Preventing the Lethal Use of Force by State Actors in the U.S.

In the United States, the recent deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice and others have initiated increased concern over the intersections of race, policing and justice, specifically about the way policing tactics and biased policing are negatively impacting communities of color on a national level. For example, a recent study revealed that Philadelphia police shot 400 people—over 80% African American—in seven years.

The use of lethal force by law enforcement officers implicates a range of human rights, including the right to life and freedom from discrimination.  Current law enforcement policies on the use lethal force vary widely from agency to agency and state to state, and many do not meet international human rights standards. International standards provide that law enforcement officers should only use lethal force as a last resort and that the amount of force must be proportionate to the threat encountered and designed to minimize damage and injury. They further provide that officers may only use firearms as a last resort when strictly necessary to protect themselves or others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury. The intentional lethal use of firearms is justified only when “strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”  There is a critical need to standardize use of lethal force policies to ensure they are compliant with international standards.

Amnesty International U.S.A. has asked IHRC to assist in its efforts to advocate for state and local police compliance with international human rights standards on the use of lethal force and for the creation of oversight and accountability mechanisms to hold police officers accountable for human rights violations. Towards this end, the clinic will examine the policies of police departments in major cities around the country to determine whether they comply with international human rights standards. This analysis will be used by Amnesty International in their larger advocacy campaign and will be by the organization in an appropriate format. Students may also have the chance to assist in the development of particular cases of police use of lethal force. This will involve research and outreach at the local or state level to identify and gather information about the circumstances surrounding instances of police use of lethal force. This work will result in advocacy with appropriate local authorities for police accountability and will be integrated into Amnesty International’s national advocacy campaign. Finally, students may have the opportunity to work as part of a state-level legislative advocacy campaign aimed at amending legislation regulating police use of lethal force to comport with international human rights standards.