© David Gray

The United States continues to be mired in racial, social, and economic inequalities, inhibiting the basic rights of its citizens, especially people of color, says a UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Following a 17-day fact-finding visit to various US cities, including Baltimore and Baton Rouge, United Nations human rights expert Maina Kiai reported that systemic inequalities in the US are prohibiting the exercise of peaceful assembly and free association. These inequalities are rooted in the history of the US and particularly impact black Americans, he said, adding that he could not conduct his visit to the US “without issues of racism pervading the discussions.”

“Racism and the exclusion, persecution and marginalization that come with it, affect the enabling environment for the exercise of association and assembly rights,” Kiai said Thursday. He noted the long, sordid legacy of racial discrimination in the US, from chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws to more modern, covert racism engrained in the so-called “War on Drugs” and “three strikes” prison sentencing laws pushed by the likes of former President Bill Clinton.

Regarding the more subtle racism of today, “old philosophies of exclusion and discrimination were reborn, cloaked in new and euphemistic terms,” he said, as so-called law-and-order policies have resulted in often insurmountable fines and jailings over low-level criminal convictions, such as the discriminatory debtors-prison model employed in places like Ferguson, Missouri.

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