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Police response to G-20 protests included excessive force as means of crowd control

Heidi Boghosian [Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild]: "The police response to protests at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh will be remembered as especially brutal, given the debut of military sonic weapons against civilians. Technology used in Iraq, long range acoustic devices (LRADs), are more insidious than other so called less-lethal munitions because they leave no visible marks and can cause permanent hearing loss.

Combined with chemical irritants and projectile weapons, law enforcement's response at the G-20 was a textbook example of unlawful force that violates domestic and international legal norms. Excessive force as a means of crowd control is inappropriate and unlawful in a civilian context. In addition to subjecting protesters to risk of serious injury, police in Pittsburgh also targeted innocent bystanders - some children - to sonic, chemical and projectile weapons in residential neighborhoods and on school campuses.

Such gratuitous assaults on protesters sends the message that the thousands of police and military personnel are not engaged in professional crowd control; rather, they are pre-emptive and aggressive techniques to punish protesters and bystanders for exercising their First Amendment rights. These practices violate legally-binding international human rights treaties which the United States has ratified and are inconsistent with standards set out under the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials [PDF file], which states that force should be used only where "strictly necessary" and in proportion to the threat posed.

A democracy should not tolerate such abuse of police authority, and the National Lawyers Guild expects that there will be an independent review and assessment of why law enforcement unleashed such excessive and inappropriate force in Pittsburgh. As has consistently happened at other mass assemblies over the past decade, an evaluation of police conduct will likely be criticized after the fact. If anything good comes out of this, it will be that the Pittsburgh experience acts as a reality check and that other cities do not follow suit in such escalation of violence against their residents and visitors."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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