Academic journal article The Journal of Race & Policy

Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation in Response to Police Shootings of African Americans in the United States

Academic journal article The Journal of Race & Policy

Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation in Response to Police Shootings of African Americans in the United States

Article excerpt


The 2014 killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent incidents of fatal police shootings of black people, or their deaths while in the custody of law enforcement in the United States, sparked outrage that sustained a wave of activism and protest among the "Black Lives Matter" movement. They decried what looked like the undervaluing of black lives by law enforcement. Solidarity protests crossed racial lines and extended as far away as the United Kingdom (Shepherd and Hauser, 2016; Sigee, 2016).

The issue of racism in the America-specifically the residual effects of slavery and the discrimination borne by African Americans-has ignited dialogue within the United States that has been at intervals painful, combative, and conciliatory. The national conversation focused on the narrative that encounters with law enforcement have sometimes deadly consequences- particularly for black males even when they are unarmed (Kelly, 2014; Reynoso, 2015). The events show that the vestiges of discrimination and violence against African Americans have not been outlawed and suggest that new activities and mechanisms need to be introduced to remove the lingering violence, hate, and oppression that African Americans experience.

An element that differentiated these highly publicized killings of black people from previous incidents is the presence of mobile phone or surveillance video that allowed internet subscribers, social media users, and television viewers to witness the final interactions with police and, in some cases, the very moment of death. Whether or not one attributes the uptick in the conversation to the agenda-setting role of media or to an actual increase in deadly police encounters for African Americans, the accessibility of videotaping technology improves the ability to document encounters with police. Apart from serving as evidence, the video also has the potential to be a resource to assist in police training, community relations, and civilian engagement with law enforcement to further a rapprochement of sorts (Kindy et al., 2016; Associated Press, 2016; Miller, 2016).

From a human rights perspective, the international community has formally weighed in on the issue of racism, violence, and law enforcement in the United States. The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has condemned the shooting deaths of two African Americans and the related killing of police officers (United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, 2016). Four United Nations human rights rapporteurs also cited concerns about the outcomes of two grand jury investigations that exonerated the police officers who killed unarmed African American men (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2014). The United States was also forced to defend its record during the 2015 Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2015a and 2015b).


Various countries have acknowledged human rights transgressions perpetuated against significant numbers or specific groups of citizens and convened Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to assist in nation building and to provide redress for past national abuses and atrocities (Corliss, 2013). These countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United States (Greensboro, North Carolina), and Uruguay (ibid.; Stanton, 2011; Hayner, 1994 and 2010). While many of the commissions in Latin America and Africa were convened to address politically motivated human rights abuses, the two commissions in North America (in Greensboro, North Carolina and Canada) bear some relevance to efforts in the United States to address the roots of racial conflict. …

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