• Press Release

Amnesty International USA Responds to Ferguson Commission Report

September 14, 2015

A commission formed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to examine racial disparities and other social and economic conditions in the St. Louis area following the killing of Michael Brown and subsequent protests has released its findings today.

The report found systemic racial inequality across a broad range of sectors, including interactions with police, housing, education and health care.

Specifically, the report cited the need for policing reforms regarding the use of force in interactions with members of the public and the need to develop a Demonstration Response Plan for law enforcement agencies in the policing of protests. The Commission specifically calls on local law enforcement agencies to revise their use of force policies and training to ensure that officers use only the minimal amount of force — proportional to the incident — necessary to protect citizen and officer safety and bring unlawful situations safely and effectively under control while preserving the constitutional and human rights of citizens. The Ferguson Commission also recommended that the state of Missouri revise its statute on the use of force against fleeing suspects to adhere to Constitutional standards as set forth by the Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner and assign the Attorney General as a special prosecutor for all cases where an officer’s use of force leads to death, or when an officer kills or injures someone when using a firearm or if someone dies in custody.

“This report has identified several critical areas that must be addressed in the name of equality and human rights,” said Steven W. Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. “Whether at the federal, state or local level, the government and law enforcement have a duty to respect the rights of all people to be treated equally and have their rights respected. This includes the right to life and security of person as well as the right to peacefully protest. While the report authors recommend changes in the use of force policy and training, this will not lead to real accountability. The state of Missouri must revise its statute on the use of force to bring it in line with international standards — not just with the lower standards under Tennessee v Garner — by limiting officers’ use of firearms to only as a last resort when strictly necessary to protect themselves or others against an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and by ensuring that accountability mechanisms are built into the law.”

“The findings of yet another report detailing the human rights violations in Ferguson and St. Louis speak to a larger need to address the same issues at the federal level to ensure everyone enjoys equal treatment under the law,” said Hawkins.

A report from Amnesty International USA released last year demonstrated that Missouri’s use of force statute is far too permissive and needs to be brought in line with international standards on the use of force and firearms. The report also found that police imposed impermissible restrictions on protesters, including a “five-second” keep-walking rule, and intimidated protesters with the use of canine units, heavy-duty riot gear and military-grade weapons as well as utilized questionable protest dispersal practices, including the improper use of tear gas without warning, which not only affected the protesters but the surrounding community.

The Ferguson Commission’s recommendations also include:

  • The state should stop providing military-style weapons that are disproportionate to a situation. Local departments that already have this equipment should not use it when it is not warranted.
  • That people should not be incarcerated for minor offenses.
  • A fund to "support regional racial equity infrastructure for all sectors” over the next 25 years; and
  • Anti-bias training for city employees