When the U.N. Committee Against Torture says you have a police brutality problem…

As everyone waits to see if the actual torture report will ever be released, the uptick in American police shootings hasn’t gone unnoticed by the international community, either:

The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used sparingly.

The panel’s first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 followed racially-tinged unrest in cities across the country this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

The committee decried “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering” for prisoners during “botched executions” as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement.

Its findings cited deep concern about “numerous reports” of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals and racial profiling. The panel referred to the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”

Conservatives will accuse the U.N. of hypocrisy in tut-tutting America while doing little about major human rights abusers like Iran or China. But that’s hardly the point. America shouldn’t be in the position of saying, “Oh yeah? Well that dictatorship is worse!” The United States holds itself up as a beacon of justice and freedom. And when it comes to police shootings, America stands out from other industrialized countries as nearly barbaric.

A cursory and incomplete tally shows United States police officers kill at least 400 people a year in shootings, and the real figure is probably much higher. About a quarter of those involve white officers killing black people.

By contrast, police killings in European countries tend to fall into the single or low double digits.

Something is seriously wrong there, and either way you look at it, it cuts to the heart of American exceptionalism. Either our police forces are far too ready to use violence, or the American people are somehow far more dangerous and violent than those in other countries, or some combination of both. Or there are simply far too many guns and too many people who are too eager to use them.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.