Black Lives Matter
13th July 2020
H.E. Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat
Chairperson, African Union Commission
African Union Headquarters
Roosevelt Street W21K19
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Your Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat,
The family of Mr. George Floyd, Mr. George Floyd’s legal representatives, and concerned members of civil society in East Africa are appealing to the African Union Commission to request urgent action regarding the torture and extrajudicial killing of Mr. George Floyd by police officers, which occurred on 25th May 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America (USA). Mr. George Floyd was an African American and a person of African descent, living as part of the Sixth Region of the African Union.
The Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA) represents Kenyans in the international Diaspora including over 200,000 who are residents, studying and/or working in the USA. The Bandung Conference is an international non-governmental organisation based in Kenya. Based in the United Kingdom, the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) has been engaged in international human rights for five decades. BlakSox is a social action and economic development network based in the United Kingdom and East Africa. The Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) is the premier continental membership forum of and for individual African lawyers and lawyers’ associations in Africa. KDA, Bandung Conference, SBL, and PALU, as well as their affiliates in East Africa, have a long history of fighting for justice and human rights around the world. The family of George Floyd stands in solidarity with these leading organisations in East Africa, and across the African continent, who have united to fight for Justice for George Floyd and equal treatment of people of African descent globally.
On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis Police Department officers arrested 46-year-old George Floyd after he was accused of passing a counterfeit $20.00 bill at a store. During his arrest, four police officers restrained him using unlawful and excessive force. 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 the first four minutes and three seconds of video footage of Mr. Floyd’s killing, Mr. Floyd’s body goes limp, he loses consciousness, appears to stop breathing, and is clearly dying; yet none of the officers removed their knees from his body, including the officer kneeling on his neck. The unlawful means of violent restraint and excessive force resulted in asphyxia, actually and proximately causing George Floyd’s death.
Nearly the entire incident was captured on video and several eyewitnesses attempted to intervene and stop the police from using excessive force and a violent, unlawful restraint. The video evidence clearly demonstrates that the officers tortured George Floyd by using unlawful restraint mechanisms and excessive force which resulted in an extrajudicial killing. Throughout the video, one can hear George Floyd tell police officers that he could not breathe at least twelve times, including within the first few seconds. Witnesses begged the officer to remove his knee from George Floyd’s neck to stop the obstruction of his airway and said at least three times, “he’s not breathing,” and told police officers, “you’re cutting off his breathing,” on six occasions. George Floyd clearly stated: “I’m going to die…they’re gonna kill me…and called out for his mother to save him yelling ‘mama, mama!’” Shortly thereafter he lost consciousness, stopped breathing, and his body went limp; approximately four minutes and three seconds into the video. Eighteen seconds after he went limp a witness yelled: “Look at him, he’s not breathing.” Approximately fifty seconds after he went limp another witness yelled: “he’s not responsive.”
On May 29, 2020, the State of Minnesota released the preliminary autopsy findings. The Hennepin County Medical examiner concluded that George Floyd’s death was the result of a combined effect of being restrained, his underlying health conditions, and potential intoxicants in his system, and that: “there were no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” The Medical Examiner’s bizarre conclusion clearly defied both science and common sense. George Floyd’s family hired Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Allecia Wilson to perform an independent autopsy. The independent medical examiners concluded that George Floyd was killed by mechanical asphyxia due to neck and back pressure; that pressure interfered with flow of blood to his brain; that George Floyd died at the scene; and that there was no other cause of death, including pre-existing health conditions or intoxication.
Witnesses begged officers to take his pulse more than sixteen times. Two minutes and seventeen seconds after George Floyd’s body went limp one witness asked: “Did they kill him?” A female witness identified herself as a firefighter and EMT, begged the officers to take his pulse numerous times, and when she attempted to render medical attention to George Floyd herself, police officer Tou Thao ordered her to get back on the sidewalk effectively denying George Floyd medical attention. Derek Chauvin, the officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, kept his
knee on his neck for four minutes and one second after his body went limp and he lost consciousness, including for one minute after the ambulance arrived. None of the four officers attempted to perform CPR or any other life-saving measure, again effectively denying him the medical attention that they were presumably required by law to render during medical emergencies. The officers knew that George Floyd could not breathe and was dying, yet Derek
Chauvin kept his knee pressed into George Floyd’s neck effectively ensuring that he could not breathe. The video evidence makes clear that the officers’ acted with the intent to kill George Floyd depriving him of his universal human right to life.
