US Police Killings Violate International Law
Glen Ford: Amnesty International finds all 50 states and Washington, DC, fail to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is the Glen Ford report on The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Hundreds of men and women are killed by the police each year across the United States. No one knows exactly how many because the United States does not keep such stats, we are told. The series of lethal attacks we have seen on African-Americans by police, such as Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, or Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, these recent attacks have prompted Amnesty International to issue a report that says 50 states and Washington, DC fail to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.
Here to discuss the report is Glen Ford. Glen is the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. Glen, thank you for joining us today.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you for the opportunity.
PERIES: Glen, give us a take on the report.
FORD: Well, I think the Amnesty report goes beyond showing that the crimes committed against people of all colors in the United States, not rooted in a few bad apples in the barrel. The situation is such that most American states, none of them actually, as you mentioned, measure up to the standards of international law. But a huge number of them don’t even measure up to U.S. Constitutional standards or have no laws at all covering various contingencies in which the police might use their weapons.
And I think it’s best to point out right up front that when we speak of international law we’re not talking about something that is elective. It’s not a suggestion from people around the world. We’re talking about international laws that the U.S. has signed by treaty, and therefore have the force of U.S. law. International law says that in terms of police use of deadly force, that lethal force should only be used to protect the life of the police officer or others if it is in imminent danger, and that lethal force must always be absolutely a last resort.
But of course, no state in the United States lives up to that standard. In fact, nine states have no laws at all regarding lethal use of force by police. Nine other states allow lethal force to put down a riot, which means that all that a state has to do is declare that it’s in the midst of a riotous situation, and the Constitution goes right out the window. There are 22 states that allow guards to kill prison inmates if the inmates are trying to escape, which means that in those 22 states inmates have no protection under the law. They have in fact no right to life under the law in those states.
And I think that’s a good point to mention, something that’s not brought up in the report. And that is that the St. Louis County prosecutor, the one who failed to indict the cop who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last year, he falsely told the Grand Jury that the police have the right to shoot at somebody if the person is running away from them, and that is definitively not true. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled back in 1985 that cops can’t shoot people just because they’re running away. But clearly the St. Louis County prosecutor does not regard that as a law that is applicable to him, and lots of other jurisdictions don’t either. The Amnesty International report shows that only eight states require that cops even give a verbal warning before they start pulling the trigger, and that only three states require that police be careful when they start shooting not to hit bystanders.
Amnesty International is making some very modest requests of the U.S. government. They’re asking the Congress to pass laws that would bring the states into compliance with international law. They’re asking that the President create a national task force on policing and on crime, something that Obama will claim that he’s already done. President Obama certainly is not going to, however, push for these measures based upon international law, because he breaks every law in the international book every Tuesday when he selects persons to be targeted for assassination by him by drones and other measures.
PERIES: Glen, do we have a response from the DOJ at this time regarding this report?
FORD: I don’t know of any response. As I said, I would think that the White House press secretary would say that Obama has addressed some of the Amnesty International suggestions regarding the collection of data by the Justice Department on who the cops shoot, in terms of age and race and such. And in terms of a task force on crime and policing. Obama put together a kind of task force last year, the one that was chaired by the black police chief of Philadelphia, one of the most notorious cities in terms of shooting civilians in the country.
PERIES: And Glen, do we have a sense of the numbers we are tackling? I know that we don’t have official numbers, but how many people in the United States are actually killed by this lethal force that is internationally illegal?
FORD: That’s in dispute. Amnesty International counts I believe 385. Others have the number 500 and higher. Other statistics show something in, maybe more meaningful in terms of the broad reality, and that is that blacks are twice as likely as whites to be killed by police, and that two-thirds of the people who are unarmed and killed by police are either black or Latino.
PERIES: And why are these stats not available and collected?
FORD: Because the police, local police don’t collect them and the federal government does not force the local police to hand in the data. I think it’s a good point to mention here that in New York it took years for civil liberties organizations to force, through court action, the NYPD to start keeping stats on who it stopped and frisked on the street. And only after they successfully forced them in the courts to provide that kind of data could the civil liberties lawyers then sue the NYPD for violating the rights of these overwhelmingly black and brown men.
So it’s a very, very long process and that’s what the cops prefer. They’d like to keep it that way and they have a friend in the Justice Department.
PERIES: Glen, thank you so much for bringing this to our attention and we’ll look forward to your report next week.
FORD: Thank you.
PERIES: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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