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15 Jun, 2020 20:13

UNHRC joins pile-on against US police’s ‘systemic racism,’ but US military makes police brutality look like amateur hour

UNHRC joins pile-on against US police’s ‘systemic racism,’ but US military makes police brutality look like amateur hour

The UN Human Rights Council has joined the worldwide protests taking aim at racism and police brutality among US police forces. But where are these voices when the US military kills millions in the Middle East and Africa?

Burkina Faso, speaking on behalf of 54 African nations, requested an urgent debate on “racially motivated human rights violations” – specifically systemic racism and police brutality – in the US, and the UNHRC has agreed to hold the debate on Wednesday. But compared with what US military policy has wrought on the populations of the Middle East and northern Africa, police killings are a blip on the radar.

The UNHRC debate is the latest grand public statement in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, and speaks to a growing disconnect between what has become a laser-focus on US policing and awareness of the much greater harms caused by Washington’s foreign policy – harms that are just as racialized, if not more so, but which mysteriously fly under the radars of activist groups.

Because this blindness doesn’t just afflict the UNHRC. In the US, groups like Black Lives Matter and the Sunrise Movement are demanding that US cities “defund police” and reallocate that funding to social programs, a solution that divides the American people and ignores the root causes of police violence – over-militarization, lack of accountability, lack of enforcement of existing laws, poor training, and austerity budgets that have slashed services like mental health and social welfare programs.

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There’s no doubt US police forces need a dramatic overhaul. But the sudden international focus on domestic policing ignores the much greater casualty numbers among black and brown populations resulting from the ‘War on Terror’, which is nearly two decades old and showing no signs of ending anytime soon, despite the feeble campaign promises of President Donald Trump. In addition to the declared wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, the US has bombed or helped to bomb innocent people in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan over the past 19 years, and has covertly extended its military tentacles deep into Africa in a bid to counter Chinese influence.

The result has been millions of deaths and countless more injuries, largely among non-white, Muslim populations. It’s difficult to calculate the true toll of US military violence, but a 2015 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War concluded at least 1.3 million had died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone since the 9/11 terror attacks were used as an excuse to launch the US’ holy war on the Middle East. Their report cautioned that the true number could exceed two million – a total which does not include hundreds of thousands (if not millions) more war deaths in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. 

It’s hard to get a reliable count of civilian casualties, as leaked documents from the drone program have shown as many as 90 percent of those killed in US airstrikes are not the intended targets, and the Pentagon labels any unknown bodies as “enemy combatants” if it can’t identify them. As the military itself admitted at the height of the Iraq invasion, “We don’t do body counts.” And some of the worst harm caused by US foreign policy extends beyond simple killing.

With the help of NATO, the US’ ‘humanitarian bombing’ of Libya in 2011 transformed it from the most advanced nation in Africa, where technological advances were literally turning the desert green, to a brutal place where slaves were sold in open markets. Black people in Libya were targeted for the cruelest atrocities by the NATO-supported rebels, and were often arrested for nothing more than their skin color. It’s difficult to forget the horrific photos that emerged from Abu Ghraib prison, or the tales of CIA ‘black spots’ where innocent men were tortured for weeks on a mere tip from a vengeful neighbor.

Even the indirect involvement of the US military causes extensive harm. Ever-tightening sanctions strangle Iran, and the US has severely restricted humanitarian aid flowing to Somalia and Nigeria, blaming terror groups that arose in the power vacuum left by Gaddafi’s gruesome murder. Some 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation thanks to aid blockades maintained by US ally Saudi Arabia, and the UN predicted last year that the conflict would claim over 233,000 lives by 2020. 

Those institutions that do try to address US military atrocities face significant opposition – the Trump administration just last week announced sanctions on members of the International Criminal Court for having the gall to do their job and attempt to investigate US war crimes. Perhaps this is why an open UN letter signed by 22 African officials this weekend glossed over the devastating history of US military action in perpetuating systemic racism around the world, instead keeping its condemnations politely vague. Yet domestic activist groups are just as silent about the harm US military power causes worldwide, even while claiming they want justice for black and brown populations.

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The activists who genuinely want a better world – as opposed to the professional agitators who’d lose their jobs if all human suffering vanished off the face of the Earth – might consider replacing their rallying cry of “defund the police” with “defund the Pentagon.” The $738 billion that institution received in 2020 could buy a lot of social justice. If black lives truly matter, they matter everywhere – not just inside US borders.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.