Subsequent to the incident and video footage being made public, four police officers were fired, after extensive protests in the United States and around the world. Currently, Derek Chauvin is charged with second degree murder, and the other three officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The United States of America has a long pattern and practice of lethal police violence disproportionately applied to persons of African descent. The historical context of how African Americans are treated is buried deep in the American consciousness of slavery followed by the pathology of the Jim Crow era. It is widely known that in the Southern states for over three hundred years there was impunity for killing, raping, and torturing slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation did not extinguish this underlying level of hate. Confederate statues were largely erected in many southern states in the 1950’s to counter the civil rights movement and assert the ideology of White racial supremacy. Confederate flags still fly today. The defense of relics celebrating slavery by many Americans is part of that continuing narrative of White supremacy. Even following the Emancipation proclamation, the notion of White supremacy was enforced by the systematic lynching of Black men, women and children, totaling some 4,048 Black people who were lynched between 1877 and 1950 in the South.
Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the United States at both State and Federal levels has systemically failed to enforce its provisions leading to de facto and de jure discrimination against persons of African descent in nearly every facet of society including: education, employment, housing, financial industries, political representation, continued efforts to suppress Black voters, policing, the criminal justice system, and ultimately as reflected in mortality rates.
One in four African American men will serve a sentence of imprisonment at some point in their life, and minor interactions with law enforcement officers often result in a wholly disproportionate and lethal use of force. The incarceration rate of Black persons and the privatization of the prison industry in the United States provides a constant stream of free labor to private companies, incentivizes conviction rates, and has amounted to a continuation of slavery in the form of mass incarceration. The context for the killing of George Floyd is that some 18,000 increasingly militarized police forces across the US have been given virtual impunity from criminal charges by an over-protective justice system. Since 2015 some 4,728 people have been reportedly shot/killed by police in the United States, of whom a disproportionate 1,252 were African American, 877 Hispanic and some 214 from other minority groups. Despite constituting only 13% of the U.S. population they represented 26% of those shot.
Police killed some 100 unarmed Black men in 2015 alone, five times the number of unarmed white men who were shot (i.e. 36% of unarmed men killed that year). Only four officers were ever convicted, and none were sentenced to more than four years imprisonment.
The reality is that “Black lives” do not seem to matter to many police officers in the United States and there is de facto and de jure impunity for their killing of unarmed black civilians. The widespread or systematic extrajudicial killings and torture of African Americans condoned or tolerated by the United States government amounts to a crime against humanity as defined under international law. The United States Government has not taken effective action to curtail these widespread and systematic killings and incidents of torture. On all the available evidence these abuses are condoned or tolerated by the Government of the United States.
Many of these cases have resulted in the failure of state and local governments to hold accountable police officers who commit human rights violations. For example, in 2014, unarmed African American 18-year-old Michael Brown, accused of stealing from a convenience store, was killed in Ferguson, Missouri and shot six times with his hands up. No police officer was criminally charged. In 2014, unarmed African American Eric Garner was killed in New York City; police accused him of unlawfully selling cigarettes and held him in a chokehold despite the fact that he told the officer “I can’t breathe” eleven times before he died. None of the officers involved were convicted of any wrongdoing. 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. In 2012, seventeen-year-old African American Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed and not committing any crime and was shot and killed by a “neighborhood watchman.” On February 23, 2020, unarmed twenty-five-year-old African American Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by White men while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood. He was not committing any crime and evidence revealed that his killers acted on some apparent authority from local law enforcement.
On June 1, 2020 President Donald Trump addressed the nation and asserted that he would protect citizens’ second amendment rights, or right to bear arms. Shortly following this statement, Sheriff Grady Judd in Polk County, Florida issued the following statement: “The people in Polk County like guns…if you try to break into their homes to steal, to set fires, I’m highly recommending they blow you back out of the house with their guns.” We believe that such statements from authorities further incite vigilante behavior and incite extrajudicial killings of
African Americans by police and citizens. 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 abridgment of their human rights, including their right to be free from torture and fundamental human right to life. We urgently request that you support our call for the United States and its state and local governments to implement the 12-point plan of police reforms:
The George Floyd Case
- A full review of the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations to determine whether any of the officers that participated in murdering George Floyd was motivated by racial bias and should be charged with a hate crime.
