US President Donald Trump’s response to protests against the killing of African-American George Floyd has included language “directly associated with racial segregationists” from America’s past, a group of UN human rights experts have said.
There have been widespread protests across the United States as Floyd, 46, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. People from diverse backgrounds have called for justice and have voiced their support to the protests. In the wake of protests over the killing of Floyd, Trump had tweeted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“The response of the President of the United States to the protests at different junctures has included threatening more state violence using language directly associated with racial segregationists from the nation’s past, who worked hard to deny black people fundamental human rights,” a statement issued on Friday by over 60 independent experts of the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council said.
“We are deeply concerned that the nation is on the brink of a militarised response that reenacts the injustices that have driven people to the streets to protest,” it said.
A report in The New York Times had said that the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” was used by Miami’s former police chief Walter Headley in 1967. Headley had been “long accused of using racist tactics in his force’s patrols of black neighbourhoods,” the NYT had said.
They said the recent killing of Floyd has shocked many in the world, “but it is the lived reality of black people across the United States. The uprising nationally is a protest against systemic racism that produces state-sponsored racial violence, and licenses impunity for this violence.”
They noted that following the recent spate of killings of African-Americans, many in the United States and abroad are finally acknowledging that “the problem is not a few bad apples” but instead the problem is the very way that economic, political and social life are structured in a country that prides itself in liberal democracy, and with the largest economy in the world.
Separately, 28 UN experts called on the US Government to take decisive action to address systemic racism and racial bias in the country’s criminal justice system by launching independent investigations and ensuring accountability in all cases of excessive use of force by police.
“Exactly 99 years after the massacre in Tulsa, involving the killing of people of African descent and the massive loss of life, destruction of property and loss of wealth on ‘Black Wall Street’, African Americans continue to experience racial terror in state-sponsored and privately organised violence,” the experts said.
Strongly condemning the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the experts called for systemic reform and justice. “Given the track record of impunity for racial violence of this nature in the United States, Black people have good reason to fear for their lives.”
Taylor, a 25-year-old emergency medical technician was shot in her bed when police raided the wrong house; Arbery, 25, was fatally shot while jogging near his home by three white men who chased and cornered him; and Floyd was accused of using counterfeit currency in a store and died in the street while a white officer knelt on his neck and three others participated and observed.
“The origin story of policing in the United States of America starts with slave patrols and social control, where human property of enslavers was ‘protected’ with violence and impunity against people of African descent. In the US, this legacy of racial terror remains evident in modern-day policing,” the experts said.
The experts also raised concern about the police response to demonstrations in several US cities, termed by some the ‘Fed Up-rising’, that have been marked by violence, arbitrary arrest, militarisation and the detention of thousands of protesters. Reporters of colour have been targeted and detained, and some journalists have faced violence and harassment.
“Statements from the US Government inciting and threatening violence against protesters stand in stark contrast to calls for leniency and understanding which the Government had issued in the wake of largely white protests against COVID-19 restrictions on services like barbershops, salons, and spas,” the experts said.