International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

In focus

A ‘systemic failure’: investigation confirms NYPD mishandled Floyd protests

By  Lauren Y. T. Ng, Sarah Mui and Vittoria Lucchese

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has come under scrutiny in a recently published report by the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI).  

With the aim to examine the police response to the protests erupting in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the report underscored several shortcomings with regards to the NYPD’s conduct.  The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, commissioned the investigation, which revealed that the NYPD lacked a clear strategy, neglected to consider measures of proportionality and employed excessive use of force towards demonstrators.  The cumulation of these considerations, among others, were believed to have fuelled escalating tensions between the police and protestors, failing to consider the context of the protests, centring on police brutality.  

The report highlighted examples well-documented by journalists during the Floyd protests, including indiscriminate mass arrests of protestors in the absence of violence and the employment of physical force using pepper spray, batons and tasers.  These actions are considered to be in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, namely article 19 (the right to freedom of expression) and article 21 (the right of peaceful assembly), to which the US is a party and ratifying member of.  

In response to the DOI’s report, De Blasio released a video on Twitter expressing his remorse towards the actions of some of the individual police officers who “did something wrong”, affirming that “we have to do better”.  Expectedly, these remarks were not met without criticism.  Department officials countered that the outcome of the protests were largely a result of the mixed messages imparted by elected leaders, with little awareness of the reality in regards to the situation on the ground.  Comparatively, the US program director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Laura Pitter, criticized the apology as a “woefully inadequate response to the scale of police misconduct and abuse”, advocating for a deeper level of accountability, including “addressing the structural problems with policing in New York City”.  

Nevertheless, the DOI outlined a series of recommendations to improve accountability and police-community relations, such as promoting transparency, expanding methods of training to reduce indiscriminate policing, and incorporating policies to facilitate constructive communication with demonstrators.  However, the HRW has made further calls beyond the scope of police force – urging the US to reduce its reliance on criminalisation and policing in addressing societal problems; and alternatively, shifting its funding to focus on services promoting access to education, health care and mental health support.  

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