Police brutality is one of the most serious, enduring, and divisive human rights violations in the United States. The problem is nationwide, and its nature is institutionalized. For these reasons, the U.S. government - as well as state and city governments, which have an obligation to respect the international human rights standards by which the United States is bound - deserve to be held accountable by international human rights bodies and international public opinion.
Our investigation found that police brutality is persistent in all cities; that systems to deal with abuse have had similar failings in all the cities; and that, in each city examined, complainants face enormous barriers in seeking administrative punishment or criminal prosecution of officers who have committed human rights violations. Despite claims to the contrary from city officials where abuses have become scandals in the media, efforts to make meaningful reforms have fallen short.
Police officers engage in unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal choking, and unnecessarily rough physical treatment in cities throughout the United States, while their police superiors, city officials, and the Justice Department fail to act decisively to restrain or penalize such acts or even to record the full magnitude of the problem. Habitually brutal officers - usually a small percentage of officers on a force - may be the subject of repeated complaints but are usually protected by their fellow officers and by the shoddiness of internal police investigations. A victim seeking redress faces obstacles at every point in the process, ranging from overt intimidation to the reluctance of local and federal prosecutors to take on brutality cases. Severe abuses persist because overwhelming barriers to accountability make it all too likely that officers who commit human rights violations escape due punishment to continue their abusive conduct.
Human Rights Watch recognizes that...