3 Things Amnesty International Has Seen in Ferguson That Worry Us

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Amnesty International USA deployed a team of human rights observers to Ferguson, Missouri to monitor protests and law enforcement response in the wake of a grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. While it is not possible to make sweeping conclusions still this early in a fluid situation, here is what we know has happened so far in Ferguson:

1. There is clear evidence that tear gas has been used in Ferguson. Its flagrant use in the presence of clearly marked Amnesty International observers underlines our previous concerns about its unnecessary or excessive use:

2. In particular, there was an incident where several of our Amnesty observers were at MoKaBe’s coffee shop, a designated safe house for activists, which was tear gassed by the police. Amnesty staff were inside MoKaBe’s coffeehouse along with several dozen other protesters and community members. The coffee shop was distributing free coffee and hot chocolate to those who needed a quiet and welcoming place to gather or refresh themselves. It was staffed by community volunteers and clergy. There was a small protest taking place in the street outside, but it was peaceful. At approximately 1:00am, a large militarized police vehicle sped around the corner and fired tear gas and undetermined projectiles at the people running from the protests, hitting one in the back. The police then turned to MoKaBe’s and fired on the building. Amnesty International staff inside MoKaBe directly observed the entire interaction. 

The police again fired tear gas several minutes later, despite the presence of two Amnesty monitors clearly marked with bright yellow “human rights observer” T-shirts. The patrons, including people who came outside to recover from the initial tear gas and some children, were overcome with gas. There was no evident provocation for this action and no prior warning to disperse. One Amnesty observer was struck with three or four projectiles of unknown composition. Meanwhile, a column of police in riot gear lined up in a column outside, preventing anyone from leaving or entering the coffee shop for approximately 20 minutes.

3. Other scenes observed by our monitors raise questions about whether law enforcement were fulfilling their official obligation to de-escalate and facilitate peaceful assembly and protect demonstrators from violence:

  Observers reporting riot police herding protesters off the highway, witnessed pepper spray & arrests #Ferguson   A photo posted by Steven W Hawkins (@stevenwhawkins) on

These observations and the remaining questions are precisely why human rights observation is so critical. While millions watched from afar, Amnesty International USA was on the ground sorting through the gas and the confusion.

While there are certainly elements of violence and unrest among the protesters, there are countless others who are there to exercise their human rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of movement. When these rights are threatened for anyone, they are threatened for everyone.

Now is the time where it as more important as ever to guard against abuses. Join us in urging Missouri officials to be vigilant in making Ferguson a protected space for peaceful protesters. It is time for leaders in Ferguson, throughout the US and across the globe to stand up for human rights – the world is watching.

This blog post has been updated from its original version.

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6 thoughts on “3 Things Amnesty International Has Seen in Ferguson That Worry Us

  1. I am sad to hear that we now live in a country where international observers are tear-gassed while drinking coffee. But I do appreciate that Amnesty International was there to witness.

  2. Those are the three things you saw in Ferguson that worried you? Being concerned about tear gas in the midst of those riots while businesses are being looted and burned to the ground is like being upset about a fender bender auto accident in lower manhattan on the morning of 9/11/2001. Your selective "outrage" and concern is what is truly concerning. Do minorities whose businesses and places of employment were burnt the ground have "human rights"?

  3. "Your comment must be approved by the site admins before it will appear publicly." Good luck with that if you have anything to say that goes counter to the false narrative.

  4. Glad that Amnesty International was at MoKabe's but regret anyone being gassed. I believe couple of live streamers were there as well. I saw how they blocked everyone in and not allowing people to leave a certain perimeter.
    My heart goes out to all the protesters and Amnesty International for all your hard work and efforts to assure human rights exist.

  5. Tear gas has its place. It is generally non-lethal, and it discourages those who inhale it from continuing their actions. Better tear gas or rubber bullets than standard bullets, I think. Some tear gas might have saved those buildings from being set on fire during the "peaceful protests". City employees have the right to have their human life protected as well. If the enemy is not just a burning building, but is also the risk of being attacked by a crowd of angry protesters, then, I think it is a fair judgment call to "err on the side of caution", and not respond to fight the arson fires. The information in the story wasn't clear; was tear gas fired into the coffee shop directly? Or did some tear gas drift in through the door? Did the firing of tear gas seem to follow as protestors fleeing from another site came and mixed in with the more peaceful protests outside the coffee shop? Were the unknown projectiles that struck the observer seen to be fired by police/guards, or were they from an unknown origin? Could they have been objects thrown by some of the protestors, and they struck unintended targets? Maybe they were pebbles and debris kicked up by the wind?

  6. What if Amnesty International were playing the role of the police chief of a town such as Ferguson. The job of the police is to serve and protect, is it not? When the police observe property damage or threats or attempts at injury to people, they are supposed to intervene, are they not?

    So, consider this scenario: A group of five police officers sees a group of five angry protestors, and saw that one of them just threw a rock or brick through a shop window. Several store windows nearby are broken and two of the others of the five are carrying bricks. Another of the group of five is seen hiding a bottle with a cloth coming from the neck of the bottle under his jacket. Further in the street, about ten more protestors are shouting insults at the police, and shouting encouragements for the five to throw rocks and break windows. Beyond the yelling group, thirty more protestors are standing around, mainly just watching to see what happens.

    What should the police do? You're in charge. What is the right thing to do?