The situation in Ferguson, Missouri is already historic. In a first of its kind development, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International has deployed a team of observers in the United States. The 13-person delegation arrived last week and, on Tuesday, Amnesty International Executive Director Steven Hawkins revealed his findings. Disturbingly, he determined that the police in Ferguson were complicit in a “violation of human rights standards.” Their infraction: The flagrant use of … tear gas?
“We are seeing the use of excessive force by police in a situation of very minimal need for anything beyond basic policing,” Hawkins told MSNBC’s Tamron Hall. “The indiscriminate use of tear gas being lobbed into a crowd where there are children and elderly — that’s a clear violation of human rights standards.”
The need for something more robust than “basic policing” has been spelled out by Capt. Ron Johnson over the course of more than a week of protests. Just last night, Johnson said that his officers “came under heavy gunfire.” In prior nights, Johnson alleged that coordinated attacks on police positions were being conducted by agitators who have streamed into the city to exploit the civil unrest springing from the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“To disperse the crowd last night,” he continued, “while there was not a curfew officially in place, at the end of the day, there was.”
Hawkins asserted that he police had “gone into militaristic mode” by the late evening on Monday and used unwarranted force by attempting to disperse demonstrators.
“We have issued reports that say if there’s minor property damage, like a sign being torn down, that’s not a reason to disperse a crowd,” he added. “These are violations of U.N. standards and international obligations that the United States is bound to protect.”
Describing the United States as a human rights violator in this instance is a bridge too far. Moreover, the police are a bit damned if they do in this case. There was an official curfew in place over the weekend until liberal commentators and government officials demanded it be rescinded because some believed that it was instigating more unrest.
So the curfew was lifted, but the violence continued. Now, Capt. Johnson is requesting that peaceful protesters demonstrate in the daylight rather than at night, when outside agitators use the darkness as cover for violence, attacks on police, and episodes of property damage. In other words, officials are asking Ferguson residents to observe a curfew – but don’t dare say those words lest they offend the already violent.
It is true that the police brought much of the current situation on themselves with an undue and indiscriminate response to peaceful demonstrators and rioters alike, but much of the commentary has been excessive and unhelpful. It is probably not Amnesty International’s goal to be dismissed out of hand, but statements like these will only further cement its marginalization.