Thursday, July 2, 2020

Proposal for a Peoples Tribunal on Racism and State Violence

August 16, 2010 by NARJHR  
Filed under Racial Justice News

Proposal for a “People’s Tribunal on Racism and State Violence”


This proposed People’s Tribunal on Racism and State Violence is designed to build on two critical developments in the United States: first, the publicized police killing of Oscar Grant and the subsequent murder trial of officer Johannes Mehserle; and second, the United Nations’ first-ever review of the United States’ human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) protocol.  In order to galvanize various movements involved in seeking justice for Oscar Grant and seeking accountability for the United States government, the Tribunal will present a forum to gather testimony about state violence, present expert analysis, and create a formal, multi-platform record that can be utilized in subsequent actions at the local, national, and international levels.

The program of the People’s Tribunal will focus on three areas of state violence: racial profiling, extrajudicial killings, and mass incarceration.  On each day of the Tribunal, morning and afternoon panels will include direct testimony from witnesses to state violence as well as analysis and commentary by legal and academic scholars and community advocates.

The Tribunal proceedings will be fully documented for diverse uses.  A written transcript will be prepared for use as evidence in proceedings before the United Nations and other legislative and judicial bodies.  Partner media and invited media will create content for print, television, and Internet.

The Need for a People’s Tribunal

This Tribunal will provide an opportunity to hold police and prison forces accountable for some of their most egregious acts of violence.  Oscar Grant was murdered in the celebratory early hours of January 1, 2009, when two officers pinned him to a concrete floor while another shot him in the back.  Subsequent judicial proceedings took justice out of the community’s hands by moving the trial from Oakland to Los Angeles, excluding black jurors, excluding critical evidence of the officers’ racial animus, and allowing irrelevant and prejudicial evidence of Grant’s prior conduct.  Although officer Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for causing Grant’s death, there is a significant danger that he will walk free in the near future while Grant’s family must continue to live without their loved one.  By gathering evidence about the felonious and racist conduct of Mehserle and fellow BART officers Domenici and Peroni, the Tribunal will provide an opportunity for the community to present its evidence and will support demands for further accountability, including potential investigations by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism.

The Tribunal also presents an opportunity to connect the Justice for Oscar Grant movement with the larger movements related to racial justice and human rights.  Oscar Grant’s murder has brought attention to Oakland police and has spawned activist efforts by hundreds of community members in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and across the nation.  At the same time, many more organizers are opposing the practice of racial profiling as applied to Latino and Latina community members in Arizona, under the partially implemented SB 1070.  The Tribunal presents an opportunity to compare Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tactics with Oakland Police Department (OPD) and BART Police tactics, and to build cross-cultural movements against state violence and police impunity.  Similarly, the Tribunal has the potential of working with numerous political and nonprofit organizations, like the US Human Rights Network (USHRN), a leading advocate for the application of human rights within the United States, and various local and national media organizations.

Finally, the Tribunal presents an opportunity to connect the Oscar Grant struggle with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The UPR is a recently instituted process that provides for a comprehensive review of the human rights record of each United Nations member state.  The United States will receive its first-ever review this year.  On November 5, 2010—the same day that Johannes Mehserle will be sentenced for the killing of Oscar Grant—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder will submit a United States human rights report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Given that Eric Holder will be the key decision-maker regarding whether or not to order a civil rights investigation of BART and its police officers, and given that November 5 will present a unique moment when Holder and Clinton are on the international stage to defend this country’s human rights record, a well-implemented Tribunal could place sufficient political pressure on the federal government to ensure that Mehserle, Peroni, and Domenici face further prosecution.

Proposed Infrastructure to Support a People’s Tribunal

Many organizations and individuals will need to come together in order to successfully implement a People’s Tribunal.  This will be a partnership between local organizers, including individuals engaged in the Justice for Oscar Grant movements, and national organizers, including representatives from human rights organizations.  An interim steering committee is currently under development, to be composed of both local and national organizers.  The steering committee will generate initial documentary materials and will develop a structure of committees to advance the various aspects of work that will be required, including: Legal; Media/Outreach; Witness Recruitment and Processing; Fundraising; Program; and Logistics.  By the end of August, the steering committee will make a feasibility evaluation to determine whether or not the Tribunal will move forward.

Potential Partnerships


Hard Knock Radio

New Years Movement

Statewide and National

US Human Rights Network

Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

National Alliance for Racial Justice and Human Rights

Join Us!

We are seeking as many organizational and individual endorsements as possible for this critical initiative.  To join, either as a sponsor, endorser, or volunteer please contact Rachel Jackson at or 510.390.6420, Michael Siegel at or 510.289.3318, or Kali Akuno at or 510.593.3956.

If you or your organization would like to join the organizing committee for the Tribunal please indicate your interest in your contact email, and where possible, state what specific contributions you or your organization believe you can make.

In Unity and Struggle,

Rachel Jackson, Michael Siegel, and Kali Akuno

On behalf of the People’s Tribunal Interim Steering Committee

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