March 15 — International Day against Police Brutality- Fighting for police accountability from Maryland to Rio, via Kingston.
By Marselha Gonçalves Margerin Advocacy Director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA and Noor Mir, Campaigner for Police Accountability
Last month Amnesty International brought together in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, families that have lost their loved ones to police violence in Brazil, Jamaica, and the United States. These relatives share similar stories of painful loss and failed State accountability for their relatives’ death.
Marion Gray-Hopkins from Prince George’s County, Maryland, who lost her son, Gary Hopkins Jr., was one of the mothers there. Over the week of advocacy, story-telling and dozens of heart-wrenching testimonies, it was clear that across the Americas, Black, working-class and poor people are often treated if their lives are completely disposable.
In Brazil, homicides and gun violence have remained high throughout the country, with estimates putting the number of victims of homicides in 2016 at over 58,000. Last June, a Brazilian Senate Investigative Commission report found that a Brazilian Black youth is killed within the country every 23 minutes. The authorities have failed to propose a national plan to address the situation. In the state of Rio de Janeiro alone, 811 people were killed by the police between January and November 2016. ‘Police operations’ that result in killings, most of them in the poor and marginalized neighborhoods known as favelas, are routine.
These police operations are supposed to fight organized crime and drug trafficking, and the residents of those unprivileged communities have been long stigmatized. They are treated as criminals, verbally and physically abused, and their deaths are counted as collateral damage or described as having resulted from police acting in self-defense.
Ana Paula decided to fight for justice for her 19-year old son Jonathan who was shot in the back by the police. As she prepared for her son’s funeral, she watched on TV as police declared her son was killed in self-defense. For the past 20 years, “Mr. Ze”, one of the few fathers in the group of relatives largely led by mothers and a few sisters, has been fighting to clear the name of his two-year-old son Maycon, since he was killed by police during an operation in Acari. Maycon’s death was filed by police as having been the result of confrontation, and the police officers who shot him were paid for it! Rio state governments throughout almost two decades paid bonuses to police officers for participating in police operations. The statute of limitation for the crime expired last year, and no one has been brought to justice.
From Jamaica, Schakellia Jackson shared her treacherous search for justice for the death of her brother Nakiea Jackson, who was killed in Kingston’s inner city while cooking in his neighborhood restaurant, as the police confused him with some other young man who also wore dreads.
In the United States, over the years, collective people power, led by directly impacted communities such as Black Lives Matter, have taken to the streets to call for an end to police violence. However, the United States is still woefully lacking any real solutions for police reform. Investigations of police violence are often conducted within police agencies themselves, and the public has little access to records of misconduct. Police forces are still heavily militarized, more appropriately equipped for a warzone than a neighborhood block. Data collection is another part of the problem. Without the United States collecting information on when and where people were killed, journalists have had to take matters into their own hands, and independent outlets report over a thousand people killed by law enforcement in the past year alone.
Police officers are responsible for upholding the law, as well as respecting and protecting the lives of all members of society. Their jobs are difficult and often dangerous. However, in the United Sates, Brazil, or Jamaica, the killings of Trayvon Martin, Natasha McKenna, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Jonathan Oliveira, and Nakiea Jackson have highlighted a widespread pattern of racially discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officers, and an alarming impunity for excessive use of lethal force regionally.
Amidst pain and courage, these mothers, fathers, and sisters have committed to support each other, and fight together for police accountability across the continents. Amnesty International stands in solidary with them from Maryland, to Rio, through Kingston.
For the state, it is not enough to kill our children, they have to make them criminals, and blame them for a crime they did not commit even after their death. The police allegedly killed my son in self-defense, killing him once more. I decided I needed to be Jonathan’s voice. I needed to fight for my son, for his memory, and for justice. Our fight is a fight for life. Our dreams would be that no other family member would die in vain” — Ana Paula Oliveira, mother of Jonathan de Oliveira Lima — Rio de Janeiro, February 20, 2016