- To end qualified immunity of all law enforcement officers;
- To reclassify uses of force matrices to include tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas, and chokeholds as “less lethal” uses of force as opposed to “non-deadly uses of force,” to retrain on the uses of force to ensure they are utilized in non-deadly manner, and/or to eliminate certain uses of force like chokeholds and other such physical restraints likely to result in death;
- To end the provision of military equipment to, and military-type training of police;
- To establish substantive norms and procedures for nationwide certification and decertification of police officers and listing of certified and decertified officers on a publicly available database; to that end, to monitor and publish the arrest and complaint record for each police officer and to bar their re-employment in other law enforcement agencies where they have been dismissed or disciplined for gross misconduct, and similarly for each police precinct and Department to identify and combat racial inequality;
- To introduce compulsory training, evaluation and oversight on de-escalation techniques, with an obligation on each officer to deescalate any interaction with a member of the public and a duty to intervene where excessive is being used or appears to be used;
- To mandate the use of body cameras for all police officers and the immediate release of video footage and audio recordings following incidents involving police killings;
- To significantly increase restrictions on no-knock warrants and use of non-uniformed police in citizen interactions;
- To reinstate federal oversight/consent decrees where warranted and establish civilian review boards to aid in the pursuit of justice for victims;
- To establish an independent commission at federal level to review, investigate, prosecute and conduct independent autopsies in all police killings and to support an independent prosecutor for police misconduct cases;
- While recognizing that policing is not exclusively within the jurisdiction of the United States Federal government, to the extent constitutional constraints and consent decrees apply to all 18,000 police forces, there should be standardized restructuring, training, and discipline to bring policing within the purview of the United States Constitution and international human rights norms. States, municipalities, and local government should further operate to bring all 18,000 police forces within the purview of constitutional policing and compliance, should develop civilian review boards and oversight, and should develop response teams comprised of qualified, unarmed civilian staff separate from police departments to respond to emergencies involving mental health, homelessness, and non-criminal emergencies.
- To immediately implement and follow recommendations made by special procedures of the United Nations that ensure the United States upholds its human rights obligations, including in the context of policing and the elimination of racism.
Your Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat, we (KDA, Bandung Conference, AfDA, SBL, and PALU) thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.
The Family of George Floyd
Quincy Mason, Son of George Floyd
Philonise Floyd, Brother of George Floyd
Benjamin Crump, Esq., Attorney for the Family of George Floyd
Jasmine Rand, Esq., International Legal Strategist for George Floyd Legal Team
Dr Willy Mutunga (Former Chief Justice of Kenya)
His Excellency, Professor Paul Chepkwony, Governor of Kericho County (Kenya)
Mr. Emeka Obegolu, President of Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) (Nigeria)
Donald Deya, Chief Executive Officer, (PALU) (Tanzania)
Dr. Shem Ochuodho, Chair, Kenya Diaspora Alliance (Kenya)
Judge D. Peter Herbert O.B.E. (retired) Co-Chair Bandung Conference (Kenya)
Victor Ocheng, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Founder of African Youth Initiative Network (Uganda)
Viv Ahmun, Director BlakSox (United Kingdom)
Professor P.L.O. Lumumba (Kenya)
Professor Shadrack Guttoo (Kenya
Professor Gabor Rona (USA)
Amb. Thomas Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson, African Union Commission;
Amb. (Ms.) Minata Samate Cessouma, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Department of Political Affairs, African Union Commission;
Prof. Khabele Matlosa, Director of Political Affairs, Department of Political Affairs, African Union Commission;
Amb. (Ms) Namira Negm, Legal Counsel and Director for Legal Affairs, Office of the Legal Counsel, African Union Commission;
Ms. Eiman Kheir, Head of Diaspora Division, African Citizens & Diaspora Directorate, Bureau of the Chairperson, African Union Commission;
Ms. Habiba Mejri-Cheikh, Director of Information and Communication, Directorate of Information and Communication, African Union Commission;
Ms. Wynne Z. Musabayana, Head of Communication, Directorate of Information and Communication, African Union Commission;
The Presiding Officer, Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union
Mr. William Carew, Head of Secretariat, Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union;
Hon. Chief Fortune Charumbira, Acting President, Pan-African Parliament;
Ms. Lyn Chiwandamira, Senior International Relations Officer, Pan-African Parliament;
Mr. Clement Phebe Mavungu, Senior Legal Officer, Pan-African Parliament;
Dr. Solomon Ayele Dersso, Chairperson, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
Ms. Lindiwe Nesila Khumalo, Acting Executive Secretary, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
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