Human Rights Group: Delhi Police Violated Human Rights

Human Rights Group: Delhi Police Violated Human Rights

NEW DELHI — Indian authorities are not investigating the “grave human rights violations” allegedly committed by the police during February riots in New Delhi, human rights group Amnesty International India claimed.

“Delhi police personnel were complicit and an active participant in the violence,” Amnesty said in an investigative briefing released Aug. 28.

The organization’s investigation is based on conversations with 50 riots survivors, eyewitnesses, lawyers, doctors, human rights activists and retired police officers, as well as several videos of the violence.

The Delhi police force has denied any wrongdoing and did not respond to a Zenger News request for comment about the Amnesty report.

President Donald Trump was in New Delhi as part of his first state visit to India when violence roiled the northeastern parts of India’s capital, in which 53 people — mostly Muslim, India’s largest religious minority — were killed.

A parking lot in Northeast Delhi which was burnt down during the riots. An intelligence bureau staffer Ankit Sharma was killed near this parking lot on March 16, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Amnesty’s report documents a timeline of alleged violations by Delhi police, starting from the pan-Indian protests against a new citizenship law in late December 2019. It claims to have found a “disturbing pattern of grave human rights violations committed by the Delhi police during the riots.”

“Six months on, there has not been even a single investigation into the role of the Delhi police,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India.

During the six days of rioting, a video surfaced of police personnel kicking five men and forcing them to sing India’s national anthem. One of them, known as Faizan, later died of his injuries.

Amnesty said the video was among those analyzed by its crisis evidence laboratory, and the team interviewed Faizan’s mother. After the incident, Faizan was detained by the police for close to 36 hours without any charge. He was handed over to his mother at 1 a.m. on Feb. 26 after his condition had deteriorated.

Mohammad Rafiq, a 27-year-old tailor, was also among the five men who can be seen being assaulted in the video.

Mohammad Rafiq shows his injuries on March 14, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

He said the group was kept in police lockup until late on the night of Feb. 25. Rafiq had been picked up by the police when he had stepped out to look for his mother on Feb. 24.

“The policemen first dragged me to the government-run clinic in the area and beat me up,” he said. “Four people were already lying on the ground there. I lost all hope and thought, ‘I won’t survive this.’”

The police took them to the local hospital for first aid and then moved them to the lockup at the police station.

“We asked them to release us,” Rafiq said. “But they said the situation outside the police station was bad.”

“The ruthless treatment of the heavily injured men by the Delhi police officers violates the international human rights standard,” Amnesty said in its statement.

The police force has said previously its investigations were fair.

“Delhi police would like to assure you that it is has the capability and the resolve to bring all those responsible for the riots to justice – and nothing bears out this intention more than the fact that over 750 cases have been registered and more than 1,500 persons have already been arrested in connection with the riots,” Eish Singhal, a Delhi police spokesperson, wrote in a statement on Aug. 7.

In another response on June 26, Singhal had written that more than 400 First Information Reports, or official written complaints, have been registered from the minority community.

“No discrimination has been made on grounds of community, caste or color,” he said.

Tall iron gates come up in neighborhoods of Northeast Delhi after the riots on March 13, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Violence in northeast Delhi followed two months of protests against the new citizenship law. The law, passed by the Indian parliament in December 2019, fast-tracks the citizenship process for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In New Delhi, one such protest in the northeastern parts of the city had snowballed into riots.

Kapil Mishra, a local leader from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, had threatened to forcibly remove the protesters. Amnesty said the police did not act against Mishra, even when his speech was immediately followed by large-scale violence.

Delhi police and Mishra did not respond to the allegation. 

“Amnesty International is bereft of any credibility,” said Sudhanshu Mittal, a senior party leader.

“The leadership of Amnesty, the Aakar Patels and Ashwini Kumars have a long history of being anti-Modi,” he said, referring to the former and present chief.

Wall writing calls for a Hindu country in Northeast Delhi on March 14, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

“Sometime back, media was full of stories about a senior police officer writing to his juniors about a large number of complaints received from Hindus alleging bias in the investigations by the police,” Mittal said. “How is it that Amnesty has not chosen to look into any complaint which the Hindus have made against the Delhi police?”

But victims of the violence agree with Amnesty’s report.

