3 Things Amnesty International Has Seen in Ferguson That Worry UsNovember 26, 2014
Amnesty International USA deployed a team of human rights observers to Ferguson, Missouri to monitor protests and law enforcement response in the wake of a grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. While it is not possible to make sweeping conclusions still this early in a fluid situation, here is what we know has happened so far in Ferguson:
- There is clear evidence that tear gas has been used in Ferguson. Its flagrant use in the presence of clearly marked Amnesty International observers underlines our previous concerns about its unnecessary or excessive use:
From @amnesty USA following #FergusonDecision: we must not see a repeat of abuses seen in August http://t.co/K5FWBUZhau
— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) November 25, 2014
.@Amnesty observers in 3 separate locations have all been tear gassed. #Ferguson — Steven W Hawkins (@StevenWHawkins) November 25, 2014
Human rights standards: “Less lethal” weapons eg #teargas should be used “only when necessary, proportional & lawful” pic.twitter.com/G1t5PS413U
— Steven W Hawkins (@StevenWHawkins) November 25, 2014
2. In particular, there was an incident where several of our Amnesty observers were at MoKaBe’s coffee shop, a designated safe house for activists, which was tear gassed by the police. Amnesty staff were inside MoKaBe’s coffeehouse along with several dozen other protesters and community members. The coffee shop was distributing free coffee and hot chocolate to those who needed a quiet and welcoming place to gather or refresh themselves. It was staffed by community volunteers and clergy. There was a small protest taking place in the street outside, but it was peaceful. At approximately 1:00am, a large militarized police vehicle sped around the corner and fired tear gas and undetermined projectiles at the people running from the protests, hitting one in the back. The police then turned to MoKaBe’s and fired on the building. Amnesty International staff inside MoKaBe directly observed the entire interaction.
Was just in a cafe full of people resting from the #Ferguson protests when police shot tear gas at safe space pic.twitter.com/ZI73DxcCpD — Rachel O’Leary (@racheloleary) November 25, 2014
. @StevenWHawkins the Executive Director of @amnesty just confirmed that the legal observers from @amnesty were just gassed in a safe space.
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) November 25, 2014
The police again fired tear gas several minutes later, despite the presence of two Amnesty monitors clearly marked with bright yellow “human rights observer” T-shirts. The patrons, including people who came outside to recover from the initial tear gas and some children, were overcome with gas. There was no evident provocation for this action and no prior warning to disperse. One Amnesty observer was struck with three or four projectiles of unknown composition. Meanwhile, a column of police in riot gear lined up in a column outside, preventing anyone from leaving or entering the coffee shop for approximately 20 minutes.
.@Amnesty human rights observers report being aimed at, hit with projectiles #Ferguson #EyesOnFerguson — Steven W Hawkins (@StevenWHawkins) November 25, 2014
- Other scenes observed by our monitors raise questions about whether law enforcement were fulfilling their official obligation to de-escalate and facilitate peaceful assembly and protect demonstrators from violence:
Observers reporting riot police herding protesters off the highway, witnessed pepper spray & arrests #Ferguson A photo posted by Steven W Hawkins (@stevenwhawkins) on
Our observers saw 4 large buildings on W Florissant & Chambers engulfed in flames. No firefighters in sight #Ferguson pic.twitter.com/2eRAYITxsV — AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) November 25, 2014
“Officers are duty-bound to facilitate the right to peaceful protest, not impede it” @StevenWHawkins #Ferguson http://t.co/iYRgAQ30JD — AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) November 25, 2014
These observations and the remaining questions are precisely why human rights observation is so critical. While millions watched from afar, Amnesty International USA was on the ground sorting through the gas and the confusion.
While there are certainly elements of violence and unrest among the protesters, there are countless others who are there to exercise their human rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of movement. When these rights are threatened for anyone, they are threatened for everyone.
Now is the time where it as more important as ever to guard against abuses. Join us in urging Missouri officials to be vigilant in making Ferguson a protected space for peaceful protesters. It is time for leaders in Ferguson, throughout the US and across the globe to stand up for human rights – the world is watching.
This blog post has been updated from its original version.