From the Field

Chicago youth to U.N.: Police torture in U.S. is rampant


Lauren Taylor • Nov 13, 2014

“We Charge Torture. We Charge Genocide.” – Asha Rosa, 11/11/14

Tuesday in Geneva, Switzerland, a delegation of eight young people from Chicago presented before the United Nations Committee Against Torture. They delivered testimony and shared personal stories, and charged the Chicago Police Department with “ongoing and pervasive violations of the UN Convention Against Torture,” specifically against youth of color.

The 8-member delegation walked out in protest Tuesday when U.S. representatives from the Department of State and Department of Justice took the stand and dismissed the critiques.

“My friend, Dominique Franklin is in a coffin, killed by a Chicago Police Officer,” said Ethan Viets-VanLear before the UN, explaining that police “heinously tasered him twice while he was handcuffed, leaving him a coma to die.”

Franklin, known to many as Damo, was 23 years old when he was killed last May. In the weeks following his death, organizers and community members gathered to form We Charge Genocide, a grassroots, inter-generational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted and most affected by police violence in Chicago. The name “We Charge Genocide” comes from a 1951 petition to the UN by the Civil Rights Congress that charged the US government with genocide against African Americans.

“Monstrous police crimes like this occur across our country,” said Viets-VanLear. Underscoring this point, 19-year-old Viets-VanLear sat next to the mother of Mike Brown when both delivered their formal statement.

The Report

Three weeks ago, We Charge Genocide released a report which they submitted to the UN, documenting the ongoing and pervasive police harassment, abuse, and violence against youth of color generally, and Black youth specifically. The report includes testimony from survivors and witnesses of police violence, statistical analysis, and evidence of torture, and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment – human rights violations under the UN Convention Against Torture.

“In Chicago, Black people are ten times more likely than White people to be shot by the police,” the report said. Lead author and WCG delegate Page May writes, “From 2009 to 2013, although Black people comprised only 32.3% of Chicago’s overall population, 75% of police shooting victims were Black.”

Tuesday afternoon, Breanna Champion shared personal testimony before some members of the UN, highlighting not only the extreme violence and disparity, but the way police torture impacts families and communities.

Tasers and Deadly Police Violence

The delegation from Chicago drew attention not only to police killings and impunity, but also to ways supposed non-lethal force has been used in discriminatory and deadly ways.

“Tasers have not only failed to reduce the use of deadly force, but have actually caused the deaths of additional young Chicagoans of color, such as Dominique Franklin,” according to the We Charge Genocide report. “Between 2009 and 2011, 92% of Taser uses involved a Black or Latino target, including 49 youth under the age of 16 (with some as young as 8 years old). The CPD’s use of Tasers particularly impacts Black people: In the first six months of 2014, 146 of the 186 Taser victims were Black (78%).”

The problem is systemic

Overwhelmingly, youth testimony and research reveal pervasive and systemic bias, and exceptional impunity. “In Chicago, a brutality complaint is 85% less likely to be sustained than in the nation as a whole: Only 1% of excessive force complaints against the CPD are sustained (as opposed to 8% nationally).”

Delegation member Asha Rosa also spoke before the UN and called for a recognition of the structural violence endemic to policing and incarceration in the US. She also argued against seeing the police as a source of safety, or any kind of solution.

Rosa ended her statement with, “We charge torture. We charge genocide.”

Delegates Walk Out

When official US representatives took the stand later Tuesday afternoon, and said that prosecutions of police violence were sufficient and progress was being made, delegates from Chicago walked out in protest.

Wednesday, members of the UN Committee Against Torture raised questions suggested by We Charge Genocide and others who spoke out against police violence. Committee members inquired about police impunity, torture, the use of tasers, and police militarization. They also point-blank asked the U.S., “’Why do black people not enjoy the same rights as everyone else?”

That is the question.

To learn more about the We Charge Genocide and their trip to the UN, read their report, see the related Storify, watch Ethan and Asha report back, or keep up to date by following @chicopwatch and #WCGtoUN on twitter.

Lauren Taylor is a field organizer at the Center for New Community.

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