“Had the police acted properly we would not have faced this situation,” said Babu Khan, whose two sons, Amir Khan, 30, and Asim Ali, 19, were waylaid by a mob, killed and thrown into a drain on Feb. 26.

Babu Khan outside his residence in Mustafabad in Northeast Delhi on March 13, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Amnesty also claims the police selectively targeted anti-citizenship law protestors. A lawyer who is representing many accused of rioting said the situation was grim.

“Not only are victims being attacked, but also lawyers are being threatened and journalists are being assaulted,” said Mahmood Pracha, whom Delhi police have accused of forging documents and instigating a man to depose falsely.  

Delhi Police’s Special Cell, its anti-terror wing, is probing the riot. Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967, police have arrested several students, activists and politicians who were protesting against the new law.

Amnesty has demanded a prompt investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by the police.

“This ongoing state-sponsored impunity sends the message that the law enforcement officials can commit grave human rights violations and evade accountability,” Amnesty’s Kumar said.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Natalie Gross.)

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Abolish the Police? Some Minneapolis Residents Call That a Punishment

Abolish the Police? Some Minneapolis Residents Call That a Punishment

Defunding or abolishing police departments has become a national debate in the wake of George Floyd’s death, but Minneapolis residents say abolishment isn’t necessarily a clear-cut answer. Some even view abolishment as punitive — a unilateral response to their speaking out against police brutality.

The city approved its first budget cut to the police department late last month. Residents raised concerns regarding whether those most affected had been considered in the discussion of the broad-sweeping removal of the police department from the city’s charter.

To change the police department, the city charter needs to change. On August 5, the Charter Commission had the option of approving any of four motions but opted for more time — pushing a vote on the City Council’s charter amendment to Sept. 2.

Protestor checks phone with law enforcement assembled in background. (Courtesy: Nedahness Greene)
The department-abolishing charter amendment calls for the City Council to “establish, maintain, adequately fund, and consistently engage the public about a department of community safety and violence prevention.” The ordinance also calls for a Division of Law Enforcement Services that would employ “peace officers,” among other measures.

But not all black citizens want less police presence. The Washington, D.C.-based Gallup Center on Black Voices launched a nationwide survey and found that only 22 percent of black Americans favored abolishment. Meanwhile, the majority, 61 percent of black respondents, wanted the same level of police presence in their neighborhoods, and 90 percent wanted reforms aimed at improving relations and preventing or punishing abusive behaviors by law enforcement.

During a Minneapolis Charter Committee public hearing held virtually last month, 86 people gave feedback on police abolishment, including supporters, those wanting to outsource law enforcement to other departments and clear dissenters. Among the strongest dissent was from Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney focused on police accountability for 15 years.
“I do not support this proposed charter amendment for a number of reasons: Number one, city council members did not do their job … in terms of pushing for police accountability and reform. … They’re bypassing any possible reforms and going straight for dismantling the police without really having any input from the black community, particularly the people who are most impacted by the shootings and things that have happened in our community,” she said.  Another virtual public hearing July 21 attracted 89 people who commented on the issue.
Confusion among residents concerning the changes was apparent at both meetings.
One resident, Raeisha Williams, took to Facebook Live to decry any attempt at abolishing the police department and supporting current Chief Medaria Arradondo, who was promoted to the position in 2017. Arradondo responded to the death of George Floyd by promptly firing and charging the officers involved.
“His action was swift. It was right,” Williams said. “He is the first to do that in his position, and you are going to get rid of him with your charter and he has to reapply, right? He’s been trying to clean house, worked his way up through the ranks, born and raised right in the community on (the) south side. … We are not asking you to abolish it. We are telling you to reconstruct it.”
Certainly, pro-abolishment feelings exist. “I am speaking from the perspective of MPD150,” said Molly Glasgow, a core member of the project, which seeks to review and research ways to dismantle the police department. “The system continues to … openly harass and violently police Black people, Indigenous people and people of color. … The gruesome and dangerously casual murder of George Floyd in front of the eyes of young people, combined with ongoing economic and racial justice violations … led to this shift. Young people and elders are continuing to lead the way to a new world, without police.”

What solutions will work for communities?

“We have worked hard to reform the department, you know,” Council Member Andrea Jenkins of Ward 8 said, during a phone interview with Zenger. “We’ve addressed issues like … wellness training, implicit bias training. … We hired a police chief to reform the department, and it just has not been successful in the public safety that our community deserves. So we decided that we have to take different measures.

