Wait of the World: The United Nations and Black America
Civil rights are human rights. The governing bodies that provide them may differ, but the denial of civilian freedoms is inextricably linked to quality of life. “The way you saw my brother tortured and murdered on camera is the way Black people are treated by police in America,” Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, explained to the United Nations Human Rights Council. In his speech, Floyd urged diplomats not to turn a blind eye to the oppression of Black Americans. “I am my brother’s keeper. You in the United Nations are your brothers and sisters keepers in America. And you have the power to help us get justice for my brother, George Floyd. I am asking you to help him. I am asking you to help me. I am asking you to help us, Black people in America.”
George Floyd’s killing has ignited protests around the world. From London to Seoul, “Black Lives Matter” banners and chants have popped up outside U.S. embassies. The Floyd family wants the UN to open an independent international commission of inquiry into racism and police brutality in the United States. The reality however, is that the United Nations and other international organizations will have to play it safe given that the Trump administration quit the UN Human Rights Council two years ago. Each year, the U.S. pays 22% of the UN’s administrative budget. For peacekeeping missions, the U.S. covers up to 28% of costs.
Since the UN’s founding in 1945, the U.S. government has put more sincerity and money into human rights for non-U.S. citizens internationally than it has into human rights for Black Americans. Floyd’s request for an official inquiry echoed “An Appeal to the World,” a petition submitted to the UN by the NAACP in 1947. Edited by W.E.B. Du Bois—who traveled to San Francisco and acted as a consulting delegate when the UN was being formed—the petition asks the UN to recognize the oppression and denial of human rights experienced by African Americans: “No nation is so great that the world can afford to let it continue to be deliberately unjust, cruel and unfair toward its own citizens.”
The data visual below highlights how the Department of State has funded international organizations over a ten-year period. It compares how much money the U.S. government spends on Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to budgets mandated by more than 100 international agencies.
The COPS Office was launched by the Department of Justice (DOJ) two years after the 1992 L.A. Riots. According to the DOJ website, its mission is to advance “the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies through information and grant resources.” The area graph above shows funding approved by Congress between 2008 and 2018. White House budget requests were not considered definitive data points—only guides. Unless Congress approved COPS Office funding through an official appropriations bill (for the fiscal year in question), it was not used. Financial data was sourced from records provided by the Congressional Research Service and the Federation of American Scientists. Funding figures for international agencies came from the U.S. Financial Contributions to International Organizations reports, which are submitted annually to Congress by the U.S. Department of State.
To date, COPS has invested more than $14 billion into law enforcement, training, technical assistance, and community policing strategies. Since 1994, no specific programs have involved victims of police brutality or their families. Nothing remotely similar to The People’s Budget (led by Black Lives Matter L.A.) has been offered. Under the Obama administration, COPS began a police reform initiative where local departments could be audited. The Las Vegas police department received their progress report. But before other city departments, including San Francisco and Milwaukee, could complete participation in the police audit, Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General (at the time) ended the program.
The $14 billion that has been invested by COPS, is a drop in the bucket when you consider how much the U.S. government spends on international organizations like the UN annually.
The graph above showcases funding provided for the UN’s administrative budget. It does not include money used for peacekeeping missions and agencies like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime or the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2018, more than 30 UN agencies depended on U.S. funding, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Within the ten-year period depicted, plenty of contributions were still made to non-UN organizations, like the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (IBWM), which received a little over $1.3 million in 2018.
The graph also reveals how total contributions to administrative funding for the UN dropped in 2017 to a little over $6.5 million. This was due to the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut up to 50 percent of U.S. contributions to the United Nations. In December 2017, Ambassador Nikki Haley announced plans to cut the UN’s budget by more than $285 million.
Even if international organizations plan to support the Floyd family and take direct action against police brutality, history tells us that they will wait to see if the U.S. government does it first. So far, the Senate could not agree on the passage of a police reform bill which included anti-lynching legislation. It’s not 1955 and a photograph of a boy in an open casket in Chicago is making headlines. Or 1991, and a videotape of officers severely beating an unarmed 25-year-old is being broadcast into homes; or even 2016, and a Facebook livestream of an elementary school cafeteria worker in a car being shot seven times has gone viral. It’s 2020. And the world is still watching.