PHILADELPHIA — Alongside the Stern Community Lawyering Clinic at Kline School of Law at Drexel University, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter of complaint to the United Nations, detailing the use of violence and excessive force by police against Black Lives Matter protesters in May and June of 2020. The letter alleges that the police violence against peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights is a violation of international law.

The letter also illustrates the very different treatment that peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters received from police compared to white vigilantes and counter-protesters, whom the Philadelphia police either ignored or encouraged. 

“It’s been six months since Philadelphia police unleashed a hail of tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters and on residential streets in West Philadelphia, even as white vigilantes and counter-protesters were largely ignored by police,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The unwillingness of Mayor Kenney’s administration to hold Philadelphia police accountable for their violence is appalling. 

“It’s unfortunate that we must appeal to an international body like the United Nations to get the city of Philadelphia to address police violence.”

“Our goal in submitting this filing to the United Nations is to push the City of Philadelphia to apologize for these atrocious acts and adopt policies regarding the use of less lethal weapons, such as tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray, that are in line with human rights law,” said Rachel López, director of the Stern Community Lawyering Clinic at Drexel University.

“The violence that Philadelphians saw this summer and the city’s history of violence and suppression have undermined Philadelphians’ confidence and trust in their city officials. Without a formal reckoning for these abuses, the City sends a message that police violence is acceptable if concentrated in Black neighborhoods and used against Black residents and those allies who value Black lives.”

The letter concludes with a series of recommendations for the city of Philadelphia, the police department, and a number of local elected officials. These include adopting new rules regarding the use of “less than lethal” weapons, particularly in residential areas; pulling the city out of a federal program that accelerates the militarization of police; hiring an independent investigator to examine the use of police violence against protesters and to hold accountable any and all police who used excessive force; and formally recognize the legacy of racism and patterns of police brutality against Black Philadelphians, among other recommendations.

You can find the letter here

You can find an illustrative timeline of the events depicted in the letter here