Richard Sudan

A report called for a crimes against humanity probe into the United States. Why was it ignored?

For many years, the United States condemned crimes against humanity in a global setting. Such claims were often a pretext for military invasion, regime change or installing so-called democracy while, of course, securing control of resources. We've gotten so used to hearing it, especially over the last few decades, that the phrase "crimes against humanity" has become part and parcel of the political lexicon.

When hearing the same claim thrown back at it, you'd think the US would be all ears given its track record of concern and swift action when such crimes are allegedly committed in other parts of the world. Well, that's exactly what has happened. Just one problem. Rather than "all ears," the charge seems to have fallen on "deaf ears."

A report released in March, called The International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States, was produced by a panel of human-rights lawyers from 11 countries. It determined that the cycles of murder and violence against unarmed Black Americans at the hands of (often white) police officers fit the international legal definition of "crimes against humanity." Its authors say the United States should be investigated under international law.

The commission report demands accountability from the United States, over the conduct of law enforcement, highlighting the violation of human rights obligations, with added scrutiny also examining the laws around policing. The commission also suggests that the International Criminal Court conduct an immediate investigation.

Now, this is unlikely to happen. The significance of the report, however, should not be lost. No longer can America simply accuse other countries of human rights abuses while ignoring similar accusations on its own doorstep concerning its own citizens. The report refers to "police murders" and contextualizes the pattern of killings as part of a broader history and continuation of racism and racial injustice.

The report initially emerged after the family of George Floyd and other victims petitioned the United Nations to launch a probe into deadly racist policing in the United States, following Floyd's murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. (Chauvin was convicted on all counts last month, including murder in the second degree. Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers for violating Floyd's constitutional rights.)

While a draft resolution was eventually passed, the UN Human Rights Council merely adopted it after weeks of intense pressure by the US and its allies. That saw any specific mention of America and an investigation dropped from the final wording.

The US and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also accused the United Nations of hypocrisy, urging a more general investigation into systemic racism internationally, focusing instead on countries like China. In other words, racism didn't exist in Donald Trump's America. You can't investigate something that doesn't exist.

The watered down plan, however, prompted the group of international legal experts to step in and conduct their own investigation, culminating in the recent report, which at the time of writing, has received no official acknowledgement from the White House. During his first address to joint-session of the Congress, President Joe Biden pledged to "root out systemic racism" within the United States criminal justice system.

The new report focusing on US police killings of unarmed Black people could certainly help. It has a number of strong recommendations for the government to follow. The commission emphasizes, moreover, that it did not reach its conclusions lightly. The report is a serious, thorough and comprehensive examination of the problem. It is forensic and uncompromising. It deserves to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the report has gone almost totally unnoticed by the national press corps. It has gotten only a smattering of English-language coverage in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Again, an investigation by the International Criminal Court is unlikely. That said, the report does reflect intense focus around the world on the US that's acutely aware of and universally horrified by police violence and institutional racism. Many hope Chauvin's conviction is a watershed in US history, though that remains to be seen.

Getting to the root of the problem requires a radical plan and a commitment to seeing it through. The same energy that was felt over the case of George Floyd now needs to reverberate and translate into all of the other similar cases that require justice, and into a vast overhaul of the system all across America. It's no easy task but millions upon millions around the world are watching, hoping, and ultimately demanding, that the unjust killing, maiming and humiliation of Black Americans come to an end.

The secrets of the Proud Boys

The so-called Proud Boys are a white supremacist militia. They pose a clear and present danger to Black Americans and the security of the United States. They were part of the insurgency that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6 in an act that FBI Director Christopher Wray stated was clearly an act of domestic terror.

The Proud Boys fit the definition—political violence, motivated with the desire to take control of the Capitol building, believing they had God on their side. That surely meets any reasonable criteria. One Proud Boy, known as "Milkshake," was recently arrested for his role in the insurrection, and allegedly shouted, "Let's take the fucking Capitol," while wearing a hat with the words "God, Guns and Trump" emblazoned on it.

Why then has the United States thus far failed to designate officially the Proud Boys as a domestic terror group? Canada did. But the US hasn't. It's surely a fair question.

Firstly, it's worth remembering it took until 2017 for the KKK to be designated domestic terrorists despite their reign of terror beginning in the 1860s. That's a long stretch. Also worth noting are the Klan's well-documented and deep historical links to law enforcement. In the civil-rights era, southern police officers and senior officials actually coordinated with the Klan while many cops were active members of it.

Since the early 2000s, the FBI and other federal agencies have issued a number of reports warning of the deep infiltration of local law enforcement by white supremacist groups. It isn't limited to the American South. Police forces all over the country have members linked to the Proud Boys and other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

There's even an unofficial database for Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies believed to be members. Indeed, in one case in 1991, it was revealed that a "neo-Nazi gang of deputies" actually operated using "terrorist-type tactics" in the knowledge of their colleagues and superiors. The problem is deep-rooted, long-standing and deadly.

When Capitol Police turned their attention away, and diverted resources from the 200 or so Proud Boys who were convening near the Capitol on January 6, one must wonder why. We've all seen the videos of police officers gesturing with the "OK" hand signal meant to symbolize white power to other white supremacists. But seeing Capitol Police appear to open the gates to allow the insurgents to swarm the buildings, and seeing one officer pose for a picture with one of the seditionists, was illuminating.

But the links go deeper. Many feel groups like the Proud Boys, and other groups like the Oath Keepers, have acted as unofficial paramilitary for members of the Republican Party. At the presidential debates, Trump telling the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" was pretty much akin to a military command. To what extent this played into the climate of violence that produced the riots themselves is an important question.

Trump's long-time advisor Roger Stone has been investigated for connections to the Proud Boys and others, even pictured with a number of far-righters who acted as his bodyguards. He's alleged to have been involved with or have had connections to people charged over the Capitol riots. (Also worth flagging is a notorious picture of Roger Stone believed to be taken with Proud Boys members.) If another adviser to another sitting president had been pictured with any extremists who were, say, Muslim or Black, or both, one can imagine how loud the outcry would be. Meanwhile, white supremacists also allegedly plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Yet the Proud Boys are not officially designated as domestic terrorists. Why?

What's also interesting is the Republicans blocking an independent commission into the events of January 6. What are they afraid of? What's the big deal in acknowledging the Proud Boys for what they are, and examining fully, their role in January 6?

Acknowledging January 6 as an act of domestic terror might be one thing. But taking the next step of calling the Proud Boys domestic terrorists has wider implications. Law enforcement officials and politicians potentially being linked to a terror group might force a political reckoning and conversation in the US that some want to avoid. But much like accounting for the history and roots of white supremacy in the US, and the wider impact this has in 2021, it's the Pandora's Box that should be opened.


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