GENEVA — The United Nations’ racism watchdog on Friday urged the United States to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Mo.
Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, or CERD, said after examining the U.S. record. “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life, from de facto school segregation [to] access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.
Teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer Aug. 9, triggering violent protests that rocked the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and shone a global spotlight on the state of race relations in America.
“The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern, and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown,” said Mr. Amir, an expert from Algeria. “This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”
The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation Aug. 13 about what they said was persistent racial discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities, including within the criminal justice system. U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination,” but conceded that “we have much left to do".
Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Mr. Brown, has been put on paid leave and is in hiding. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence, and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation. Police have said Mr. Brown was struggling with Officer Wilson before being shot. But some witnesses say Mr. Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.
In its conclusions issued Friday, the U.N. panel said "Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense".
Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Fla., during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miamii by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.
The U.N. panel monitors compliance with a treaty ratified by 177 countries including the United States.
“The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police,” it said, urging investigations.
The experts called for addressing obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous peoples to exercise their right to vote effectively. This was due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies, it said.
Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth. “When it comes to human rights, the United States must practice at home what it preaches abroad,” he said.
Officials in Missouri said Friday that a police officer has resigned after pointing a rifle at protesters during the racially charged demonstrations in Ferguson, and another has been fired for inappropriate social media posts stemming from the two weeks of civil unrest. Police and demonstrators in Ferguson clashed nightly for days after the Brown shooting, with authorities coming under fire for mass arrests and what critics said was use of heavy-handed tactics and military gear.
At a protest Aug. 19, Officer Ray Albers, from the neighboring community of St. Ann, pointed his rifle at a Ferguson protester during a heated verbal exchange, an episode captured on video and widely circulated on social media. St. Ann Police Chief Aaron Jimenez said Officer Albers, a 20-year veteran of the force, submitted his resignation Thursday after the municipality's Police Board of Commissioners recommended that he resign due to the incident in Ferguson and three prior disciplinary actions.
“They were very lenient, because they could have just said he was terminated,” Chief Jimez said. “ ... Knowing that 20 years counts for something, they asked him to resign. That was a very appropriate decision.”
The other officer, Matthew Pappert, who worked in the nearby city of Glendale, was fired Thursday for comments he made on Facebook during the protests, city administrator Jaysen Christensen said. Officer Pappert, who was with the city's police department since 2008, wrote on his Facebook page that he thought protesters should be “put down like rabid dogs,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. He also said protesters were “a burden on society and a blight on the community,” the paper reported.
The city launched an internal investigation after officials learned of the posts, Mr. Christensen said. “This officer's comments and views that were expressed in the posts are absolutely not the views or opinions of the Glendale police department or the City of Glendale,” Mr. Christensen said.
In a statement his attorney released, Mr. Pappert said he was "deeply remorseful” about the Facebook postings and “fully recognizes that his words were insensitive and hurtful."