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Accountability must follow human rights abuses and policing failures in Ferguson

24th October 2014, 12:00:02 UTC

A new report by Amnesty International outlines human rights abuses and other policing failures witnessed in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the shooting dead of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

It also offers key recommendations to local, state and federal law enforcement and government agencies in the USA on the use of lethal force and policing protests.

Following the initial protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Amnesty International USA sent a human rights delegation, which included observers, to monitor the protests and police response from August 14-22, 2014.

The report, On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, details the impact of city, county and state law enforcement and officials’ responses on the rights of individuals in Ferguson to participate in peaceful protest.

It documents a number of restrictions placed on protestors, including the imposition of curfews, designated protest areas and a “five-second” keep walking rule. Intimidation of protesters is also cited in the report, which details the use of heavy-duty riot gear and military-grade weapons as well as questionable protest dispersal practices, including the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and long range acoustic devices.

The report also outlines mistreatment of journalists and observers. Between August 13 and October 2, at least 19 journalists and members of the media were arrested by law enforcement while others were subjected to tear gas and the use of rubber bullets. Reporters for CNN, Al Jazeera America and other outlets report being harassed or physically threatened. Likewise, legal and human rights observers have also faced arrest for carrying out their roles.

“What Amnesty International witnessed in Missouri on the ground this summer underscored that human rights abuses do not just happen across borders and oceans,” said Steven W. Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. “No matter where you live in the world, everyone is entitled to the same basic rights, as a human being – and one of those rights is the freedom to peacefully protest. Standing on West Florissant Avenue with my colleagues, I saw a police force, armed to the teeth, with military-grade weapons. I saw a crowd that included the elderly and young children fighting the effects of tear gas. There must be accountability and systemic change that follows this excessive force.”

What happened between Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson remains uncertain, due to conflicting reports. Michael Brown was unarmed and as such, it calls into question whether the use of lethal force was justified. The circumstances of the killing must be urgently clarified. Investigations must be concluded as soon as possible and must be transparent, as this case merits public scrutiny.

Amnesty International’s report urges the Missouri Legislature to amend the Missouri statute that authorises the use of lethal force, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 563.046, to ensure that the use of lethal force by law enforcement would be limited to those instances in which it is necessary to protect life.

“This is about accountability,” added Hawkins. “The events in Ferguson sparked a much-needed and long-overdue conversation on race and policing in America. That conversation cannot stop. In order to restore justice to Ferguson, and every community afflicted by police brutality, we must both document the injustices committed and fight to prevent them from happening again. There is a path forward, but it requires substantive actions on the local, state and federal levels.”

Amnesty International makes several recommendations to local, state and federal authorities regarding both the use of lethal force and the policing of protests. The organisation also renews its recommendation that the Department of Justice (DOJ) conduct an independent, transparent and impartial investigation into the death of Michael Brown, promptly implement a DOJ-led review of police tactics and practices nationwide, and release nationwide data on police shootings. Finally, the report calls for the United States Congress to pass the Stop Militarising Law Enforcement Act.