[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] USA Executive Director Steven Hawkins on Tuesday urged Baltimore police [press release] to exercise restraint during protests, prioritize non-violent means and limit the use of force. The statement comes amid protests over the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. Hawkins also addressed the right to protest and peacefully assembly, emphasizing that it should not inhibited by intimidation and excessive force. The statement continues:
Officers have the right to defend themselves and a duty to protect the safety of the public, but when confronting violence they must work in accordance with international standards governing the use of force. Large-scale use of tactics like tear gas and smoke bombs should not be used to quell acts of violence by a minority when the majority of protesters are non-violent. Such tactics will only lead to an escalation that places everyone at greater risk.
Maryland does not have a state law governing the use of force. On Monday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency as protests escalated, and National Guard troops have been deployed.
Racial tension has recently mounted in the US following several police killings of unarmed black men. Earlier this year Judge Edgar Dickson of the South Carolina Circuit Court declared a mistrial [JURIST report] in the murder case against a former police chief for the 2011 killing of an unarmed black man. After a grand jury decided not to indict [JURIST report] the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who last year shot and killed Micheal Brown [USA Today Timeline], an African American teenager, there was a large uproar from the Ferguson community that led to mass protests and violence in some instances. The case even reached international news with AI reporting [JURIST report] human rights abuses by Ferguson Police in late October. In early October a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that the police tactics used on protesters was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction. The American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] also published a report [JURIST report] arguing that increased militarization of police forces is putting citizens at risk rather than protecting them.