USA: all 50 states fail international standards on police use of lethal force - new report

‘A nationwide review of lethal force laws, policies and training is urgently needed’ - Steven W Hawkins

All 50 US states and the District of Columbia fail to comply with international standards on police use of lethal force, according to a new Amnesty International USA report published today (18 June).

Amnesty’s 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, while nine states and the District of Columbia have no laws at all 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 range from 400 to 1,000. According to the limited government data available, African Americans are disproportionately affected, with African Americans comprising 13% of the US population but 27% of those killed by law-enforcement officers.

Amnesty is calling for the US 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.

Amnesty’s 102-page report - Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States - is based on a review of the use of force statutes within the USA, with Amnesty experts reviewing 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.

Amnesty is calling for state and federal reform to bring laws into line with international law and standards, which require that lethal force 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.

Amnesty International USA Executive Director Steven W Hawkins said:

“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.

“Police have a fundamental obligation to protect human life. Deadly force must be reserved as a method of absolute last resort.

“A nationwide review of lethal force laws, policies and training is urgently needed.

“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.”

View latest press releases