US police laws don't comply with international standards, Amnesty International says

Weeks after President Obama makes policing recommendations, a human rights organization calls out international law violations in all 50 states and asks for sweeping reform. 

Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Reuters/File
A demonstrator confronts police near Camden Yards during a protest against the death in police custody of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

A report released by human rights organization Amnesty International found that “all 50 states and Washington D.C. fail to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.”

The report comes at a time of vigorous national debate over law enforcement, race relations, and accountability, and just a month after President Obama released recommendations from the policing task force, which was convened after the shooting death of Michael Brown. 

Amnesty International reports that nine states and Washington D.C. currently have no laws on use of lethal force by law enforcement officers. The review also finds that thirteen states have laws on use of lethal force by law enforcement officers that the organization deemed unconstitutional.

Amnesty USA Executive Director Steven Hawkins told the Guardian the report represented a “shocking lack of fundamental respect for the sanctity of human life.”

"National and local laws play an important role in defining the understanding by law enforcement officials and the population alike of the extent of the police powers, and the conditions for accountability," Hawkings said. "As such, there is a strong need to ensure that domestic laws worldwide comply with international standards. It is too late to attend to this when tensions arise."

On May 18, the day the police task force released its final report, Obama announced a $75 million investment over three years in body cameras for police officers and banned the transfer of some military weapons and hardware from the federal government to local police, The Washington Post reported. Obama also called for state and local police to report deadly force to the federal government. There is currently no such requirement to report and national statistics do not yet exist.

In May, the national Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement saying that police unions are against racial profiling and police brutality, Vice News reported. "Nobody hates bad cops more than other cops," the president of the order, Chuck Canterbury, wrote. 

The Amnesty International report points out a lack of consistent policy on police use of lethal force in the US. 

International law, as codified by the United Nations, stipulates that officers can only use deadly force when either they, or bystanders, face an immediate threat of death or serious physical harm, and only then as a last resort, al Jazeera reports. According to the report's findings, no US state has a law that holds police to that standard. The report recommended sweeping reform, and in states that lack clear laws on lethal force, entirely new regulation.

"To be a police officer takes a special kind of courage," Obama said publicly, on the day he announced the police task force's recommendations. "We can’t ask the police to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face or do anything about.”

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