Police must respect protesters' rights in Ferguson – HRW

Police must respect protesters' rights in Ferguson – HRW
Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that the police in Ferguson, Missouri must allow peaceful protest after the coming decision by a grand jury on the Michael Brown case, and that law enforcement abuses like those of August are unacceptable.

A grand jury is soon due to decide on whether to indict Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer for the fatal shooting of Michael brown an African American teenager, on the 9 August 2014.

If the jury decides, as is deemed likely, not to indict the officer, then protest is quite likely. In fact the governor of the state Jay Nixon declared a 17 day state of emergency on November 17 fearing the “possibility of expanded unrest”.

Scott Olson / Getty Images / AFP

“Respect for protesters’ rights should be at the heart of an effective law enforcement response to any demonstrations in Ferguson. While Missouri understandably wants to be prepared for the risk of unrest, state and local officials need to make clear that abuses like those in August are unacceptable,”said Alba Morales, criminal justice researcher with the US program at Human Rights Watch.

READ MORE: Missouri gov. declares state of emergency ahead of Ferguson verdict

After Brown was killed, there were massive demonstrations which began on August 10 and continued for two weeks. HRW found serious problems in how the police responded to the crisis, including intimidation of protesters and infringing on their rights to freedom of expression and the right to assembly, both of which are enshrined in the US Constitution and international law.

Scott Olson / Getty Images / AFP

HRW also concluded that law enforcement agencies used disproportionate and unnecessary force and obstructed the media from gathering news on the protests.

READ MORE: Revealed: Ferguson no-fly zone was meant to keep media away

HRW has since written to Jay Nixon to make a compressive and transparent review of the police response and the underlying reasons behind the protests in order to improve policies for policing future demonstrations.

“If new protests break out in Ferguson, law enforcement will have an opportunity to show that they have learned from past experience. Far from improving public security, disproportionate responses to protests only fuel anger and resentment, while endangering protesters and bystanders,” said Morales.

At the heart of the protests were long standing and bitter tensions between the mainly black residents of Ferguson and the majority white police force, with residents describing years of racial discrimination harassment and intimidation by the police.