In a blistering rebuke of the current state of policing in the United States, a report issued by Amnesty International USA stated that all 50 U.S. states failed to meet international standards on use of deadly force by law enforcement officers.
The stunning report lays bare the fact that U.S. police are killing without any formal obligation to respect or preserve human life.
In an interview with The Guardian, Amnesty USA executive director Steven Hawkins said the report’s findings revealed a “shocking lack of fundamental respect for the sanctity of human life.”
“While law enforcement in the United States is given the authority to use lethal force, there is no equal obligation to respect and preserve human life. It’s shocking that while we give law enforcement this extraordinary power, so many states either have no regulation on their books or nothing that complies with international standards,” Hawkins said.
With recent protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, over police killings, there has been an ever-growing spotlight being shined on the culture of policing.
Amnesty analyzed each of the 50 U.S state’s statutes regarding use of lethal force. They then compared them against the United Nations accepted principles of only using lethal force “in order to protect life” in “unavoidable” instances after first attempting to utilize “less extreme means.”
UN guidelines go on to state that officers should identify themselves and give a clear warning of the intent to use deadly force.
The report found that none of the 50 states met these international standards for using lethal force, stating:
“None of the laws establish the requirement that lethal force may only be used as a last resort with non-violent means and less harmful means to be tried first. The vast majority of laws do not require officers to give a warning of their intent to use firearms.”
The U.S. constitutional standard is less stringent, as set by a 1985 Supreme Court case Tennesse v Garner. The court held that an officer may use deadly force to prevent a suspect from escaping if “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
Even so, 13 U.S. states failed to meet that constitutional standard, instead choosing to use extremely vague language in their statutes, which can be manipulated to allow for force use well beyond accepted standards. For example, North Dakota allows for deadly force against “an individual who has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving violence,” without ever defining what level of violence would warrant lethal force.
Nine states have absolutely no statutes on the books regarding officer use of lethal force– Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming – as well as Washington D.C., meaning that inevitably police investigate themselves based on some arbitrary standard.
The analysis found that only eight states had a requirement of a verbal warning before engaging in the use of deadly force. And in nine states, police can legally use lethal force during a time of rioting. In Pennsylvania, for example, a statute on use of force declares use of lethal force legitimate if “necessary to suppress a riot or mutiny after the rioters or mutineers have been ordered to disperse.”
Amnesty’s report states that in following international standards, all fatal incidents should be mandatorily reported and impartially investigated. The U.S. does no such thing, as the FBI runs a completely voluntary database.
According The Guardian:
The report also suggests taking action at all levels of government, making recommendations to the president, Congress and the US justice department, along with state legislatures and individual law enforcement departments. Amnesty suggests that laws be brought into compliance with international standards at every level, and that the justice department oversee a national commission “to examine and produce recommendations on policing issues, including a nationwide review of police use of lethal force laws … as well as a thorough review and reform of oversight and accountability mechanisms”.
Hawkins went on to say that he expects pushback from the police and their unions, but stated, “with so much attention on law enforcement and its use of lethal force within the US, in the next legislative session this report will produce some energy for change.”
The push for police accountability is now reaching a fever pitch in the U.S., as the current policing paradigm is unsustainable. With so many great ideas for systemic reform on the table, and so many great minds pushing for accountability, it seems only a matter of time before the current “good ole boy” power structure comes crumbling down.
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.