We all have the human right to live and to be safe, secure, and treated equally.
These fundamental human rights are violated when police can kill people without justification or accountability – and that’s why Amnesty International is working to enact standards and safeguards to protect everyone.
Hundreds of people are killed by police every year in the United States. According to The Washington Post, 963 people were killed by police in 2016 alone, and unarmed black Americans are five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.
Nobody really knows how many people are shot and killed by police officers because the federal government does not collect this data.
Several fundamental human rights are involved when police use lethal force: the rights to life, security of the person, freedom from discrimination, and equal protection under the law. The United States has a legal obligation to protect these rights, and has entered international agreements promising to protect them. International law only allows police officers to use lethal force as a last resort to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury.
In 2015, Amnesty International issued a groundbreaking report that found that all 50 states and the District of Columbia failed to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by police. There are not adequate laws on the books to prevent unlawful use of lethal force or to hold police accountable for using it.
Amnesty International works with other local, state, and national organizations to document how police use of lethal force threatens human rights and to pass laws that bring standards and accountability.
In 2014, an 18-year-old, unarmed black man named Michael Brown was shot 12 times by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident sparked local and national protests. Along with the deaths of Tamir Rice, Natasha McKenna, Eric Garner, and many others, it also set off a long-overdue national conversation about race, policing, and justice.
Amnesty International deployed a delegation to Ferguson, some of whom worked with community members while others monitored the police response to the protests. Two months later, Amnesty International issued a report detailing the human rights implications of Brown’s shooting, as well as the failure of police to protect people’s right to protest peacefully in the aftermath of the shooting.
The City of Ferguson agreed to some reforms and training for police offers, but has been negotiating for years with the federal government over the terms of those changes. A bill to limit police use of lethal force advanced in the Missouri State Legislature, but ultimately failed to pass. Legislators have continued to introduce similar bills for each of the last three years.