Just before midnight on Aug. 19, a longtime local cop named Ray Albers trained his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle on a protester in Ferguson, Mo., and told him he was about to die. “I will f——- kill you!” video shows the cop yelling at the protester, who said he had his hands raised. “Get back! Get back!”
When asked his name, Albers, who was suspended and resigned soon afterward, seethed, “Go f— yourself!”
This altercation was one of many disturbing encounters enumerated in an Amnesty International report released Thursday night that paints a damning portrayal of the Ferguson police force, which it accuses of committing numerous human rights abuses. The report was deeply skeptical of whether Ferguson cop Darren Wilson was justified in the killing of unarmed Michael Brown, criticized Missouri law it said violates international standards and condemned the local police response for shooting tear gas and rubber bullets, intimidating protesters and restricting residents’ right to peaceful assembly.
“The shooting of Michael Brown has highlighted on a national level the persistent and widespread pattern of racially discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officers across the United States, including unjustified stops and searches, ill treatment and excessive, and sometimes lethal, use of force,” found Amnesty International, which investigates reports of human rights violations in some of the world’s most dangerous locations. Indeed, the report continued, shortly after Brown was shot six times and killed, another young African American man, Kajieme Powell, was also shot dead. “Police claims that he was brandishing a knife were not borne out by available video footage of the shooting.”
The report starts with the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown. Many details of that day are hotly disputed and clouded by conflicting witness statements, but one fact is beyond dispute: Brown was not armed. Consequently, he was “unlikely to have presented a serious threat to the life of the police officer,” the report said. “As such, this calls into question whether the use of lethal force was justified, and the circumstances of the killing must be urgently clarified.”
According to international standards, the report said, use of force should be proportionate to the threat encountered, meaning it is only justified to kill when the objective is to save life. Missouri law, however, disagrees. It holds that cops can use deadly force if they thinks it’s necessary to “effect the arrest and also reasonably believe that the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony; or is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon; or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay,” the report said. It called this “clearly out of line with international standards.”
In the ensuing protests, police acted in a way that violated the rights of residents, according to the report, imposing curfews and designating protest areas. If protesters didn’t abide such rules, they were arrested, with Amnesty counting 78 arrests for “refusal to disperse” on Aug. 18.
During protests, police moved “among the protesters using armored vehicles which are more commonly seen in a conflict zone rather than the streets of a suburban town in the United States,” the authors said. On the night of Aug. 18, they noted, several cops “kept their guns trained on the [Amnesty International] delegation.”
This and other examples of police pointing guns at unarmed protesters appeared to violate the United Nations’ “Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials,” the report said. It described a chilling scene the night of Aug. 18 when “officers had their guns drawn with no names, badges, other identifying information visible. Amnesty International requested information from the officers regarding what agency they were from and why the gas was used but were told, ‘Not right now, please go back down W. Florissant.”
What’s more, the police cracked down on the media, arresting at least 19 journalists between Aug. 13 and Oct. 2, one of whom was The Washington Post’s own Wesley Lowery.
Two journalists, the report found, were shot in the back with rubber bullets. Then cops approached them, guns drawn, and arrested them without reading their Miranda rights. “Despite Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson’s assurance that night that no journalists were among the arrested … [the two reporters] were not released until the next morning.”