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Racism Prevents US from Living Up to Ideals, UN Rights Expert Says

  • Ken Schwartz

FILE - Desiree Griffiths holds up a sign saying "Black Lives Matter", with the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men recently killed by police, during a protest, in Miami, Florida, Dec. 5, 2014.

FILE - Desiree Griffiths holds up a sign saying "Black Lives Matter", with the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men recently killed by police, during a protest, in Miami, Florida, Dec. 5, 2014.

Racism, and social and economic inequality are keeping the United States from living up to its ideals, including the right to freedom of assembly and association, a U.N. human rights expert says.

Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai reported on his 17-day trip to the U.S. Thursday, where he visited several large cities including Baltimore, Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

"People have a good reason to be angry and frustrated at the moment," Kiai said.

He said that while his fact-finding missions are not supposed to include issues of race, it was impossible to carry out his tour of the U.S. without racism coming up in the discussions.

Kiai said understanding racism means looking back on 400 years of U.S. history which included slavery and legal segregation that marginalized African-Americans, subjecting millions to lives of "misery, poverty, and persecution."

A Black Lives Matter protester addresses fellow protesters near the site of Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 26, 2016.

A Black Lives Matter protester addresses fellow protesters near the site of Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 26, 2016.

While slavery is long-since dead and segregation illegal, Kiai says discrimination in the U.S. is now cloaked in different language such as "the war on drugs" and "three strikes" sentencing policies that include long jail terms for even minor crimes.

He says it makes finding good jobs and quality housing difficult for many African-Americans.

Kiai said the "justifiable and palpable anger in the black community over these injustices" gave birth to the Black Lives Matter movement that has grown after a series of deadly police shootings of young black men.

He also criticized the situation of migrant workers in the U.S., saying they are exploited and fearful of taking action to improve working conditions because of possible retaliation.

But Kiai said the U.S. is a nation of "struggle and resilience" and that its civil society is one of the country's greatest strengths.

The Obama administration has not yet commented on Kiai's report, which will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council next June.

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