also vowed to make the world safer and strengthen democracy around the world. But unfortunately, it seems the US has done little to improve the situation at home, wherein the hand of police, human rights violations are taking place almost every day.
Police brutality and killing are nothing new in the US. Historically, police in the US are notorious for their brutality and the killings of their own citizens. Police brutality and killings can be traced back to the slave patrol era. It continued for decades and became a demand in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Since the aftermath of the 9/11 attack this century, police brutality in the US has increased sharply, especially against the immigrants of Muslim and Arab origin. The main victims of the violence are Black and Hispanic Americans.
We don't need data to say police killing in the US is targeted, highly motivated by racism, and systemic in nature. A recent study published in The Lancet suggests that the US is ignoring police brutality and killings systematically (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01609-3/fulltext). The study found that in the 39 years to 2019), approximately 32,000 people were killed by police. In 2019 only, 1,190 people were killed. The findings also suggest that Black people are likely to die from police violence 3.5 times more than white people. The victims are often from the Black or Hispanic population. The most important finding of the report is that more than half of the police killings are either mislabelled or not reported. According to The Lancet study, the number of killings by police in the US totalled 30,800 between 1980 and 2018. The figure calculated by the researchers is nearly double the official count. It implies that the official data systematically ignored the original number of the killings in the past three decades.
Under the Biden administration, the situation has remained unchanged. Despite Biden's promise of lifting up the situation, police have killed 996 people in 2021. Further breakdown shows that 27 percent of the victims were Black Americans although they are only 13 percent of the total population. There were only 12 days without a killing by police until now in 2021. The number of deaths in the hands of police is increasing drastically for the last few years. Till now in 2021, at least 12 major cities in the US, including Philadelphia, Tucson, Portland, Austin and Rochester, have broken the previous record of the annual number of police killings. Philadelphia has broken a record previously set in 1990. Interestingly, most of these cities are also helmed by the Democrat representatives under the Biden administration.
Apart from the killings, police brutality has become a common thing in the US. Activists are calling for defunding the police to stop them violating civil rights. It seems historic racism, militarisation of police, implementation of aggressive tactics, including the draconian stop and frisk rule. Strong police unions all over the states are some of the main reasons behind this problem that many experts have identified. Due to available legal protection, the perpetrators also enjoy immunities afterwards. Besides, there are hardly any cases where the responsible person is charged. According to the Mapping the Police Violence, between 2013 and 2020, no one was charged in 98.3 percent.
While the US is putting extra effort in upholding the current Human Rights condition to a global standard, it seems the US policy- makers have been quite indifferent to their own domestic settings. Commemorating Human Rights Day, the US has imposed serious sanctions on dozens of entities and individuals around the world, accusing them of "gross" violation of human rights. The US is also holding a two-day conference to promote democracy and human rights around the world. Good job, indeed! But without solving the internal problem of same kinds, the actions may only look like political stunts to achieve geopolitical objectives only. Therefore, the Biden administration should also focus on reducing its own systemic racism, police killings and brutality while walking an extra mile for the world. Otherwise, the activities of the champion of democracy may only look like political stunts in front of the whole world.