Updated May 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Amnesty International: U.S. police must end militarized response to protests

Washington State Police uses tear gas to disperse a crowd during a demonstration protesting the death of George Floyd
Washington State Police use tear gas to disperse a crowd in Seattle during a demonstration protesting the death of George Floyd. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

Amnesty International issued a statement on Sunday morning calling for an end to militarized policing in several U.S. cities and the use of "excessive force" against demonstrators protesting police brutality.

Why it matters: The human rights group said police across the country were "failing their obligations under international law to respect and facilitate the right to peaceful protest, exacerbating a tense situation and endangering the lives of protesters."

"Equipping officers in a manner more appropriate for a battlefield may put them in the mindset that confrontation and conflict are inevitable."
— Amnesty International statement

The big picture: The National Guard mobilized and curfews were imposed in several states after clashes between police and demonstrators protesting the May 25 death of George Floyd and other black people who've died in police custody.

Zoom in: Authorities fired tear gas again Saturday during clashes with protesters in Minneapolis, where demonstrations entered a fifth day.

  • In New York City, video showed police officers driving their cars into a group of protesters. Mayor New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "If those protesters had just gotten out of the way ... we would not be talking about this situation."
  • In Florida, there were reports of police using tear gas and pepper spray amid violence in cities including Miami and Tampa Bay.
  • Las Vegas police deployed tear gas after protesters vandalized patrol cars, looted a store and set off fireworks, NBC News notes.
  • In Columbus, police used tear gas to disperse crowds. The local mayor said officers showed "great restraint" after protesters taunted them and threw objects, per ABC News.
  • In Seattle, tear gas was also deployed. The police said in a statement protesters had thrown bottles at officers.
  • In Denver, police used tear gas to successfully force protesters back just after the 8pm curfew imposed in response to the unrest came into effect, The Denver Channel reports.

Of note: Georgetown Law professor Paul Butler, author of "Chokehold: Policing Black Men," noted the reactions of some police this week were different to the response to demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions in Michigan last month.

  • "Unarmed people, many of whom are people of color, protest police brutality and are met with police brutality — flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets," he told Vox. "But when armed, mainly white protesters storm the Michigan state capitol, the police just let them be."

What they're saying: President Trump praised police for their conduct and slammed protesters, some of whom he described in a tweet as "THUGS."

  • "What we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice," Trump said Saturday.
  • NYPD Chief Terence Monahan tweeted, "We'll always welcome protestors who want to peacefully express their views. When violent individuals throw bottles, rocks, and cause serious injuries to our officers — we will make arrests."
  • Fraternal Order of Police national president Patrick Yoes said in a statement last Thursday in response to Floyd's death, "We know what happens in communities when police officers lose the respect and trust of the public they protect."
  • "Especially after a tragedy like we saw in Minneapolis, we need to do two things," he continued. "Take a hard look at our own actions and conduct, correct them where necessary, and to regain that trust by continuing to hold ourselves to the highest possible standard in a transparent way."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with Amnesty International's comments.

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