- Views & Opinions
Amnesty International has released On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, which documents the human rights concerns witnessed first-hand by observers while in Ferguson Aug. 14-22. The report also outlines a series of recommendations that need to be implemented with regard to the use of force by law enforcement officers and the policing of protests.
Amnesty released the report in advance of its Midwest conference, which is taking place in St. Louis this weekend.
In August, after the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Amnesty dispatched a human rights delegation to monitor protests and the police response.
“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 W. 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 Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson remains uncertain, due to conflicting reports. Brown was unarmed and as such it calls into question whether the use of lethal force was justified. Amnesty’s report urges the Missouri Legislature to amend the statute that authorizes the use of lethal force 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.
The report also 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.
Amnesty International documented 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 included 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.
“This is about accountability,” Hawkins said in a news release. “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.”
The mistreatment of journalists and observers is another area of focus highlighted in the report. 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.
In the report, Amnesty renewed its recommendation that the Department of Justice conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the death of Michael Brown, implement a DOJ-led review of police tactics and practices nationwide and release nationwide data on police shootings.
The report calls for Congress to pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.