United States Urged to Fight Police Brutality

HUMAN Rights Watch issued a scathing report July 8 calling on the federal government to crack down on police brutality in the United States.The international organization said the US applies tough human rights standards for foreign assistance but tolerates human abuses by local US police. "Police abuse of civil rights has clear implications under federal, not to speak of international, law," the report said. Human Rights Watch said all branches of the US government have a "historic reluctance ... to act decisively in support of human rights at the state level." The New York-based group singled out problems in the courts, Congress, and the Justice Department. In recent remarks to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, FBI Director William Sessions said, "The FBI strongly condemns acts of police brutality. We are firmly committed to the vigorous investigation of these acts, particularly when they are not addressed at the state and local level." Human Rights Watch called attention to the case of Rodney King, a black man whose beating at the hands of Los Angeles police was recorded on videotape by a witness March 3. The Justice Department is looking into that case but has taken no action under civil rights laws. A spokeswoman said the department is continuing its review, announced last spring, of police brutality in the US. The report noted that when the Justice Department tried to limit what it characterized as "widespread and continuing" police brutality in Philadelphia in the 1970s, federal courts said it lacked the power to intervene. The report said it is "imperative that the attorney general be given power to seek civil remedies against 'widespread and continuing' patterns of police brutality." Congress has been reluctant to step in because policing is considered a local issue, the study says. Human Rights Watch suggested several ways to broaden federal involvement in stopping local human rights abuses, not all of which would require new legislation. They include: * Establishment of federal guidelines and training standards for command and review of police misconduct, similar to legal advice given to local police on drug enforcement, money-laundering crimes, and other problems. * Suspension of federal aid if it is used to purchase weapons that become instruments of abuse against citizens. * Collection of national data on instances of police abuse. The data collection should circumvent the police complaint process, which is often controlled by the police departments involved in abuse. Human Rights Watch is composed of groups that monitor human rights worldwide, including Africa Watch, Americas Watch, Asia Watch, Helsinki Watch and Middle East Watch.

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