The Guardian reports that "every state in the US fails to comply with international standards on the lethal use of force by law enforcement officers." 

A new report by the international human rights and justice advocacy group, Amnesty International USA, finds that all 50 states and the District Columbia have failed to meet international standards for the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers. 

These standards, set by the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, require police to use all other measures before exercising means of lethal force. They say lethal force is only to be used as a last resort when "strictly necessary to protect themselves or others against imminent threat of death or serious injury."

Amnesty USA's executive director, Steven Hawkins, told the Guardian

“While law enforcement in the United States is given the authority to use lethal force, there is no equal obligation to respect and preserve human life. It’s shocking that while we give law enforcement this extraordinary power, so many states either have no regulation on their books or nothing that complies with international standards."

According to the Amnesty International press release

"The report is based on a review of the use of force statutes within the United States. Amnesty International reviewed relevant U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Department of Justice guidelines on the use of deadly force, and available statistical data, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

In addition to finding that all state laws are overly broad and allow for police to justifiably use force in a wide range of circumstances, failing to meet international standards, thirteen states also fail to meet the lower standards set by U.S. constitutional law on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have no laws on the use of lethal force, including Maryland Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The report also found that none of the states’ use of lethal force statutes include accountability mechanisms and that statutes that are overly broad and allow for the use of lethal force outside the strict criteria set by international law contribute to a cycle of impunity that prevents holding law enforcement officers accountable."

Here are a few important things to know from the report: 

  • Thirteen states have laws that do not comply with U.S. constitutional standards on use of lethal force. (Alabama; California; Delaware; Florida; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; New Jersey; New York; Oregon; Rhode Island; South Dakota; and Vermont)
  • Nine states allow lethal force to suppress a riot. (Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington)
  • Only eight states require a verbal warning be given before law enforcement uses lethal force. (Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Washington)
  • Twenty states allow citizens to use lethal force if they carry out law enforcement activities, such as assisting an officer with an arrest. (Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Washington)
  • Zero states have a provision in the state law on police use of lethal force that establishes specific accountability mechanisms for the use of lethal force by officers, such as obligatory reporting that a firearm has been used or that there be a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation with a view to prosecution.

Because of these issues, Hawkins is calling for reforms. He says

“Police have a fundamental obligation to protect human life. Deadly force must be reserved as a method of absolute last resort.The fact that absolutely no state laws conform to this standard is deeply disturbing and raises serious human rights concerns. Reform is needed and it is needed immediately. Lives are at stake.”

Do you agree with Hawkins? Is it time for police reform? Sound off in the comments section below. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.

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