PHILADELPHIA – Civil-rights groups have sent a written complaint to the United Nations over what they call violence and excessive force by Philadelphia police officers against Black Lives Matter protesters.
The letter says police violence against demonstrators peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights in the demonstrations in May and June was a violation of international law.
According to Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the police violence and use of nonlethal weapons was not directed at people engaged in looting or vandalism.
“The violence we recorded was aimed at people who were protesting and in West Philadelphia, honestly, it was just aimed at the entire neighborhood,” said Roper.
In October, the Philadelphia City Council passed a bill banning the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray against people engaged in First Amendment-protected activities.
But Roper said none of the actions taken so far establish the accountability that’s needed. She noted that UN Special Rapporteurs could issue a finding that use of excessive force by the Philadelphia police violated the protesters’ human rights.
“Requesting that the city take very specific steps to redress the harm that they have caused,” said Roper. “And to change their practices and their structures to make sure that this kind of thing can’t happen again.”
She added the UN also could confirm that the police violence was a violation of treaties and conventions that the United States is party to.
Roper pointed out the use of violence against protesters in West Philadelphia in May and June took place less than a mile from where police firebombed the Move house in 1985.
“No one has forgotten that,” said Roper. “And it was a particularly terrorizing day because of that history of violence between the Philadelphia police and the Black community.”
The letter to the UN contains a series of recommendations, including hiring an independent investigator to examine police violence against protesters.