"Impunity and the lack of accountability lie at the heart of a cycle of police violence and discrimination against Black Americans," the legal experts noted. They added that the legal framework regulating the use of force in the U.S. "does not conform to the requirements of international human rights law or international best practices," which require law enforcement to "apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force."
If force is "unavoidable," officers must "exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense." In all circumstances where force is used, police must "minimize damage ... and respect and preserve human life" and dignity. "Intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life."
We see repeated situations in which officers respond to a scene and use deadly force as a first, not a last, resort. Police are trained to shoot to kill, not to incapacitate. They often opt to shoot rather than using tasers, although there is also overuse of tasers.
Officers in San Diego County's El Cajon knew that Alfred Olango had mental illness. Yet instead of calling the Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams, which is trained to defuse these types of situations, the police responded to Olango's sister's call for help earlier this week by shooting him while his hands were in the air.
Three days after Olango was killed, a black man with bipolar disorder was shot and killed by Los Angeles County police following his call for help.
Inherent Police Bias
The IACHR report charged that "deferring to the views of officers" about what constitutes a lawful use of force "runs the risk of allowing their biases -- whether explicit or implicit -- to define the parameter of the lawful use of force."
Implicit bias describes unconscious prejudices, attitudes and stereotypes. Researchers at the Yale Child Study Center concluded that implicit bias determines the way teachers deal with African-American male students beginning at four years of age.
"The problem of discriminatory police violence is not simply one of inadequate training," the IACHR report continued. "It cannot be separated from systemic racism and inadequate accountability mechanisms."
"Aggressive police practices are deeply rooted in a history of discrimination against Black Americans and are part of a system of racial and social control," the report noted. Its authors identify "broken windows" policing, which targets petty crime; racial profiling, in which people of color are "stereotyped as violent criminals or drug abusers"; increasing militarization of police, who use military equipment even when responding to non-violent crime; and "for-profit policing," where law enforcement raises considerable revenue from fines and criminal and civil forfeiture.
Three sociology professors from Harvard, Yale and Oxford determined that 911 calls decreased by 17 percent in Milwaukee during the year after the 2004 beating of Frank Jude Jr. They found that African-Americans were less likely to call the police after learning that officers "boot-stomped [Jude's] face, snapped his fingers and pressed pens into his ear canals" because they suspected him of stealing a police badge.
Matthew Desmond and Andrew Papachristos, two of the professors who conducted the Milwaukee study, wrote in the New York Times: "Each new tragedy contributes to and reawakens the collective trauma of black communities, which have been subjected to state-sanctioned assaults -- from slave whippings and lynching campaigns to Jim Crow enforcement and mass incarceration -- for generations."
Hillary Clinton has called for police training programs to eliminate implicit bias and proposed a plan "to restore bonds between communities and law enforcement." She vowed to bring law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers, support legislation to end racial profiling, dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and provide greater transparency and accountability for officer-involved shootings.
All police shootings should be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted by an independent and impartial special prosecutor. Citizens police review boards should have independent investigators, independent legal counsel, and subpoena power.
"We need an investigative model rather than a review model, where the board does its own investigations rather than just reviewing what the police have done," Kate Yavenditti, from the National Lawyers Guild and Women Occupy San Diego, told me.