Coming on the heels of shocking police brutality in Missouri, Baltimore and Charleston caught on video, a new report by international human rights group Amnesty International has found that a stunning 50 of 50 U.S. states fail to comply with international standards on the lethal use of force by law enforcement officers.
The report, published by the groups U.S. division, found a further 13 states that fall beneath even lower legal standards of the U.S. constitutional law.
Shockingly nine states currently have no laws on record to deal with the issue.
Executive director for Amnesty USA, Steven Hawkins, said the findings show a “shocking lack of fundamental respect for the sanctity of human life”.
“While law enforcement in the United States is given the authority to use lethal force, there is no equal obligation to respect and preserve human life. It’s shocking that while we give law enforcement this extraordinary power, so many states either have no regulation on their books or nothing that complies with international standards,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins called the analysis the first of its kind as it compared state laws on police use of lethal force with international laws, particularly the United Nations principle of limiting lethal use of force to “unavoidable” instances “in order to protect life” after “less extreme means” have proved insufficient.
Amnesty found that, in all cases, state written statutes were too broad to be in compliance with these international standards, concluding that “none of the laws establish the requirement that lethal force may only be used as a last resort with non-violent means and less harmful means to be tried first. The vast majority of laws do not require officers to give a warning of their intent to use firearms.”
The comes just weeks after the recommendations of Barack Obama’s police taskforce were criticized for not doing anything substantive to prevent police violence. Obama's commission found that “not only should there be policies for deadly and non-deadly uses of force”, but that a “clearly stated ‘sanctity of life’ philosophy must also be in the forefront of every officer’s mind”.
The 'sanctity of life' philosophy is an internationally recognized principle for the treatment of human life by militaries and law enforcement around the world.
The Amnesty review found only eight states that require a verbal warning to be issued before an officer uses lethal force.
In fact, nine states – Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Wisconsin - have no law enforcement lethal force statutes at all.
“Those states can of course argue that they follow common law or supreme court standards, but is that good enough?” Hawkins stated. “Certainly we would expect that international human rights standards are what should govern and our fear is that, unless these are clearly quantified, a citizen in any state can’t look at what the law is. That’s critically important to ensuring accountability.”
Amnesty’s report advocates for UN international standards to be applied to all fatal incidents involving law enforcement, which would mean mandatory reporting of lethal incidents and impartial investigations into each and every one.
The federal government does not track these incidents, relying on the the FBI-run voluntary program where law enforcement choose to submit a number of “justifiable homicides” each year.
Yet because the system is optional, most departments submit only partial statistics and re-classify incidents to avoid public scrutiny and the associated costs.