Each of the 50 United States has failed to comply with international standards on police use of lethal force, a reality that threatens lives, poses grave human rights concerns, perpetuates institutional racism, and requires immediate reform, a new report by Amnesty International published Thursday has found.
Moreover, the limited available statistics on police killings of civilians, as well as recent high-profile shootings of unarmed black men and women around the country, exposes “a widespread pattern of racially discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officers and an alarming use of lethal force nationwide.”
“Police have a fundamental obligation to protect human life. Deadly force must be reserved as a method of absolute last resort,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “The fact that absolutely no state laws conform to this standard is deeply disturbing and raises serious human rights concerns.”
In Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States (pdf), researchers reviewed U.S. Supreme Court decisions, guidelines on deadly force as issued by the U.S. Justice Department, and available statistical data on fatal encounters, which led to one stark conclusion:
The United States has failed to respect and protect the right to life by failing to ensure that domestic legislation meets international human rights law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.
What is needed now, according to Amnesty, is an immediate overhaul of policing practices and standards at both the state and federal levels to ensure that use of lethal force is restricted in compliance with international law. In addition, the organization recommends that statistics on police shootings be collected and published by the Justice Department; that accountability and oversight for the use of lethal force be enforced; and that the Police Reporting Information, Data, and Evidence (PRIDE) Act and the End Racial Profiling Act be passed into law.