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Amnesty International Delegation Releases Report on Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, Missouri

When Ferguson, Missouri, was experiencing a crackdown by militarized police forces in August after a white police officer killed Mike Brown, Amnesty International made the unprecedented decision to deploy human rights observers to a city inside the United States. A 13-person delegation monitored developments and the human rights organization has now released its report on what the delegation witnessed.

The delegation was deployed to Ferguson from August 14 to August 22. The most intense experiences for the observers seem to have taken place on August 18 and 19.

On August 18, around 10 pm, Amnesty International’s report states [PDF] police “activated a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) that was mounted about 8-10 feet off the ground on top of an armored truck at the intersection of W. Florissant and Ferguson avenues.” This was apparently a response to the throwing of a few bottles and a group of protesters that decided to stop moving and stand in front of a line of police.

“The LRAD was pointed at a group of stationary protestors on the street approximately 15 feet away. Members of the media and observers were about the same distance from the device. Law enforcement gave no warning to protesters that an LRAD would be used.”

After providing earplugs to a member of Amnesty International, a St. Louis County police officer said, ‘This noise will make you sick.’ Several members of the delegation reported feeling nauseous from the noise of the LRAD until it was turned off at approximately 10:15 pm.”

“While Amnesty International did not see police officers launching tear gas canisters to disperse crowds, on the night of August 18 the delegation was caught in the middle of a gas cloud,” the report describes.

…At approximately 10:20 pm, several protestors uprooted a traffic yield sign and walked into center of road in front of armored truck at north end of W. Florissant Avenue, removing it a few minutes later. At 10:43 pm, an announcement from law enforcement was made telling “all members of the media, please separate yourselves from the protestors immediately.” Over the next 20 minutes, a police line formed on the north end of the street and forced the protesters south before Amnesty International heard the sound of six loud pops from the north end of W. Florissant Avenue, followed by two more. According to members of the delegation it appeared that flash bangs and tear gas were thrown directly in front of the line of protestors, forcing the protesters along with members of the media to run south down W. Florissant Avenue. Amnesty International approached the police lined up near Ferguson Avenue and asked why police resorted to tear gas and how much warning was provided, however the officer said “You will have to ask at the other end.” As the delegation tried to make its way north down W. Florissant Avenue to reach their transportation and leave the protest site at 11:24 pm, they witnessed officers aboard armored truck in full riot gear, including helmets, vests, masks, and boots. Some of the officers had their guns drawn with no names, badges, other identifying information visible. Amnesty International requested information from the officers regarding what agency they were from and why the gas was used but were told “not right now, please go back down W. Florissant.”…

After tear gas and stun grenades had been fired on August 18, the delegation chose to leave so delegation members were not hurt. The delegation had to cross a police line to get to their vehicles.

“One officer directly in front of the delegation pointed his weapon at the delegation and shouted ‘get on the ground!’ A staff member at the front of the delegation knelt on the ground and informed the officer, ‘We are human rights observers,'” the report recounts. “A St. Louis County commanding officer immediately waved the delegation through the police line with his gun in hand. As the police line parted, officers nearest the delegation kept their guns trained on the delegation until they passed through.”

The delegation “arrived on W. Florissant Avenue around 11 pm on August 19. The observers immediately noticed that officers had “guns drawn and several officers with dogs were out in the middle of the street.” Protestors were being ordered to keep moving or else they would be arrested.

According to Amnesty International’s report, officers issued an order for protestors to disperse after a few water bottles were thrown toward police. Media were ordered to separate themselves from the protestors and go to the designated area for credentialed media. Then, all media were ordered to leave the scene and go to a Target, where police had setup their “command center.”

“The police began arresting people at random in the crowd, leaving them handcuffed and surrounded by officers (and one to two police dogs) in the middle of W. Florissant Avenue directly in front of McDonalds. When a member of the delegation asked why these arrests were being made, a St. Louis County Officer said that people were being arrested for failure to disperse and that “this [was] a riot situation.'”

Consistently throughout the report, Amnesty International mentions asking officers basic information about orders or commands to protesters. They are not consistent or transparent in describing procedures for dispersal or arrests of protesters. They decline to explain why they are taking actions, when such information is necessary for the crowd to understand the reason for aggressive police action and how they may be in violation of the law.

At least 170 individuals were arrested during the first 12 days after Mike Brown was killed. Over 75% of these arrests were for “refusal to disperse.” Yet, Amnesty International makes clear that “enforced dispersal of a public assembly” should only be taking place “as a measure of last resort,” such as when “an imminent threat of violence” may be known to exist.

“The police should not intervene aggressively simply in response to the actions of a small number of participants. Assemblies are always diverse gatherings, and participants do not lose their individual rights simply because a small number of people are behaving violently. The methods used by law enforcement in Ferguson to disperse crowds often employ the use of police in riot gear—equipped with helmets, vests and carrying shields and batons—and has led to the repeated use of “chemical irritants” (tear gas/pepper spray) and “kinetic impact projectiles” (rubber/plastic bullets) against demonstrators. Often it is unclear whether an order to disperse was given, whether that order was in fact lawful and whether that was made clear to the protesters before law enforcement forcibly ended the protests.”

From August 13 to October 2, more than 19 journalists or members of the media were arrested. Multiple reporters complained that they felt like they were being obstructed from doing their job.

*

Amnesty International had strong objections to the imposing of a curfew by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on the entire city of Ferguson. The curfew would last 12 am to 5 am.

