Eight young people from Chicago traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to testify before the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture. The young people were delegates from We Charge Genocide (WCG), a grassroots, inter-generational group dedicated to addressing the epidemic of police violence in Chicago. WCG submitted a shadow report to the UN titled, "Police Violence Against Chicago’s Youth of Color." According to WCG’s website, “The report reveals the disturbing and intolerable truth that police officers regularly engage in torture. Specifically, the Chicago Police Department is in violation of Articles 2, 10, 11, 12, 13 & 14 of the Convention of Torture, through the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of youth of color in Chicago.”
Also present at the UN Assembly last week was the Ferguson-to-Geneva delegation, including the parents of Michael Brown, who came to address the 18-year-old’s killing and resulting police militarization in St. Louis this past summer.
At Tuesday’s hearing for the Committee Against Torture, WCG member Asha Rosa testified before the UN about the epidemic of police violence in Chicago:
“We are told by our teachers, by our parents, and by the government that police are supposed to keep us safe. We are told that part of their job is to look for and stop violence. But our report shows that in Chicago; the police are a source of violence and are completely unaccountable. Only 10 out of every 10,000 complaints filed against highest offending officers were met with meaningful penalties. Most of the atrocities are committed against Black and brown bodies. As a 20-year-old Black girl in the United States who has never seen the police keep anyone safe but has seen them harass people in their own neighborhoods, coerce confessions out of the Black children, beat people while in handcuffs, and explicitly degrade people based on the color of their skin, it is extremely hard for me to believe that the state is keeping us safe or intends to.
There is no legitimate mechanism for pointing to the police as source of violence and what that tells us is that violating our bodies does not count, that our safety does not matter.
This narrative goes back to enslavement of Black people in the US, a history of Black codes- laws that rendered Black people criminal for doing anything and nothing at all, to the state-sanctioned lynching and rape of Black bodies as spectacle and as sport.
The US legal system has since functioned to uphold hierarchies and justify criminalization, police and punishment. In Chicago, 92% of taser uses involved a Black or Latino target. A Black person is 10 times more likely than a White person to be shot by a police officer.
We have to understand statistics like these. This system if policing as being built on that history. We are in a perpetual state of crisis that cannot be fixed from within the system. We need a rethinking of how safety can be achieved. We need power to be shifted from the police to our people.
And so our delegation of eight Black and brown young people who have traveled here are not asking for any favors, are not accepting any apologies. We are calling on you to admit to the endemic and structural violence that exists within this system of policing and criminalization. We charge torture. We charge genocide. “
US government representatives in attendance responded by stating that 330 police officers were prosecuted in the past 5 years for violence and misconduct. The We Charge Genocide delegates walked out in protest, explaining in a statement:
"We were insulted by their suggestion that 330 police in the past five years being prosecuted could even begin to rectify the violence Black and Brown communities experience at the hands of the police and the state, considering that there were 300+ taserings by the police in Chicago alone in one year."
Outside of the UN, the delegates regrouped by chanting the famous words of Assata Shakur, “It is our duty to fight; it is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
On Thursday, the United Nations posed a series of questions to the United States government delegation, which included questions issued in the shadow report submitted by WCG members. The UN Committee Against Torture asked the US representatives, "How is it that Black people are only 32.3% of Chicago population but are almost 80% of police shooting victims?"
A committee member went on to state, "The way US police are authorized to have military grade weapons gives the impression US is in a civil war."
CAT Committee member Domah asked, "How can your government not have at least pockets of civil accountability systems? Reparations go well beyond monetary compensation to repair human dignity. When a person loses their human dignity so much more is needed then money, a Human being is a vessel that needs so much more for repair."
Committee Member Modvig said to the U.S. "Your measures of accountability are insufficient." The Committee member then went on to acknowledge the family of Michael Brown present, something US delegation reportedly did not do.
The US representatives responded by stating that prisoners being tortured in the US can file civil suits for redress, and that sexual assault does not classify as a physical assault in prisons.
Dissatisfied and impatient with the responses from the United States representatives, the eight We Charge Genocide members stood up in protest, holding up pictures Dominique “Damo” Franklin, a 23-year-old Black youth who died in June after being tased while handcuffed. Delegates from Ferguson/ St. Louis and other cities joined in solidarity with WCG members by also raising their fists.
In a public statement, the young people explained their silent protest, “Today when U.S. representatives responded to one of United Nations Committee Against Torture’s questions regarding police use of tasers by claiming police are properly trained to use them and that they aren’t lethal, the eight We Charge Genocide delegates made eye contact with one another and all knew it was the moment for us to stand. We rose silently with our fists in the air, each holding an image of Dominique Franklin— a 23-year-old friend who was tased to death by the Chicago Police Department this summer.
There was an immediate energy that shot through the room, and we were joined right away by Monica James, from the Transformative Justice Law Project, and two members from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
After five or ten minutes, we grabbed each other’s hands in the air and held them there for 30 minutes– in honor and memory of the 30 minutes Rekia Boyd’s body laid in the street after being shot by a Chicago Police off-duty officer. Several fists throughout the room started to rise, including members of the Ferguson to Geneva delegation, Chicago Torture, and students from the NEIU delegation. Most of us didn’t notice how many other people in the room had stood in solidarity with us until we looked up or when we finally sat down. A few people walked over to us with words of support, including a former Black Panther Jihad Abdulmumit who came behind us, whispering ‘Stay strong. You guys are heroes today.’”
WCG members added, “While statistics and data are important to have in many platforms of effecting social change, personal narrative proved today to be what really moved the UNCAT members into grilling the US on their consistent and systematic forms of violence and control of people of color in this country. The U.S. dodged questions and misled committee members but our stories, our lives and our struggles were recognized on an international stage and that is undeniable. Know that.”