Sunday, August 23, 2020

What lessons arise from international perspective on anti-police brutality work?

In my lifetime, the struggle against racism has become internationalized. But only recently has the liberal critique of racism so emphatically extended to include police brutality.

In the George-Floyd era, even though police reform is inherently connected to a broader, national zeitgeist, the work remains inherently local. This makes me wonder, is there anything useful about connecting anti-police brutality work across international lines? Or does the inherently local nature of municipal police forces in the United States require localized solutions? It's clear many of the same issues crop up across the globe, Bill of Rights or no.

The New York Times recently published an article about police brutality in India, citing hundreds of in-custody killings, largely of Muslims and low-caste Hindu. See this disturbing report for more detail.

In the Philippines, the War on Drugs has morphed into a war on the poor.

Mexican police corruption is well known but their police brutality until lately has been less widely discussed. E.g., in Mexico this year, "local police officers in Jalisco state egregiously beat to death Giovanni L√≥pez for allegedly not wearing a face mask as bystanders pleaded with the police to release him," reported the Brookings Institute. Human Rights Watch has called on Mexico to overhaul its police forces.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2018, an anti-police brutality activist elected to the local city council named Marielle Franco was murdered, probably by police. (Some activities dubbed "police brutality" in Brazil come closer to death-squads than the sorts of in-the-line-of-duty episodes that dominate American headlines.)

Chinese law enforcement has notoriously been hard on religious and ethnic minorities and, lately, Hong Kong dissidents.

Grits could add more examples, those are just a sampling.

It would be a major task just to identify and contact individual humans across the globe who work on police brutality related human-rights topics. They're an eclectic bunch, and the loudest voice isn't always the most important one. Grits might be able to find people who knew people who knew Mexican anti-police brutality activists. Maybe. But Brazil? India? China? Me and the folks with whom I work are at best a full six degrees of separation from anyone on the front lines there.

And once you identify those folks, then what? It seems like conversation might identify commonalities and differences. But does that imply the need for a big international conference, with all the logistical and financial barriers that entails? Or just the world's most confusing, translator-driven Zoom call? It's hard to imagine how that would work in the COVID era.

Would such a gathering identify a common cause or emphasize hidden differences? If the latter, who are the leaders capable of overcoming such differences?

For that matter, would engaging local leaders in international topics become a distraction since most police reform is local? Would the probably-large philanthropic investment required to bring together a global summit of anti-police brutality advocates be better spent funding local projects? Maybe so.

Journalism could help fill the knowledge gap - and those would be cool reporting gigs! - but there aren't many publications with that sort of global reach. Still, when I read stories like the ones linked above, I want to know more. What arguments are locals making; what's their opposition saying? How does local geography relate to their base and their data? How is everyone resourced? Who are the volunteers and donors and what do they hope to achieve?

I want to understand how people facing often much-more-grave situations in Mexico or Brazil or India are reacting to this moment, the pressures confronting them, and what opportunities they see that we're missing. But it's not just something you can Google.

These are the sorts of things I think about on a Sunday morning.


Anonymous said...

You may want to begin here, addressing the issues:

Addressing Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue

Steven Michael Seys said...

The issue of police brutality, like all other human interactions, is not one of systems but of people. When the few who are not mentally fit to be police act out on their anger and prejudice, the others must condemn and expel them for their wrong actions. For far too long the police have closed ranks and defended the ones who do evil in their midst, and now many are joining in (as happened in Jalisco, Mexico). Most police can go their entire career without a violent incident. But there are others who revel in violence and the power rush they feel by submitting others to their will. Get rid of the authoritarians and the violence, brutality and murders will end.

Anonymous said...

Amnesty International might be a starting point.