George Floyd’s family and legal representatives filed an “urgent appeal” on Monday with the United Nations (UN) to intervene in Floyd’s legal case and to make recommendations on how the United States can institute systemic policing reform.
Addressed directly to the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, the four-page request describes Floyd’s May 25, 2020 treatment at the hands of four now-former Minneapolis police officers as both “torture” and an “extrajudicial killing.”
The open letter outlined, in broad strokes, some of the recent historical narratives surrounding systemic racism and American policing. The letter concluded with a list of demands including: an end to the doctrine of qualified immunity; stopping the “provision of military equipment to, and military-type training of police”; mandatory “use of body cameras for all police officers and the immediate release of video footage and audio recordings following incidents involving police killings”; and the establishment of “an independent commission to review, investigate, prosecute and conduct independent autopsies in all police extrajudicial killings.”
The document assesses the actions of each since-fired officer and lays out a case of varying culpability against each of them.
“During his arrest, four police officers restrained [Floyd] using unlawful and excessive force,” the appeal notes. “Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds while Mr. Floyd was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. As officer Chauvin kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck, a second and third officer, Thomas K. Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, kneeled on his back and legs. A fourth officer who was present, Tou Thao, did not intervene to stop the use of unlawful and excessive force, and instead stood guard to stop citizens from intervening to save George Floyd’s life and threatened them with mace.”
After zeroing in on the details of the incident seen by millions of people across the world in the video of Floyd’s last moments alive, the appeal uses the language of human rights to make a case for UN intervention based on the historical and present-day treatment of black people in the United States.
“The United States of America has a long pattern and practice of lethal police violence disproportionately applied to persons of African descent,” the appeal said. “Many of these cases have resulted in the failure of state and local governments to hold accountable police officers who commit human rights violations.”
Citing the 2014 cases of “unarmed African American 18-year-old Michael Brown,” and “unarmed African American Eric Garner,” the letter said both men were accused of petty and unproven crimes before being killed by police–and that no officers were charged in Brown’s death while none were convicted in Garner’s case.
A more recent case was also cited:
On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor, a twenty-six year-old African American woman was shot and killed in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky by police officers executing a “no-knock” warrant; she was unarmed and not accused of committing any crime. No officer has been charged in her death.
“The extrajudicial killing of African Americans by police officers in the United States constitutes such a pervasive and widespread pattern that White Americans have been emboldened to act as vigilantes,” the letter continued, citing the shooting deaths of both Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery.
“The United States of America’s failure to appropriately respond to and address police violence and extrajudicial killings of persons of African descent constitutes an abridgement of their human rights,” the appeal argued, before listing the series of requests.
Floyd family attorney Ben Crump addressed the appeal in a statement obtained by Law&Crime:
The United States of America has a long pattern and practice of depriving Black citizens of the fundamental human right to life. I have sought the protection of the Federal government on innumerable cases involving the torture and extrajudicial killing of Black men and women by police including Martin Lee Anderson in Florida, Michael Brown in Missouri, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota. The United States government has consistently failed to hold police accountable and did not bring Federal criminal charges even in cases with irrefutable video evidence.
“When a group of people of any nation have been systemically deprived of their universal human right to life by its government for decades, it must appeal to the international community for its support and to the United Nations for its intervention,” Crump continued.
The urgent appeal, focused on the above-mentioned working group, also said that its call to action may be of interest to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The document is signed by George Floyd’s son, Quincy Mason, Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, Crump, attorney Jasmine Rand, attorney and policy advocate Jotaka L. Eaddy, attorney and social justice leader Steven Hawkins, and Cardozo Law Professor Gabor Rona, an attorney and human rights advisor [Full disclsoure: the author of this article studied under Professor Rona at while at Cardozo].
“The United States of America’s systemic failure to appropriately address police violence has weaponized racism against African Americans, abridging their human rights,” Eaddy and Rand added in a statement. “The comments made by President Trump on June 1, 2020, wherein he highlighted protecting citizens’ right to bear arms above African Americans’ right to life, heightens the urgency of the appeal to the United Nations, as we believe his comments will incite vigilante behavior and violence against African Americans, leading to more violations of their fundamental human rights.”
[Image via Ben Crump]
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