Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Amnesty International: "A Human-Rights Crisis" in Ferguson

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge Amnesty International out in Florissant last night. - JESSICA LUSSENHOP
  • Jessica Lussenhop
  • Amnesty International out in Florissant last night.

Ten Amnesty International staffers were out observing last night's march in Ferguson, including executive director Steven Hawkins, who's in town from New York City. When Daily RFT caught up with him in the media staging area, he did not mince words about what he was seeing.

"This is a human-rights crisis in America," he said, calling the fact that marchers were not being allowed to congregate a "violation of international human rights" law.

Hawkins said he asked Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson if Amnesty International observers could patrol alongside police and was denied. His organization is preparing to make recommendations on how the situation can be better handled and to ask Attorney General Eric Holder to broaden his federal investigation to include the tactics being used by local law enforcement on demonstrators in Ferguson.

click to enlarge Amnesty International executive director Steven Hawkins. - JESSICA LUSSENHOP
  • Jessica Lussenhop
  • Amnesty International executive director Steven Hawkins.

Read all of our Ferguson coverage here, starting on Sunday, August 10.

Last night began with peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson, then devolved into another chaotic scene where police used tear gas and drew automatic weapons. There were 31 arrests, and two people were shot. Read our live blog of last night's events here.

Yesterday, Governor Jay Nixon announced that there would be no curfew in Ferguson. However, when we followed up with Hawkins this morning, he said he observed a "de facto" curfew.

"Clearly the police wanted to clear the streets before midnight. The tactical chains started to assemble and get in place and begin to press the crowd off of the street," he said.

Johnson told reporters that while there was no set curfew, escalating violence coincidentally caused police to push media and protesters off the streets around midnight.

Hawkins also didn't think much of the fact that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster successfully defeated a temporary restraining order filed by the American Civil Rights Union earlier that day. The ACLU argued that the "keep moving" mandate was a violation of free speech, while Koster said in a press release that "this restriction is as narrowly tailored as the gunfire and violence along West Florissant Avenue will allow."

"People have a right to assemble. There would have to be some reason why you're telling people to keep moving," said Hawkins.

Hawkins said what he's seeing in Ferguson rivals situations he has monitored in Bosnia and other countries.

"The British soldiers knew how to react better, twenty years ago in Ireland," he said.

He is calling on AG Holder to expand his investigation and also to address, from a federal standpoint, how law enforcement should conduct itself.

"In terms of the appropriate use of force and policing in protest situations, there needs to be some clear federal guidelines."

Email the author at Jessica.Lussenhop@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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