Human Rights Brief Hosts Symposium on Police Brutality in the U.S. and Abroad

Feb. 22, 2021


American University Washington College of Law’s Human Rights Brief hosted a four-day symposium, Feb. 15-18, entitled “Police Brutality at Home & Abroad," featuring leading experts discussing issues of race, digital surveillance, immigration, and the role of religion in policing across the world.

“The purpose of this symposium is to allow practitioners, law students, activists, and community members across the globe to learn about the roots of police brutality in both the United States and abroad,” said Human Rights Brief Symposium and Education Editor Nora Elmubark, citing recent police-involved killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Yassin Mohamed. “After a summer of black death and black revolution globally following years of police brutality, we all question – what next? How do we help? How can we develop a system that values and honors black and brown lives?”

The first two days of the symposium focused on police brutality and surveillance in the U.S. and within Asia and Asian communities. The event also included panel discussions on “The Role of Colonization and Immigration in Police Brutality in Europe,” and “The Role of Religious, Tribal, and Political Division in Police Brutality in the Middle East and Africa.”

“The killing of black and brown bodies has been going on since the time of slavery, and we just started talking about it the way we are now since Trayvon Martin and the Black Lives Matter Movement – really, since cell phone cameras. Before that, nobody really believed these were unarmed people being brutality killed,” said AUWCL Distinguished Professor of Law Angela J. Davis, a nationally recognized expert in criminal law and procedure. “The biggest challenge is the law itself and how it is designed to support police officers and permit them to take black lives, from Supreme Court jurisprudence down [to the lower courts].”

Calls for reform and structural change are not simply about getting rid of police and emergency services, said Georgetown Adjunct Professor Arjun Sethi. Rather, such reform would connect people in an emergency state with those that can better address the situation.

“The United States criminalizes mental illness, drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, substance abuse. So part of what we need is a mechanism to actually contact professionals who have the training and resources to help communities in need,” he said.

Having observed police brutality in the U.S. and within ethnic communities in China, NYU Adjunct Professor Liz Ouyang said that the issue is universal, especially when the majority population “view the minority communities differently and less-than, which subjects them to more scrutiny and control.”

“In China, human rights are seen as secondary to national security and the Uighurs are seen as a terrorist threat,” said Darren Byler, postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Colorado. “Instead, the human rights in application are the rights of the Han majority to be protected from the terrorists – and that’s how human rights get weaponized as a tool of oppression against a minority group.”