Global Police Brutality Takes the Spotlight

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SEATTLE, Washington — The United States quickly turned its national gaze from the COVID-19 pandemic to concerning domestic incidents of police brutality. In recent days, the world has witnessed countless U.S. citizens exercising their right to assembly to fight for justice against systemic racism and police brutality. However, like COVID-19, police brutality is a global problem. Police brutality has become a growing concern for countries across the globe. Research indicates that police brutality rates are higher in areas with large concentrations of low-income residents, thereby showing a possible link between global police brutality and poverty.

Police Brutality in Kenya

In 2019, one in 3 people living in Kenya experienced a form of police abuse or harassment. Additionally, more than half of felony cases in Kenya are closed without enough evidence from police to legally convict the offender. The global organization International Justice Mission (IJM) works to change those statistics.
In already poor and vulnerable communities in Kenya, corrupt police have tortured, murdered and abused without consequence. IJM is based in Washington D.C. but operates closely with local authorities in developing countries to fight against police corruption and violence. The organization has been working in Kenya since 2001 and has managed to convict three police officers for violent crimes in the past two decades. However, the biggest issue in Kenyan law enforcement is the ability for police to detain individuals with little to no evidence.
IJM worked with Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions to create a thorough case screening procedure to prevent cases with little evidence from moving forward. This procedure was passed in 2014 and with the help of IJM, some innocent offenders were able to obtain lawyers to defend their cases. But, without defense, wrongfully imprisoned citizens have spent up to 17 years in prison awaiting trial.
The organization continues to provide innocent victims with lawyers to defend their cases and supports their families with on-going care and reintegration planes. IJM also works with local governments to identify and control corrupt police while implementing new training procedures for police and officials.

Police Violence in Jamaica

Until 2014, in Jamaica, police murdered at a rate of 200 people per year. Amnesty International’s 2016 report found that 8% of all killings during 2015 were at the hands of police. Poor communities in Jamaica are disproportionately affected by police brutality due to the increased presence of gangs in those areas.
Amnesty International is a global campaign fighting for all individuals to have basic human rights. The 2016 report titled Waiting in Vain explores the unjust murders by Jamaican police and the impact this leaves on communities. After reporting on Jamaican police for more than two decades, Amnesty International decided to use their platform to bring to light the voices of those who have suffered this police brutality in Jamaica.
Through interviews with more than 50 relatives of victims, Amnesty International recorded instances of psychological harassment, unlawful detainment and unlawful killings of both victims and eye-witnesses, including women and children. Despite a Jamaican police oversight mechanism established in 2010, no internal restructuring of the police occurred.
Based on this research, Amnesty International believes further police reform must include witness protection and access to justice for relatives of those killed. In 2019, three years after the report by Amnesty International, six police officers were charged with the murder of Matthew Lee after a six-and-a-half-year investigation. This success is monumental in the goal of ending police brutality in Jamaica.

Human Rights Violations in Brazil

In Rio, 1,814 people died at the hands of police in 2019. An analysis by The New York Times discovered that out of the four dozen police killings analyzed, only two policemen reported wounds. Both were accidental and self-inflicted. According to research by Human Rights Watch, police are careless with opening fire in poor communities. This violence instigates more criminal activity in impoverished neighborhoods, which provokes more attention from the police.
Despite a declining crime rate due to safety measures for COVID-19, police killings continue with politics as its conductor. President Jair Bolsonaro declared a “war on criminals” when elected in January 2019 and was quoted in The New York Times saying criminals should, “die in the street like cockroaches.” With support from the head of government, police commit murder without repercussions.
The president went even further, asking for improved legal protections for police who kill people while working. In an already crime-ridden area, police brutality only escalates the tension and violence. Police were murdering people at a rate of five people per day within the eight months after Bolsonaro assumed office.
In 2019, Renata Souza, head of the Human Rights Commission at Rio State Assembly called on the United Nations to investigate the police operations in Brazil so that the issue can be addressed.

The Future Ahead

The stand taken against police brutality may have started in the United States but the movement has inspired countries all over the world to take a stand too. From France to South Africa, people are standing in solidarity against police brutality incidents in their own countries as well as global police brutality overall. With activists and organizations actively working to bring change, it is hopeful that significant progress will be made to combat global police brutality.

Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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