CIVICUS Alert: USA: Investigate incidents and protect the right to protest

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, calls on the Government of the United States of America to thoroughly investigate instances of heavy-handed action by police officers in dealing with protests against the killing of black individuals by law-enforcement agents.

“Arbitrary arrests and intimidation tactics used by the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and elsewhere do not behove the actions of police in a democratic country,” said Tor Hodenfield from CIVICUS. “We urge the United States government to live up to its values by bringing errant officers to book.”    

In a wave of demonstrations in response to the killing of Alton Sterling by two Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) officers on 5 July, police have arrested over 200 protestors for exercising their right to protest and have used disproportionate and excessive physical force to intimidate and disperse demonstrators. 

On 8 July, scores of peaceful protestors gathered outside BRPD headquarters near Airline Highway in Baton Rouge, calling for an independent investigation into the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, an African-American male who was shot dead by police outside a convenience store. Following calls to disperse, police arrested over 30 protestors on a number of ambiguous charges including incitement to riot, interference with police and obstruction of a roadway.

The following evening, protestors reconvened to hold a demonstration outside BRDP headquarters. In an escalation of the crackdown, police, many of whom were in full riot gear, carrying assault rifles and escorted by armoured vehicles, arrested over 100 protestors on similar changes. Another 50 protestors were arrested on Sunday in Downtown Baton Rouge on questionable charges of obstructing a roadway, when over a thousand demonstrators took part in an authorised protest. 

At least three journalists, including from National Public Radio (NPR), a CBS' Baton Rouge affiliate, and Breitbart News Network were arrested on 9 July while reporting on the protests.

The BRPD has also been accused of using excessive and unlawful force during the course of the arrests. Among other tactics, police allegedly physically attacked demonstrators and used mace, electric tasers, and pepper spray on protestors. Police also reportedly used mace and pepper spray on protestors for singing protest songs while detained.

“The BRDP’s violent and disproportionate response to the Baton Rouge protests is symptomatic of a worrying trend of wilful obstruction of the right to protest in many parts of the United States,” said Teldah Mawarire, also a Policy & Research Officer with CIVICUS. “Police must facilitate rather than actively obstruct the internationally guaranteed and constitutional right to assemble peacefully.”

CIVICUS urges the United States to take concrete measures to end the harassment and arrests of peaceful protestors and to conduct an immediate and wide ranging investigation into instances of police brutality, including racially motivated ones in dealing with the protests. 

For more information, please contact: 

Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Research Officer, CIVICUS


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