April V. Taylor
For the first time in the history of the United States, Amnesty International has documented human rights abuses on American soil. The report entitled, “On The Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses In Ferguson,” declares Michael Brown’s death a human rights abuse and also highlights abuses that include police reactions to protesters and racist policing tactics across the country.
Specifically regarding Officer Wilson killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the report states that Wilson’s use of lethal force was a violation of the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. While acknowledging the danger face by law enforcement officers, the report states that, “Officers may use firearms as a last resort – when strictly necessary to protect themselves or others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.” Christof Heyns, who is the Special Raaporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions states that, “The ‘protect life’ principle demands that lethal force may not be used intentionally merely to protect law and order to serve other similar interests…The primary aim must be to save life.”
The report goes on to declare that the Missouri law that justifies an officer using deadly force to effect an arrest is a violation of international standards and possible the Constitution based on the US Supreme Court ruling in Tennessee v. Garner where the Court declared, “A police officer may not seize an unarmed, non-dangerous suspect by shooting him dead.” It should be noted that Amnesty International’s request to the Ferguson Police Department Chief for a copy of policies and guidelines involving the use of force and use of lethal force has gone unanswered for more than two months. One of the recommendations of the report is that the Missouri Revised Statute 563.046 that authorizes the use of deadly force be amended to comply with international human rights standards.
Another human rights abuse addressed by the report is the systemic racial discrimination that is part of policing across the country. Amnesty International specifically stated, “The shooting of Michael Brown has highlighted on a national level the persistent and widespread pattern of racially discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officers across the United States, including unjustified stops and searches, ill treatment and excessive, and sometimes lethal, use of force.” Passing the End Racial Profiling Act was one of the proposed solutions.
In addition, the report specifically called out Ferguson police for violating protestor’s and media’s human right to peacefully assemble and their freedom of speech. The report specifically cited events from August 18th when officers who were not wearing name badges or any form of visible identification kept their guns trained on media, protestors and Amnesty International delegates. At least 19 journalists were arrested and two were shot in their backs with rubber bullets. Other journalists had AR-15 semi-automatic rifles pointed at them while an officer threatened to kill them. In response to the intimidation of protestors and media and use of force against them, Amnesty International is recommending that the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act be passed which would prohibit local police departments from acquiring military equipment and require that transferred equipment be tracked. The bill currently has 33 cosponsors.
In the reports final set of recommendations, they demand that governments and law enforcement authorities be required to protect citizens human rights to peacefully assemble, freely express themselves and have freedom of movement. Amnesty International also specifically requests that the Ferguson Police Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Governor of Missouri review and revise all policies and trainings regarding the policing of protests. Taking it one further step, they also recommend that the Department of Justice review the human rights abuses perpetrated against protestors and media.
In summary, Amnesty International has called the United States , its law enforcement officers and government officials out on a global stage for abusing American’s human rights. They have specifically called Michael Brown’s death a violation of his human right to life and have presented specific pieces of legislation meant to reduce racial profiling, racist policing and the human rights abuses that disproportionately impact Black people in America. The full report can be read here.