White Supremacy, Police Brutality, and Family Separation

Preventing Crimes Against Humanity within the United States

The United States tends to treat crimes against humanity as a danger that exists only in authoritarian or war-torn states, but in fact, there is a real risk of crimes against humanity occurring within the United States. This risk is illustrated by well-known events such as systemic police brutality against Black Americans, the federal family separation policy that took thousands of immigrant children from their parents at the southern border, and the dramatic escalation of White supremacist and extremist violence culminating in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. In spite of this risk, the United States does not have a federal law prohibiting crimes against humanity. This Article first applies international law to define crimes against humanity and assess the risk of crimes against humanity occurring within the United States. It then turns to U.S. law to evaluate the potential for a federal law or other federal measures to protect against crimes against humanity, including the political obstacles, the likelihood that any future legislation will depart significantly from international law, and the implications for effectiveness.

Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Thanks to my research assistants, Katy Pietragallo and Joshua Shearer, and to Margaret deGuzman, Jerry Dickinson, Hannah Garry, David Harris, Zachary Kaufman, Jessica Peake, Susana SaCouto, Beth van Schaack, and the participants in the American Society of International Law Research Forum, for their comments and suggestions.

The full text of this Article is available to download as a PDF.