On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson

October 24, 2014

On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson

The type of equipment used for the purpose of dispersing an assembly must be carefully considered and used only when necessary, proportional and lawful. Policing and security equipment - such as kinetic impact projectiles (e.g. rubber/plastic bullets), chemical irritants (e.g. tear gas/pepper spray) and stun grenades, often described as "less-lethal" weapons - can result in serious injury and even death. Toxic chemical irritants, such as tear gas, should not be fired directly at an individual, used in confined spaces against unarmed people, or in situations in which exits and ventilation points are restricted.

Use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protests
Though not directly witnessed by members of Amnesty International's delegation, law enforcement often resorted to the use of tear gas and the firing of rubber bullets at protesters in Ferguson. On the initial nights of protests shortly following the death of Michael Brown, tear gas and rubber bullets were reportedly used on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12. On Aug. 13, Renita Lamkin, an African Methodist Episcopal church pastor, was shot by a rubber bullet while attempting to mediate between police and protestors. Lamkin was among protestors calling for the release of Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who was previously arrested later released. According to media reports, Lamkin was protesting calmly while repeating "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." When police arrived in armored vehicles, Lamkin stood in front of the protestors, attempting to mediate, telling the police, "They're moving, they're leaving." Lamkin heard a "pop" and was hit by a rubber bullet in the stomach. The bullet left a large, bloody bruise approximately four to five inches in diameter. After what had largely been a day of peaceful protests, on Aug. 15, police again used tear gas to disperse the crowds late in the night, as members of the crowd grew more confrontational with police and some individuals engaged in looting and vandalism of local establishments, despite the efforts of other residents to prevent the destruction. Following the imposition of a curfew and after it went into effect on the nights of Aug. 16 and 17, police fired tear gas at those protesters who defied the curfew and the order to disperse which was given at midnight on each night. Due to the large number of families who participated in protests on Sunday, August 17, at least two children were treated for exposure to tear gas at area hospitals and later released. Police later used tear gas to disperse crowds which had defied the recently imposed rule that protesters must keep walking, unless they were in an approved protest area on Aug. 18 and 19.

Use of Long Range Acoustic Devices:
On the night of Aug. 18 at approximately 10:00 p.m., following the reported throwing of bottles at police and a group of protesters stopping in front of a police line in defiance of the five second rule, law enforcement activated a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). The LRAD was pointed at group of stationary protestors on the street approximately fifteen feet away. Members of the media and observers were likewise about the same distance from the device. No warning from law enforcement that an LRAD would be used was given to the protesters. After providing earplugs to a member of Amnesty International, a St. Louis County police officer says, "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 p.m. LRADs emit high volume sounds at various frequencies, with some ability to target the sound to particular areas. Used at close range, loud volume and/or excessive lengths of time, LRADs can pose a serious health risks which range from temporary pain, loss of balance and eardrum rupture, to permanent hearing damage. LRADs also target people relatively indiscriminately, and can have markedly different effects on different individuals and in different environments. Further research into the use of LRADs for law enforcement is urgently needed.

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