The U.N. Weighing in on the Zimmerman/Martin Investigation

According to a United Nations press release,

A group of United Nations independent experts today called on the Government of the United State to finalize the ongoing review of the case involving the death of teenager Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager who was shot in 2012 by a neighbourhood watchman in the state of Florida.

“We call upon the US Government to examine its laws that could have discriminatory impact on African Americans, and to ensure that such laws are in full compliance with the country’s international legal obligations and relevant standards,” said human rights expert Verene Shepherd, who currently heads the UN Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent.

The death of Trayvon Martin sparked a new debate about racial profiling in the United States after the unarmed black 17-year-old was shot and killed in Florida by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watchman. Mr. Zimmerman, who argued that he acted in self-defence and with justifiable use of deadly force, was found not guilty of all charges against him.

The US Department of Justice, the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are currently evaluating the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial, trying to establish potential civil rights charges linked to the case.

“The Trayvon Martin case has highlighted the importance of the need to review those existing laws and policies that can have a discriminatory effect on the basis of race, as African Americans become more vulnerable to such discrimination,” Ms. Shepherd said, recalling that the US has been party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1992, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination since 1994, and many other international human rights law treaties.

“States are required to take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists,” said the Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere.

According to the 2011 US Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics, 71.9 per cent of the total number of victims of hate crimes reported to the nation’s law enforcement agencies were victims of an offender’s anti-black bias. In a 2012 survey, the local non-governmental organization Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that at least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes over the course of a single year.

As is customary with such press releases, this is highly lacking in specifics. But if the U.N. claim is that we have some obligation to change our no-duty-to-retreat laws, or our requirement (nearly universal among the states of the U.S.) of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant wasn’t acting in self-defense, I suggest that the U.N. go take a hike.

By the way, if you’re interested in race-based estimates of hate crimes, see this post for a discussion of how complicated this question is, given that the National Crime Victimization Survey reports that black and white crime victims report equal level of hate crime victimizations, and given the uncertainty about whether the NCVS or the UCR is more reliable on this point.