In keeping with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s revolutionary policies on Black liberation, members of the African-American community assembled a commission of global experts on MLK Day to investigate the systemic violence inflicted upon them by the police.
A coalition of lawyers from the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL), the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) formed the Commission of Inquiry. It aims to hold powerful institutions like the police accountable for their brutalities against marginalized groups, specifically, Black people.
In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963, Dr. King said, “we can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” “Almost 60 years later, we are still facing and fighting those horrors,” informed steering committee member Kerry McLean.
The power of grassroots
The commission’s origins are deeply rooted in the organizing power of the common person. In June 2020, immediately following the killing of George Floyd, hundreds of individuals and organizations from across the world contacted the United Nations Human Rights Council. They urged for the installment of a commission that would investigate the racist practices of American police forces. Grassroots movements caused the request to reach the UN. Groups like the US Human Rights Network, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Mothers Against Police Brutality were instrumental in the delivery. The UN declined but tasked its High Commissioner on Human Rights to prepare a report on racism.
The UN’s decision sparked the community of lawyers to set up the committee themselves. “The work of the Commission of Inquiry does not exist to supplant the work of the UN,” said McLean. She continued: “The UN still bears the responsibility to sufficiently address racism and police violence in the US.”
“This International Commission of Inquiry is our latest attempt to give voice to the international outrage resulting from the public lynching of George Floyd, to once again expose the pandemic of racist police violence against people of African descent and to hold the United States government accountable before the international community,” said Lennox Hinds, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University and chair of the Commission of Inquiry’s Steering Committee.
The misunderstanding of MLK
It is significant that the commission made its global debut on MLK Day. The group’s decision to take matters into their own hands after rejection aligned with Dr. King’s radical advocacy for Black autonomy.
Even though the United States inched towards seemingly progressive values, there is much to heal from and rebuild. Last summer, many met the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement with disdain because of riots even though 93% of the protests were peaceful. In fact, Dr. King’s quote, “a riot is the language of the unheard”, was often watered down to his own son to be more palatable.
But I HIGHLY doubt he would've condoned protester creating VIOLENT chaos and destroying the livelihoods of countless innocents just for the sake of destruction & theft. Destroying black communities. Don't be a Franklin Graham and twisting words.
— ♥Erika♥ (@rikkisue09) May 31, 2020
During the peak of his civil rights activism, Dr. King displeased two-thirds of the nation, reported a Gallup poll in 1966. Now, with right-wing rhetoric villainizing labels like ‘socialist’ and ‘radical’, people fondly remember Dr. King with his quotes on social media, unaware of the radical power behind his words and how it cost him his life. The result is the rise in white moderates asking for peace, and more importantly, silence from people of color trying to survive in a broken system. It is the very result Dr. King repeatedly fought against.
Please don’t act like everyone loved my father. He was assassinated. A 1967 poll reflected that he was one of the most hated men in America. Most hated. Many who quote him now and evoke him to deter justice today would likely hate, and may already hate, the authentic King. #MLK pic.twitter.com/yGdQXL5MJ3
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 18, 2021
From here on out
So, the commission’s resolve to begin today carries somber weight. They will evaluate the most recent cases of police brutality and analyze how they link to the country’s deeply entrenched history of racism.
“For decades people of African descent in the United States have sought in vain to seek relief from the systemic lynchings and killings under the color of law by petitioning domestic courts, including the United States Supreme Court,” said Prof. Hinds.
The hearings commenced with the cases of Eddie Garner, Freddie Gray, and Nathaniel Pickett II — all men killed by the police. They will continue daily until February 6. The commission’s final report will then be shared with the UN’s High Commissioner and with the masses. The public can register here to attend the hearings on Zoom.