As protests continue in Ferguson, Mo., calling for justice in the slaying of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, activists from the United States, most notably Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, and Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis, were in Geneva as part of a delegation calling for a United Nations committee to review U.S. compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
“I … wanted the committee to know that [Trayvon] was killed by a person [who] is of non-African-American descent and that the person was 28 years old so that they can understand that this was a 17-year-old child, by U.S. standards, against a 28-year-old adult male, and that Trayvon was considered a threat only because of the color of his skin,” Fulton said of her son, who was killed in February 2012 by former neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. “Although ‘Stand your ground’ may seem like it’s a neutral law on the surface … it really isn’t, the way it is applied in the USA.”
The convention to eliminate racial discrimination is a treaty, approved by the U.S. in 1994, which details what countries should do and what standards should be upheld to prevent, eliminate and redress racism and discrimination. The U.N.’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination oversees implementation of the convention.
“We’re part of a process to ensure that the U.S. is upholding human rights standards in the way that addresses racial discrimination across the range of issue areas in the U.S.," U.S. Human Rights Network Executive Director Ejim Dike, whose organization led the event, explained during a teleconference Thursday.
"As you know, we have a number of racial tensions right now flaring up in the U.S. including in Ferguson, Missouri, and issues around police violence directed at people of color, black and brown people in the U.S., which really stems from a culture where we criminalize the bodies of black and brown people in the U.S.,” Dike said.
“The tragic shooting of Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson underscored the gap between what our Constitution requires and what our society currently is confronting in terms of racial discrimination,” added Chandra S. Bhatnager, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program.
“It also underscored the gap between what the U.S. obligations are under CERD and the current practice, and that’s what we’re here to highlight,” he continued. “We’re here to highlight that gap, we’re here to hold the government accountable to improve its policies to eliminate or reduce discrimination and profiling.”
Bhatnager stated that the delegation was calling on the U.S. government to create a national plan of action on racism, indicating that a lack of a plan could be the reason for the current gap between what should be versus what actually is.
The delegation also called for the creation of a national human rights institution so that people would be able to address human rights violations, as well as an update of U.S. Department of Justice guidlines on the use of race.
“That guidance was from 2003 and that has yet been updated … there’s hope for many of us who are racial-justice advocates that the guidance will be updated and that the loopholes that exist in the guidance now, which allow for profiling related to immigration or profiling related to national security, that those loopholes will be eliminated,” Bhatnager said, “and that a strong updated guidance will be issued, that the guidance will be able to be implemented, it will have teeth and it will be applicable, not only to federal police and federal law enforcement but also to state and local officials, who are often the primary interaction between communities and law enforcement.”
Dike pointed out that many thought the lack of executive response could be linked to why these problems continue to occur.
“What we have been seeing is a failure of leadership in policing. I think ultimately that should come from the top, and that’s one of the reasons we’re here in Geneva … to emphasize the point that because we have these race disparities, because there’s this disproportionate racial impact on people of color—that is directly linked to police violence, as well as to a failure to come up with any kind of sensible limits on gun control—the result is that young people of color are paying the price with their lives,” Dike said. “We think that the federal government can show some more leadership in its moral authority, in just making clear statements about what policing should look like on the local level.”
As part of the U.S. delegation, sharing their own stories of grief in the hopes of turning losses into something positive, were Fulton and Davis.
“My son, 17-year-old Jordan Davis … was killed at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, for no other reason other than the color of his skin and also that he was playing loud music,” Ron Davis said, speaking about his own purpose in Geneva. “I think that shooter Michael Dunn was emboldened by the fact that when he took a concealed-weapons class they [told] him, ‘All you have to say when you shoot somebody is five things: I feared for my life.’
“Regardless that my son didn’t have a weapon, regardless that my son never touched a hair on his head, regardless that my son never even got out of the car to touch his car … in their mind they say that they fear someone for whatever reason, they’re able to take action,” Davis added. “I think that’s a human rights violation, that people can fear you in their mind even though you’re not taking action against them, and they can still take action against you and try to get away with it.”
“People are shooting first and asking questions later, and it used to be a 50 percent chance that they go to jail, now it’s something like 20 percent chance that they’re going to jail. It’s highly unlikely they’ll go to jail because most people are using ‘Stand your ground,’ and they’re saying because the person looks suspicious or they feared for their life,” Fulton highlighted. “[I’ve also] asked the committee to challenge the federal government and to work with states to repeal or amend the ‘Stand your ground’ law so that people of color have a future.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.