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USA: All 50 states fall short of international standards on police use of lethal force

    June 18, 2015

    •        Nine states and the District of Columbia lack any laws on the appropriate use of deadly force
    •        Laws in 13 states are out of step even with protections under US constitutional law
    •        No official statistics to track fatalities, but estimates range from 400 to 1,000 deaths annually
    •        African Americans disproportionately affected by the police use of lethal force

    All 50 US states and the District of Columbia fail to comply with international standards on police use of lethal force, a new Amnesty International USA report found today.

    Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States calls for reform at the state and federal levels to bring laws in line with international law and standards, which require that lethal force should only be used as a last resort when strictly necessary for police to protect themselves or others against imminent threat of death or serious injury.

    “Police have a fundamental obligation to protect human life. Deadly force must be reserved as a method of absolute last resort,” said Steven W. Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.

    “The fact that absolutely no US 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.”

    The report is based on a review of the use of force statutes within the USA. Amnesty International reviewed relevant US 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 fail to meet international standards by allowing for police to use lethal force in a wide range of circumstances, the report finds that 13 states also fail to meet the lower standards set by US 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 (Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming).

    The report also found that none of the states’ statutes on the use of lethal force include provisions on accountability mechanisms.

    At present, there are no comprehensive national statistics tracking deaths or injuries at the hands of the police in the USA. Estimates of people killed annually by law enforcement around the country range from 400 to 1,000.

    According to the limited government data available, African Americans are disproportionately affected by the use of lethal force. The African American population of the USA is 13% but makes up 27% of those killed by law enforcement.

    The report calls for the Department of Justice to collect and publish statistics and data on police shootings and to sort the data by race, gender, age, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity and indigenous status.

    “A nationwide review of lethal force laws, policies and training is urgently needed,” said Steven W. Hawkins.

    “We are calling on the President and the Department of Justice to create a national task force to carry out this review and institute comprehensive reforms, including of oversight and accountability mechanisms. If the United States is to comply with its international legal obligations on human rights, these policies must be brought in line with international law and standards.”


    For further information contact John Tackaberry, Media Relations
    (613)744-7667 #236

    Report  Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States