“Reallocating some of our resources, which some people call defunding, I’d like to think of it as re-funding our communities, to do the work that is really important to help prevent crime as opposed to just responding,” said Jenkins. “… It is an aspirational goal that at some point in time we want to live in a society that does not rely on police … on prisons to warehouse our own citizens. It will require professionally trained law enforcement as part of a broader public safety continuum including support for mentally ill respondents and helping with domestic violence — and we’ve already started some of this work.”

Ward Eight is where Floyd died; protests largely converged there at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. The Minneapolis police budget for 2020 was $193 million and faces a nearly $98 million shortfall due to COVID-19 and unrest resulting from Floyd’s murder. So far, more than $1 million is allocated for community support programming.

Some residents called for a larger allocation. Others prefer the independence of city funding to address issues.

“I have an outreach program. I walk the neighborhoods with a couple guys … and one thing about my program is we never got money from the city,” said Quantrell Urman, co-founder of the nonprofit Strength Group and the business Turf Politics. “If there’s a dollar sign for you to go out there … then I don’t need you out there because when the money is gone, you’re gone.

“Our parks are being used (for criminal activity). The kids can’t even go in the parks there— even before the corona(virus), you know? I grew up in that neighborhood so when I take my daughters back, there’s nothing to take them back to see. I can’t say to them, “I used to play at this park.” There was an hour we had to go to tutoring after school. Where did that all go? I’m trying to prevent the youth from getting into the system. We’re losing our kids in the middle of trying to defund the police,” Urman said, of rising violence.

“They are shooting young girls. It’s not hitting the news like you see other things, but I get calls to these shootings, to diffuse the situation,” he said. “These are real kids — 15, 16 years old. … Their guns were bigger than them. We got to think about the long term. You can take the money away (from the police department budget), but hopefully you do something that’s going to benefit … the community.”

“So whenever young people are gathered, I provide assistance,” said Evan Barnett, a youth worker. “I was one of the organizers when we did Occupy the Police Force a couple years ago (following the Jamar Clark killing). … I provide advice to do things a little safer. … But it’s been all races dying — Black, white, Indigenous, and this is a yearly thing. That’s why there is so much outrage.”

Indeed, prior police incidents haunt Minneapolis.

Forty-year-old Justine Damond, a white Australian-American woman, was fatally shot on July 15, 2017, by then-31-year-old Mohamed Noor, a black Somali-American officer. She’d called 911 to report the possible assault of a woman behind her house. Philando Castile was fatally shot during a traffic stop on July 6, 2016, by Jeronimo Yanez, a 28-year-old police officer from St. Anthony, Minnesota. Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old African-American man, was shot by police on November 15, 2015. There was a lawsuit settlement in 2013 for the death of David Smith, a man who died in 2010 after an incident at the YMCA.

“It’s important to say their names. There was the radio station deejay, Quincy DeShawn Smith,” said Barnett. In November 2008, an appeals court reinstated a lawsuit brought by 24-year old Smith accusing city police officers of excessive force. Three weeks later, Smith was killed after being chased and subdued with a Taser during a domestic disturbance call.

Evan Barnett with his son. (Courtesy: Nedahness Greene)

The police union has played a complicated role in reforms. The department used to have the oversight of the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority, an all-civilian appointed board that investigated allegations of police misconduct. In 2007, the attorney for the Minneapolis Police Federation (the union), Anne Walther, requested that the review board’s findings be more private, citing data practices laws.

Assistant Minneapolis Attorney Lisa Needham complied, resulting in the board no longer telling the public when it had “sustained” a complaint against an officer. The board also had to stop informing the victims of police misconduct which parts of their allegations were found to have merit, thus affecting transparency of findings with the public. The state legislature eventually prohibited the board from making findings of fact regarding complaints against an officer in 2012 and merged with the police department’s own internal affairs unit.

Abolishment of the department may be at issue, but the general community sentiment is one of accountability.

“I’m sure there’s times that officers have to take steps to save their lives,” said Barnett. “But as a professional trained with a gun, you don’t always have to shoot to kill. Or if you happen to kill somebody, there’s a consequence regardless.”

(Edited by Robert George and Cathy Jones.)

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