US police actions in Ferguson signify negative tendencies in human rights area

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Sept. 5, 2014 - PRLog -- The actions taken by the police against the protesters and journalists in Ferguson (a suburb of St. Louis, USA) during the weeks-long mass demonstrations caused by the death of Michael Brown, an African American teenager who was shot by the police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, caused an outrage from the global community.

According to the official story, Michael Brown was fatally wounded during an altercation with the police, during which he tried to wrestle a gun out of the officer’s hands. However, according to the friend of the murdered teenager, the police initiated the conflict, and Brown was killed trying to run away.

Michael Brown’s murder caused a public outcry amongst the local residens, most of whom are African American themselves. Many people organized peaceful nightly protests that later turned into violent clashes with the law enforcement forces.

The media reported that the crowds were being dispersed by SWAT teams that threatened the press and the local residents with armed guns and acted in a very aggressive manner, detaining the protesters and the journalists at will.

According to the firsthand witnesses, the police used rubber bullets, tear gas, flashbangs and long range acoustic devices.

The actions of Ferguson law enforcement forces were bombarded by harsh criticism from social and human rights agencies all over the world. One of the human rights activists, Lee Rowland from the American Civil Liberties Union, called the tactics used by the police “a truly inconceivable show of force.”

“Tear gas, rubber bullets, and assault weapons; free speech zones, gags, and press pens: this is the arsenal of the police state. The message was clear: the public is the enemy. And as we the people started getting that message, Ferguson starting working harder to shoot the messengers,” he writes.

Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, also addressed the US authorities with criticism of police actions against the journalists who were covering the events.

“The right of media to cover public protests must be taken into account when law enforcement officials are maintaining public order. Journalists should not be intimidated by police,” she stressed.

Amnesty International also attacked the law enforcement forces, urging the US government to conduct a thorough investigation of the Ferguson events and review the procedures and policies concerning the use of force and the policing of protests.

“Police cannot use unnecessary or excessive force – period,” says the statement published on the organization website.

Moreover, the human rights activists think the Ferguson events show that the racial problem is still not over in the United States. Among them is Maria McFarland, Deputy US Program Director at Human Rights Watch.

“While progress has been made on some fronts, there is racial discrimination in many areas in the US, particularly in the US criminal justice system. African Americans are understandably unhappy about their treatment by the police,” she said in an interview to “PenzaNews” agency.

According to the expert, the policemen engaged in several actions that violated the protesters’ rights and international standards on use of force.

“In several instances, police engaged in intimidating and threatening actions that were unnecessary and violated protesters’ rights. They also arbitrarily detained journalists,” the human rights activist emphasized.

From her point of view, all the cases of excessive use of force require thorough, independent and detailed investigation.

“Accountability is a crucial aspect to ensuring that human rights abuses – including police brutality – end,” Maria McFarland stated, adding that those guilty of killing Michael Brown and other victims of lethal firearms abuse must be brought to justice.

At the same time, Adolphus Pruitt, President of the St. Louis National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, stressed the fact that the Ferguson events started an international debate on the social problems in the American society.

“At this point of time, the conversation exists, it exists locally, it exists nationwide, it exists internationally,” he said.

In his opinion, the way to disperse the protests used by the law enforcement forces was poorly-chosen.

“I think the police had the ability to try to use a number of other tactics to try to dispel the crowd and try to reason with them, but the approach they used I did not agree with,” the expert explained.

From his point of view, the police actions had no justification and went against the constitutional rights of the press and the protesters.

“When we use or think we have to use such tactics in order to police our citizens, then we have given up on the very foundation that this country was built on,” Adolphus Pruitt stressed.

According to him, the African American population no longer wants to endure constant violations of their rights and sees the recent events as a demonstration of the current state of racial relationships in the US.

“I think that what occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, can occur anywhere in this country, where you have a large African-American population and it consistently has excessive number of encounters with police, whether legitimate or illegitimate,” the human rights activist said.

At the same time, Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum institute, pointed out that the racial tolerance situation in America underwent radical changes throughout the last half a century.

“We made great progress for the last 50 years, but are still grappling with the issues of ethnicity and race,” the expert admitted.

Discussing the reasons behind the demonstrations, he stressed that protests are a healthy and natural part of normal life of any country, which is especially true for the United States that began its history from the “Boston Tea Party.”

“On the other hand, we do know there was looting, we do know there was some violence: in fact, some of the protesters complained in the later days of protest that people who were bent on violence hijacked some of those evening nighttime peaceful protests,” Gene Policinski clarified, adding that the law enforcement forces still had no reasons to threaten and endanger the lives of the unarmed citizens.

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