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The “Vision 4 Black Lives” and Black Women: Speaking to the U.S. Department of Justice on Police Crimes Against Women and Girls

August 4, 2016

By Farah Tanis and Frederica Stines.

 

Black Women’s Blueprint, as Co-Chair of the US Human Rights Network Working Group on Equality and Non-Discrimination, on August 4, 2016, issued the following statement as part of its engagement in the Civil Society Consultation on UPR Implementation: Civil Rights & Discrimination Recommendations Related to Law Enforcement.

 

In the presence of representatives from the U.S. Government including the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Office for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, as well as the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Office of the Legal Advisor, Black Women’s Blueprint’s Executive Director spoke of the impact of policing Black women and girls.

 

Good morning, my name  Farah Tanis, I am co-founder and Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint, a national women’s human rights organization. Part of our work focuses on highlighting the gendered forms of racial discrimination experienced by African-American or Black women with regard to police violence, judicial as well as socio-economic systems that systematically discriminate against them. Today, we want to speak to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Recommendations 155, 156 and 226.   

  1. End police brutality against African Americans and rectify the judicial as well as socio‐economic systems that systematically discriminate against them (UPR 155).

  2. Correctly address the root causes of racial discrimination and eliminate the frequently occurred excessive use of force by law enforcement against of African‐Americans and other ethnic minorities (UPR 156).

  3. Punish perpetrators of abuse and police brutality, which are increasingly alarming and constitute irrefutable acts of increasing racism and racial discrimination, particularly against African‐Americans, Latinos and women (UPR 226).

The statistics in communities of color and in reports like  “Invisible Betrayal: Police Violence and The Rapes of Black Women in the United States, submitted to the Committee on the Convention Against Torture (CAT) paint a disturbing picture of systemic practices that continue because of the larger culture of violence within which people live and law enforcement officers operate.

 

We continue to call for all forms of police violence, and in particular the elimination of police sexual misconduct, a human rights and civil rights violation which is rampant and alarmingly underreported.  It is now widely known that a report by the CATO Institute identifies police sexual misconduct as the second most prevalent form of police crime, and yet despite the recent release of the federal guidance on gender-bias in law enforcement entitled Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence,

federal responses to date have not adequately addressed sexual assault and domestic violence by police officers themselves.

 

Moreover, nationwide there appears to be a rise in police interaction with Black women or in the reporting of such interactions, yet insufficient data exists on the ways in which law enforcement target and engage Black cis and trans women, sex workers and women living in poverty or with mental illness. Information received by the public often only represents the partial narrative or too often are subsumed under the broader issue of racially based interaction, providing inadequate analysis of the gender and sexual dimensions as well as other intersections that contribute to the difference in interaction between police and women and girls, across the spectrum of identity.  The case of Korryn Shandawn Gaines, a 23-year-old Baltimore mother gunned down by police on August 2, 2016 as she sat on her living room floor is yet another lived experience by a Black woman assassinated in front of her own children. We know that whether armed or unarmed, Black women are killed by police at alarming rates in America and as with the case of Sandra Bland and countless other women, rarely do they get justice.

 

Black Women’s Blueprint’s recommendations to the UPR Civil Rights and Discrimination Working Group:

  • Prioritize and allocate resources for the training of law enforcement officers and other public officials for the collection of information and statistical data that is inclusive of Black women and other interlinked identities that make women vulnerable to sexualized racism and related police crimes.

  • We ask that resources be allocated to end police culture or what is more widely known as “cop culture”, by enforcing accountability measures that will end what many in communities of color view as a war on Black and Brown people. End the “cop-culture” where police officers whether armed with batons, military grade firearms, or emboldened by a badge behave not as members of our communities but as superior to those communities.

  • Against the backdrop of white supremacist social and economic ills, the proliferation of firearms, and the disintegration and displacement of many of our communities significantly due to the prison industrial complex, poverty and gentrification, short of eliminating formal systems of policing in the United States as currently structured, eliminating “cop-culture” should be a priority on the agenda for police reform.

  • Address “the police organizational pressures that encourage police to act with hostility towards outsiders, that encourage police to socialize exclusively with one another, to lie for one another, where some take pleasure in causing harm, and where the suppression of emotions and empathetic human expression is often the expectation,” as articulated by ex-police officer Norm Stamper, author of To Protect and Serve: How to fix America’s Police.  

  • Enforce a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment committed by law enforcement against the public. Police should be screened for discriminatory attitudes that would negatively impact their work with the public and trained using culturally specific approaches.  

  • Establish an independent body of expert citizens, such as a Police Rape Commission, to investigate, document, prosecute officers found to have raped or otherwise sexually abused, assaulted, and harassed women and girls. The Commission should be afforded adequate resources and an online database so that it is sustainable and avoids backlogs of complaints and data.

 

Lastly, ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which affirms the rights of all women to live free from discrimination based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or economic status.  As a women’s human rights organization, Black Women’s Blueprint finds it disparaging that gender discrimination and the full spectrum of intersectional issues addressed in an unratified CEDAW continues to allow issues like police rapes, the subject matter today, to be relegated as subcategory or add-on statements crouched within other human rights treaties like CERD and CAT, to which the U.S. government is held accountable.

 

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