The murder of 46-year-old George Floyd on 25th May 2020, at the hands of a white Minneapolis Police Officer, sparked a wave of peaceful protests across the United States from tens of thousands of people of different ethnicities, families, student groups and others. It re-ignited the Black Lives Matter movement around the world.
The dark side of the story is the reaction towards this movement from the American government. Across the United States, police and law enforcement units have responded to these protests with excessive force and brutal tactics.
On 1st June 2020 U.S. helicopters hovered low right above the protestors in Washington, DC. Two National Security Guard helicopters, Lakota and Blackhawk, were used to create fear among the demonstrators. Ironically, one of them was even bearing a Red Cross emblem which is a symbol of medical aid. The use of a helicopter with Red Cross markings was a violation of global norms that eroded its neutral symbolism.
This was described as a foolish move by Geoffrey Corn, a former Army lawyer, and professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. He also said that the symbolic significance of the Red Cross is pervasive: It denotes a ‘noncombatant’ function of the armed forces and also symbolizes mercy.”
The use of such tactics in an urban area is hazardous and has the potential of being catastrophic if something went wrong. Moreover, there have been more than 10000 arrests of demonstrators. The use of such excessive force by any law enforcement unit is prohibited by International Human Rights Law.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone the right to assemble, which allows people to gather for peaceful and lawful purposes. This right also imbibes the right to association and belief. The United States Supreme Court protected the right to protest in the 1969 case of Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham.
The only exception to this right is that the government may prohibit people from forming groups that promote illegal activities. Considering the fact that the people in Washington were protesting peacefully and for legitimate reasons, the use of excessive force to curb them does not fall under the exception.
Freedom of assembly is also recognized as a human right under article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, America is a state party to numerous global and regional human rights conventions that guarantee freedom of assembly and expression.
At the present time, the subjugation of social protests in several countries is resulting in grave human rights violations. A reformist rule from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHC), is urgently needed. But yet again, the results have produced great frustration among civil society. A culture of tolerance of different opinions is necessary to prevent such violations of human rights. Security forces should use only reasonable force rather than extreme measures, during peaceful protests.