October 27, 2014
The Honorable Jay Nixon
Office of the Governor
PO Box 720
Jefferson City, MO 65102
RE: Ferguson Commission Recommendations
Dear Governor Nixon:
I write to follow up on my September 9, 2014 letter to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch, in which we urged that the state of Missouri undertake a comprehensive review of law enforcement responses to the protests that began on August 9 in Ferguson. Your recent announcement of the creation of the Ferguson Commission, a panel charged with studying the “the social and economic conditions underscored by the unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown,” left unclear whether the panel will address the many outstanding and serious questions about the police response to the protests. We call upon you to ensure a thorough investigation of the response to the protests, either by explicitly charging the panel with conducting such an investigation, or by establishing a separate body with appropriate expertise to do so.
In our letter we shared substantial information we had collected in Ferguson that pointed to serious problems in the police response to the protest. These included apparent violations of the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, incidents of possible excessive use of force, as well as actions that raised concerns over accountability and transparency of law enforcement. We also documented a general culture of mistrust and frustration with law enforcement that predated the shooting of Michael Brown; multiple residents we interviewed described years of police harassment and intimidation in Ferguson.
To fully address the social and economic conditions in the St. Louis area underscored by the Ferguson protests, and to build a new environment of trust in the community, it is critical that the state tackle both the longstanding concerns over law enforcement’s behavior as well as its response to the protests, including the apparent lack of accountability for abusive law enforcement behavior.
Without a thorough investigation into police actions in the community both before and after the Michael Brown shooting, any recommendations the commission makes will be incomplete. Accordingly, we urge you to specifically charge the Ferguson Commission with reviewing the police response to the Ferguson protests in addition to the police’s treatment of the community generally, or to appoint a separate body to undertake this necessary work.
My colleague Natalie Kato will be in contact with your office to discuss this matter further.
Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno
Co-Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch