Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Police Killings of African-American Persons in the United States

August 22, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses concern over separate incidents that led to the deaths of unarmed African-Americans Eric Garner and Michael Brown, at the hands of the police in New York City, New York, and Ferguson, Missouri, respectively, and the events that followed the death of Mr. Brown.

Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014, after reportedly being placed in a chokehold by police officers in Staten Island, New York. According to media reports, the chokehold was applied to Mr. Garner after he had been thrown to the ground by at least five police officers, and after Garner repeatedly told the police officers that he could not breathe. The Medical Examiner of New York has since ruled Mr. Garner’s death a homicide, and it remains under investigation.

Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer on August 9, 2014 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. According to information publicly available by the Commission, Brown, an 18 year-old student, was initially shot in a street while holding up his hands in surrender; and was subsequently shot multiple times after he fell. Following his death, protests, many of which resulted in violence, have been taking place in Ferguson, Missouri.

The IACHR emphasizes that in cases of killings at the hand of State security forces it is necessary for the State to ensure that investigations into the killings are carried out promptly, thoroughly and independently and it urges the State to do so. The Commission is aware that US authorities have initiated investigations into the killings of Mr. Garner and Mr. Brown, but it is nevertheless concerned with the manner in which the investigation into the death of Mr. Brown has been carried out thus far. In this regard, the Commission notes that the name of the officer responsible for the shooting of Mr. Brown was initially withheld from the public and was only later revealed in conjunction with a video of Mr. Brown allegedly stealing cigarettes from a shop, an event that appears to be unrelated to the his death according to media reports. These events appear to have contributed to the increased level of tension between protesters and the police in Ferguson. Further, the Commission is aware that the Federal Government has also become involved in the investigation into the killing of Mr. Brown by launching a federal criminal investigation on the matter and it welcomes this development.

The Commission is also concerned with the manner in which public authorities and the security forces have responded to the protests. According to media reports, authorities had initially limited the protesters’ right of assembly by imposing a curfew and had recently deployed the National Guard to restore order in Ferguson. Security forces already appeared to have responded to protesters with a disproportionate use of force prior to the deployment of the National Guard. Given the risk of further escalation of violence that comes with the deployment of a more militarized and heavily armed security force to the city, the Commission welcomes the recent news that the governor of Missouri has ordered the withdrawal of the National Guard from Ferguson. The IACHR urges authorities to adopt a moderate response to protesters and to refrain from using excessive force.

Furthermore, the IACHR has received troubling information concerning alleged attacks on and brief detentions of journalists while covering protests in Ferguson, Missouri. According to available information, at least 11 journalists have been detained and released without charge since the beginning of the demonstrations. Similarly, some journalists reported being threatened by the police and hit with rubber bullets and tear gas. Other reporters have said they were intimidated by local residents.

In addition, the IACHR considers that the killings of Mr. Garner and Mr. Brown represent the continuation of a disturbing pattern of excessive force on the part of police officers towards African-Americans and other persons of color and the Commission urges the State to give renewed attention to the possible links between these cases and past cases that demonstrated a pattern of use of excessive force against persons of color.

Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and Against Racial Discrimination of the IACHR, has stated that: “all persons, regardless of race or ethnicity, are entitled to respect for their fundamental rights, including the right to life”. Commissioner Antoine also emphasized that “this obligation mandates State law enforcement agents to exercise restraint in the manner in which they interact with citizens, and to refrain from the excessive or disproportionate use of lethal force when effecting an arrest or otherwise engaging with citizens.”

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 90/14