U.N. Panel hears Minnesotans' stories of systemic racism in policing and prisons

A man in a suit addresses a panel of people
U.N. EMLER expert Juan Mendez (right), from Argentina, addresses Minnesotans who spoke about experiencing forms of solitary confinement as youths during a panel at the Minneapolis Urban League building in North Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

A United Nations panel examining issues of racial justice and equity — created in part in response to the murder of George Floyd — was in Minneapolis Tuesday, to hear from community members affected by systemic racism in policing and prisons.

Two experts from the United Nations Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement (EMLER) were at the Twin Cities Urban League Headquarters in North Minneapolis as part of a fact-gathering tour across the country.

“This is a part of an investigation to see what is happening in the US,” said Salimah Hankins, the director of the U.N. Anti-Racism Coalition, one of the organizations that coordinated the visit. “And Minnesota felt like … a key place in that fight, because of what's happening with the police, and because this mechanism came as an outgrowth of the killing of George Floyd. So it felt like it made sense to have a full circle moment to come back here.”

A man wearing a black and white checkered head scarf sits during a panel
Myon Burrell, who had his life sentence commuted in 2021, pauses as he testifies in front of a panel of U.N. human rights experts at the Minneapolis Urban League in North Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Among those who spoke were Myon Burrell, who was given a life sentence at 16-years-old for a first-degree murder he said he didn't commit. That sentence was later commuted.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

Others were the mothers of Philando Castile and Amir Locke, both Black men killed by law enforcement in the Twin Cities. They're hoping the U.N. can advocate for an abolition of solitary confinement in Minnesota's criminal justice system and the end of qualified immunity for police officers.

More than a dozen Black Minnesotans, either who have been incarcerated, had a family member incarcerated or have lost a loved one to police brutality testified in front of the panel.

A Black man speaks into a mic
Antonio Williams talks about the negative impacts solitary confinement had on his mental health in front of a panel of U.N. human rights experts at the Minneapolis Urban League in North Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“You are probably wondering, why is there an empty chair right here? Because that's where Amir should be sitting,” said Karen Wells, mother of Amir Locke. “When I eat at the dinner table now, there's an empty chair. All of the families now have an empty chair.”

Amity Dimock, whose son was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police four years ago, also spoke. She felt it was important to be at the event despite some skepticism.

“I don't actually think they really have any power,” said Dimock. “The U.S. also sits on these committees. Sometimes we do stuff like this to be able to have it documented and to be able to show the level of interest.”

A woman shows emotion while speaking at a podium.
Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, tears up as she describes the death of her fiancé, Justin Teigen, before a panel of U.N. human rights experts in North Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The panel was organized by U.N. Anti-Racism Coalition, Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, Atlas of Blackness and other community-based organizations.

The goal is to compile the testimony into a final report later this year. That report will inform recommendations to tackle some of these issues that experts say disproportionately impact people of African descent across the world.

U.N.’s EMLER will make their last stop in New York Wednesday to meet with more community members, government officials and law enforcement leaders.

A woman wearing a green head scarf speaks into a mic
Lucina Kayee, executive director of Atlas of Blackness, testifies about her experiences in the foster care system in front of a panel of U.N. human rights experts at the Minneapolis Urban League building in North Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News