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UN official warns US to limit ‘excessive force’ by police

Police in Portland, Oregon respond to protests. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian/TNS)
July 30, 2020

The United Nation’s Human Rights Council official voiced concerns about policing tactics seen in the U.S. in the past two months amid widespread civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.

U.N. Human Rights Council spokeswoman Liz Throssell, during a Friday news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, spoke to issues regarding both the crowd control munitions used throughout the U.S. and controversial arrests involving law enforcement officers not in clearly identifiable uniforms.

Throssell’s remarks begin around the 17:40 mark.

Throssell said it is important that demonstrators aren’t subject to “unnecessary, disproportionate or discriminatory use of force’ and that law enforcement officers are “properly identified.”

The U.N. spokeswoman focused her initial comments on the police use of force in general, but focused on civil unrest in the U.S. when asked about recent civil unrest in place like Portland, Oregon. Her comments about police being easily identifiable echoed concerns following footage of federal agents in camouflage uniforms in Portland who detained a protesters and drove them away in an unmarked van.

“It is very important when there is an incident that it can be traced back to who was responsible,” Throssell said. “. . . When people are taking on a policing role and not identifiable that can really heighten the risk of arbitrary detention – to underscore the accountability of the forces that are being deployed that it is really important that they are identifiable.”

Asked about whether federal officers could act in state and local jurisdictions without the express permission of those jurisdictions, Throssell did say that was more of a political question and could not provide a specific interpretation of the U.S. system of federalism.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper did recently raise concerns about protesters confusing federal officers in camouflage for U.S. troops.

“In some cases law enforcement appropriately performing law enforcement duties were misconstrued with military personnel, who would not be appropriately doing those [responsibilities],” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman described Esper’s concerns in comments to reporters.

On Tuesday, members of the NYPD carried out a similar arrest as the one seen in Portland days prior. Plainclothes NYPD officers were filmed grabbing a woman and pulling her into a van, though uniformed NYPD officers later joined in the arrest and cordoned off fellow protesters while the plainclothes officers pulled the woman into the van and drove away.

The NYPD defended its actions in the arrest incident and said the woman they took into custody was wanted for damaging police cameras during five separate criminal incidents.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) criticized the arrest tactics in a tweet.

“Our civil liberties are on brink. This is not a drill,” she said. “There is no excuse for snatching women off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans. To not protect our rights is to give them away. It is our responsibility to resist authoritarianism.”