SEEDS: Report Back - We Charge Genocide
We Charge Genocide is a grassroots, inter-generational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago. The initiative is entirely volunteer-run. We are Chicago residents concerned that the epidemic of police violence continues uninterrupted in our city.
On Friday, 11/28, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) issued Concluding Observations after holding their 53rd Session in Geneva, Switzerland earlier this month, during which the U.S. was under review.
From Nov. 12 to 13, We Charge Genocide (WCG) joined groups and individuals from across the country who traveled to the United Nations to expose torture in the U.S., especially at the hands of the police. The eight young delegates from Chicago submitted a report to UNCAT on police violence against youth of color, testified before the committee, and held a historic protest inside UNCAT chambers during the U.S. response to their charges of genocide.
PBI got a brief sit down with Ethan Viets-VanLear, one of the We Charge Genocide delegates to the United Nations conference in Geneva. He provided some great info on the work and focus of We Charge Genocide.
You all look so young. What’s the average age of WCG delegates? And the organization?
Well, I'm 19. The average age of the U.N. delegates is about 23. Within the overall WCG organization, I’d say about 30.
How long has WCG been around?
It really came into fruition around the beginning of summer. So about 6 months. The founder/catalyst is a woman named Mariame Kada. She’s a prison abolitionist here in Chicago and has been for years.
Wow, that’s a lot of progress and organization in a relatively short time.
The reason we’ve gotten so much done in such a short time is that we’ve had people on the ground organizing for so long that when we have this energy behind it that comes from Mike Brown’s death or the murder of my friend Domonique Franklin, it puts more energy and impact among people that have already been doing this.
What was the overall experience like presenting to the U.N. Committee Against Torture?
First of all, it’s was saddening to have to go there for the issue we were addressing. It brought up a lot of trauma and a lot of wounds that have been inflicted upon us by the state. But overall , the conference was very positive. We met all of our expectations and exceeded them. We met with the UN panel on torture, which convenes about every 4-6 years. The U.N. was very responsive to us.
Is the presentation just a statement or is there debate?
It was about a 3 or 4 day process. The first step was us bringing our report to the U.N. committee and telling our story. I actually presented our statement to the U.N. I sat between Mike Brown’s parents who also gave statements, among many other non-profits across the country who sent delegates. After we gave our statements, gave our facts, the U.N. had some questions. The next step was our making a statement to the state representative as well. The United States sent about 24 delegates out there to speak and we gave that address. The response from the state was very patronizing. They gave their responses about our issues and mitigation of police officers committing crimes. We actually walked out on their response.
The next session was when the U.N. asked questions of the state about how they were not aligned with the treaty they signed saying they were against torture. We were very happily surprised when the U.N. asked all the questions we had recommended they pose to the state. They directly mentioned the Chicago Police Department and their violence against young people of color. They brought up the use of tasers, they brought up the excessive force of the police in Chicago and they brought up the militarization of the police.
And then finally the state had their time to respond. Again their response was very patronizing. They were dodging questions and when they got the point about police tasing.
The reason We Charge Genocide got created and the reason we went to the U.N. was because my friend Dominique Franklin was tasered by the Chicago Police Department three times while he was handcuffed and left in a coma to die; and he eventually passed away. So when they brought up tasing saying it was not a use of deadly force and they were discounting our stories of people, specifically Black people and people of color, getting killed by tasers, we knew that was the moment we had to do something. So we all stood up, we raised our fists in the air. We were joined by people from Ferguson, we were joined by delegates from the LGBTQ comrades including Monica James from Chicago, and we interlocked hands and kept them up in the air for 30 minutes to represent the 30 minutes that Lakisha Boyd lay on the ground here in Chicago after being shot by a Chicago police officer.
So what are the possible outcomes or fallout from addressing the U.N.? Are there possible sanctions or a timeline established when they have to have improvements put in place?
Well, the U.S. only signed on the two of the seven treaties of the U.N. One of them being against torture. And out of all the countries that claim to be about democracy and freedom, they are one of the worst about following up with the U.N. about trying to reach the actual terms of the treaty. We’re not very hopeful that anything will change or that the state will make any action. We already knew there was torture and we already know there has been genocide. We see it each and every day. I just think it’s an extension of this exasperated state of violence that we’ve been in since Black people were brought to this country. So we don’t expect a change but the U.N. will send a final report with thei recommendations and the U.S. will have to respond with what they are doing to address the issues. The U.S. will have to discuss what they are doing to address police accountability and police violence against Black people in Chicago.
What are the consequences if they don’t? Are there any?
Well, the U.N. has no authority to do anything in this country. It’s very hard to even get U.N. delegates into the country to do an investigation. The United States is very unmoving.
Upon you guys’ return, what other civic actions has WCG been involved in? Or what do you have slated to carry out?
There was a protest with Project Youth 100. That was the night of the no-indictment announcement. There was a march downtown. We also occupied City Hall yesterday for about 10 hours. We did some die-ins to represent all the lives that have been lost. Moving forward, on December 11th we have a Report Back talking about the U.N. and what we learned there and, more importantly, steps moving forward. WCG is a large group of people, coalitions and organizations coming together to address this issue. We’re all going to sit and dialogue and come together to discuss what we want to see next. To put something on the board or creating a real, effective civialian police review board. We want to push the decriminalization of low level marijuana and we also have our meeting Dec. 13th to discuss 2015.
What we did in Geneva, though it was inspiring to many people, was only the beginning.