WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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10 Feb 2023 | Joint Statement

Attacks against Antiracism Activist Ali Bantu Ashanti Must Stop: Police Abuses Should Be a Priority in U.S.-Colombia March 2023 High-Level Dialogue

Attacks against Antiracism Activist Ali Bantu Ashanti Must Stop: Police Abuses Should Be a Priority in U.S.-Colombia March 2023 High-Level Dialogue 

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Colombia Acuerdo de Paz NGO and the International Institute for Race and Equality strongly join forces with the Red de Madres Victimas de Abuso Policial en Cartagena, Untu Raices, Colectivo Comunitario y Popular Contextos, Maria Mercedes Manjarres (family of a victim of homicide committed by the police in Cartagena), and Bloque Victimas de la Policía (BVP 20) in rejecting the death threats against civil rights lawyer and antiracism activist Ali Bantu Ashanti, Director of the Racial Justice Collective. On February 9, the Gaitanistas Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia) circulated a death threat on social media against Mr. Ashanti and others who either form part of the Historic Pact and/or work closely with the Petro Government. Authorities should investigate and sanction the perpetrators of these threats and guarantee the safety of Mr. Ashanti and the other targets.   

Mr. Ashanti is a staunch defender for justice in cases of Afrodescendant victims of police brutality including that 24-year-old Anderson Arboleda who died after suffering being beaten up by police in Cali in May 10, 2020. Police beat Arboleda with a mallet of wood on the head multiple times causing his death three days later of a cerebral hemorrhage. The justification given for this by police was that he was violating Covid-19 restrictions. Arboleda’s and other Afro-Colombian cases are very similar to the U.S. cases of George Floyd, Tyre Nichols and countless other African Americans.   

Disproportionate use of force, racial profiling and impunity in cases of police abuses committed against Afrodescendants is as much a problem in Colombia as it is in the United States. As stated by Aurora Vergara Figueroa, director for the Afrodiasporic Studies in the Icesi University in Colombia to BBC Mundo: Afro-Colombians are 14.7 times more likely to be fined (by the police) than white and mestizos. Persons with a darker complexion are 2.57 times more likely to be detained, taken to a restricted area, fined and searched. As such, our organizations urge both the U.S. and Colombian governments to make racism, discrimination and State abuses and justice for Afrodescendants part of the agenda at the March 2023 high-level dialogue between the two countries.  

In January 2010, the U.S. and Colombia agreed to a U.S.-Colombia Racial Action Plan (CAPREE) focused on sharing best practices between the two nations and putting in place programs to address barriers facing ethnic communities. While the CAPREE has advanced important educational and cultural exchanges it must advance antiracism efforts that affect the physical sanctity and lives of afrodescendant and indigenous persons in the U.S. and Colombia. It should also seek to protect the lives of civil rights and defenders of ethnic communities’ rights. The CAPREE should be reinvigorated in 2023 by addressing the abuses committed by the police in both nations.  

February 10, 2023