An Amnesty International report released Friday addresses human rights concerns raised by how protesters in Ferguson were treated by law enforcement.
In a press release, Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA said that “what Amnesty International witnessed in Missouri on the ground this summer underscored that human rights abuses do not just happen across borders and oceans.”
Amnesty International sent a team clad in bright yellow shirts to Ferguson to observe law enforcement practices during protest, following the shooting death of Michael Brown.
“Standing on West Florissant Avenue with my colleagues, I saw a police force, armed to the teeth, with military-grade weapons," Hawkins said in the release. "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.”
The excessive force witnessed by Amnesty happened during what the report characterized as “mostly peaceful protest.”
Margaret Huang, deputy executive director for campaigns and programs for Amnesty International, said that the tactics used by police to prevent citizens from peacefully assembling violated citizens' basic rights.
“There were a number of substantial concerns about the violation of the right to peacefully protest,” she said. “There were more than 170 people arrested in the first 12 days of the protest after Michael Brown’s shooting and more than three-quarters of those were for the refusal to disperse.”
Other police tactics condemned in the report included the implementation of a curfew, requiring protestors to continue walking at all times or face arrest, and restricting assembly areas.
Amnesty international’s report also suggested that police being equipped with military grade weaponry during peaceful demonstration, intimidated protestors. The report noted incidents such as one on Aug. 13 when “the St. Louis County officers lined the march routes on West Florissant … with officers outfitted in riot gear and armed with semi-automatic weapons that were pointed at demonstrators.”
In the report, Amnesty International said that “the type of equipment used to disperse an assembly must be carefully considered and used only when necessary, proportional and lawful.”
Huang said copies of the report, which includes a long list of recommendations for changes in practice and law, have been sent to Missouri and national officials.
"I think that one of the concerns we’ve had is that they have not been particularly responsive to concerns that have been raised in the past,” Huang said. “We did send letters to the governor and to the police chief of Ferguson during the time of the protest back in August. We have not received full, complete responses about the request. So we hope they are going to see this report and take this more seriously and take action.”
The review also weighed in on issues directly related to the confrontation between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, including the use of lethal force.
“The state laws of Missouri actually gives a rather broad justification for use of force by law enforcement,” Huang said. “The requirements of the Missouri law are not in compliance with international standards and also in fact violate constitutional obligations.”
International standards for the use of lethal force limit its use to incidents where it is required to protect life.
Huang says that Amnesty is calling on Missouri to change its policy to meet international human rights standards.
“We should be concerned with human rights violations wherever they happened,” Huang said. “We shouldn’t be afraid to call out violations when they happened in the United States because we should be looking for opportunities to protect everyone’s human rights. I think that we want people to think about these issues as human rights concerns, not just as problems in communities or with certain particular racial groups. These are human rights abuses just like the ones you hear about oversees on the news.”
In response to the report, St. Louis County Police Public Information Officer Sergeant Brian Schellman said, “the St. Louis County Police Department and Unified Command had one mission and that was the preservation of life.”