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Amnesty International USA sent a letter to the chief of the St. Louis County Police regarding the policing of demonstrations commemorating the anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown.

“It is the legitimate right of people to peacefully carry their opinion to the streets. Public assemblies should not be considered as the “enemy,” wrote Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “The command hierarchy must convey a clear message to law enforcement officials that their task is to facilitate and not to restrict a peaceful public assembly.”

The letter also reminds police that dispersing an assembly should only be done when “there are no other means available to protect public order from an imminent risk of violence.”

“Where a small minority tries to turn a peaceful assembly into a violent one, law enforcement officials should protect the peaceful protesters and not use the violent acts of a few as a pretext to restrict or impede the exercise of fundamental rights of a majority,” wrote Hawkins.

Amnesty International USA also expressed concern about the apparent selective enforcement of laws against members of the press, legal observers and protest organizers.

“Arrest and detention should be carried out only in accordance with procedures established by law and should not be used as a means to prevent peaceful participation in a public assembly nor as a means of intimidation or punishment for participation.”

Amnesty International USA staff have been in St. Louis supporting local organizers at actions and events related to the anniversary and community-building, and hosting a leadership institute that includes leaders from the area and around the country. Last year, AIUSA dispatched a research-based observer delegation which resulted in the report On the Streets of America: Human rights abuses in Ferguson, which documents human rights violations that took place during last year’s protests.

Text of the letter below:

Colonel Jon Belmar

Chief of Police

St. Louis County Police Department
7900 Forsyth Boulevard

St. Louis, MO 63105

13 August 2015

Dear Chief Belmar


POLICING OF DEMONSTRATIONS

As protests have taken place and continue commencing in and around the cities of Ferguson and St. Louis to commemorate the year since the shooting death of Michael Brown, Amnesty International is writing to remind you that police authorities are required to act in accordance with international human rights standards and the U.S. Constitution in the policing of protests.

It is the legitimate right of people to peacefully carry their opinion to the streets. Public assemblies should not be considered as the “enemy”. The command hierarchy must convey a clear message to law enforcement officials that their task is to facilitate and not to restrict a peaceful public assembly.

We would like to remind you that the decision to disperse an assembly should be taken in line with the principles of necessity and proportionality, only when there are no other means available to protect public order from an imminent risk of violence. Where a small minority tries to turn a peaceful assembly into a violent one, law enforcement officials should protect the peaceful protesters and not use the violent acts of a few as a pretext to restrict or impede the exercise of fundamental rights of a majority. When a lawful decision has been taken to disperse an assembly, the order to disperse must be clearly communicated and explained, to obtain, as far as possible, the understanding and compliance of the demonstrators. Sufficient time must be given to disperse. Force should not be used to punish the (presumed or alleged) non-compliance with an order nor simply the participation in an assembly. The type of equipment used to disperse an assembly must be carefully considered and used only when necessary, proportional and lawful. Policing and security equipment – such as rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, often described as “less-lethal” weapons – can result in serious injury and even death. Chemical irritants, such as tear gas or pepper spray, should not be used where people are confined in an area and not in a way that can cause lasting harm (such as at too close range, or directly aimed at people’s faces). In furtherance to this, we have attached a summary of best practices on the policing of demonstrations under international standards, and we are further enclosing a copy of the Amnesty International report, On the Streets of America: Human rights abuses in Ferguson, which documents human rights violations that took place during last year’s protests. We would draw your attention to the recommendations contained within the report.

We would further remind you that law enforcement officers should not selectively enforce public order and/or other laws during demonstrations against media correspondents, legal observers or known organizers of protests. Arrest and detention should be carried out only in accordance with procedures established by law and should not be used as a means to prevent peaceful participation in a public assembly nor as a means of intimidation or punishment for participation. Once individuals are arrested, officers should not use restraints in an excessive manner or for prolonged periods of time during processing and anyone arrested should be provided with food and water, access to restrooms, medical attention if needed, and prompt access to counsel. Amnesty International is monitoring allegations in this regard.

We welcome a response to the information contained in this letter at your earliest convenience.

Yours Sincerely,

Steven Hawkins


Executive Director Amnesty International USA

Cc. Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County, Robert P. McCulloch