“International law allows the restriction of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly only if it is carried out for a legitimate aim, such as the protection of public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. Restrictions must be proportionate and necessary to meet that aim. However, the broad imposition of a curfew for the entire city of Ferguson and requirements for those protesters on W. Florissant Avenue to keep walking under threat of arrest impede protesters from enjoying their right to freely assemble,” the report declares.

Although the curfew was imposed to prevent additional vandalism and looting and only technically in effect for two days on August 16 and 17, the curfew curtailed “freedom of movement for the general public in Ferguson who were required to be off of the streets after midnight each night.” Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, in charge of coordinating the security response, could not articulate how the curfew wouldn’t interfere with people “going about their daily lives, like returning from or going to their place of employment or in the case of a personal emergency between midnight and 5 am.”

When the National Guard was ordered to be deployed to Ferguson on August 17, the curfew was allegedly lifted. However, while the Amnesty International report does not highlight this, residents continued to return home late at night only to find police checkpoints they had to go through to get to their homes.

National Lawyers Guild interim director Dan Gregor told Firedoglake on August 30, “The checkpoints are outrageous, and checkpoints have been litigated for different things and with limited exceptions warrantless suspicionless stops and requiring ID have been held invalid.” They were found constitutionally invalid by a federal court in Washington, DC, in 2009, and mostly they are perpetrated against communities in the southeastern US and “in communities of color and lower socioeconomic communities.”

On “Democracy Now!,” Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, declared, “The curfew—you know, we have criticized regimes around the world for imposing curfews and states of emergency in response to peaceful protests. And a few looting incidents would be—the response of a curfew was disproportionate to what the police were facing. But now it’s become more than—and the reason why you don’t respond in that fashion is exactly what we’re seeing now. It becomes a fait accompli, because now it is causing an escalation of the conflict.”

Indeed, it only seemed escalate the crisis situation, and it was not until police began to make the decision not to deploy heavy-duty riot gear and military-grade vehicles and equipment that the crisis began to dissipate.

In conclusion, the Amnesty International report represents a historical effort to document human rights abuses happening in the United States. While its contents are incomplete because abuses continue to occur in Ferguson and the larger St. Louis area, the report shows how flagrantly authorities disregarded the right to protest and sought to suppress dissent in the aftermath of Brown’s death.

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Amnesty International Delegation Releases Report on Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, Missouri

When Ferguson, Missouri, was experiencing a crackdown by militarized police forces in August after a white police officer killed Mike Brown, Amnesty International made the unprecedented decision to deploy human rights observers to a city inside the United States. A 13-person delegation monitored developments and the human rights organization has now released its report on what the delegation witnessed.

The delegation was deployed to Ferguson from August 14 to August 22. The most intense experiences for the observers seem to have taken place on August 18 and 19.

On August 18, around 10 pm, Amnesty International’s report states [PDF] police “activated a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) that was mounted about 8-10 feet off the ground on top of an armored truck at the intersection of W. Florissant and Ferguson avenues.” This was apparently a response to the throwing of a few bottles and a group of protesters that decided to stop moving and stand in front of a line of police.

“The LRAD was pointed at a group of stationary protestors on the street approximately 15 feet away. Members of the media and observers were about the same distance from the device. Law enforcement gave no warning to protesters that an LRAD would be used.”

After providing earplugs to a member of Amnesty International, a St. Louis County police officer said, ‘This noise will make you sick.’ Several members of the delegation reported feeling nauseous from the noise of the LRAD until it was turned off at approximately 10:15 pm.”

“While Amnesty International did not see police officers launching tear gas canisters to disperse crowds, on the night of August 18 the delegation was caught in the middle of a gas cloud,” the report describes.

…At approximately 10:20 pm, several protestors uprooted a traffic yield sign and walked into center of road in front of armored truck at north end of W. Florissant Avenue, removing it a few minutes later. At 10:43 pm, an announcement from law enforcement was made telling “all members of the media, please separate yourselves from the protestors immediately.” Over the next 20 minutes, a police line formed on the north end of the street and forced the protesters south before Amnesty International heard the sound of six loud pops from the north end of W. Florissant Avenue, followed by two more. According to members of the delegation it appeared that flash bangs and tear gas were thrown directly in front of the line of protestors, forcing the protesters along with members of the media to run south down W. Florissant Avenue. Amnesty International approached the police lined up near Ferguson Avenue and asked why police resorted to tear gas and how much warning was provided, however the officer said “You will have to ask at the other end.” As the delegation tried to make its way north down W. Florissant Avenue to reach their transportation and leave the protest site at 11:24 pm, they witnessed officers aboard armored truck in full riot gear, including helmets, vests, masks, and boots. Some of the officers had their guns drawn with no names, badges, other identifying information visible. Amnesty International requested information from the officers regarding what agency they were from and why the gas was used but were told “not right now, please go back down W. Florissant.”…

After tear gas and stun grenades had been fired on August 18, the delegation chose to leave so delegation members were not hurt. The delegation had to cross a police line to get to their vehicles.

“One officer directly in front of the delegation pointed his weapon at the delegation and shouted ‘get on the ground!’ A staff member at the front of the delegation knelt on the ground and informed the officer, ‘We are human rights observers,'” the report recounts. “A St. Louis County commanding officer immediately waved the delegation through the police line with his gun in hand. As the police line parted, officers nearest the delegation kept their guns trained on the delegation until they passed through.” [cont’d.]
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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