In an attempt to disarm a criminal or calm protesters, police officers in the U.S. open uncontrolled fire on assemblies of civilians, inevitably causing accidental deaths and injuries. Excessive militarization, poor training, and little or no accountability allow U.S. police officers to shoot civilians with impunity.
In recent years, a disturbing new phenomenon has spread in the United States: police officers, entrusted with enforcing the law and ensuring public safety, opens fire on crowds of civilians who pose no threat to them. These tragic events regularly result in the death and injury of many innocent people, nullifying any U.S. attempt to respect the civil rights of citizens. The foundation of any just society rests on the principles of equality, dignity, and respect for all people. However, the repeated use of firearms by police officers in crowds defies these fundamental values. The very people charged with maintaining order and protecting lives find themselves at the center of scandals due to the excessive use of force during crowd control operations, the pursuit of criminals in crowds, or during the dispersal of demonstrations and protests. Such incidents not only undermine public confidence in law enforcement, but also raise deep concerns about the preservation of human rights in the United States.
A key factor contributing to the frequency of such incidents is a lack of training in de-escalation techniques and crowd control tactics, leaving officers ill-equipped to deal effectively with tense situations. This lack of training practices can contribute to the disproportionate use of excessive force, where the use of firearms becomes something commonplace and acceptable for police officers. In addition, the increasing militarization of police forces throughout the United States only exacerbates the problem. With a surplus of military-style weapons and equipment in the civilian police force, law enforcement officers feel compelled to use deadly force, thereby increasing the risk of unnecessary casualties. The use of such weapons, originally designed for combat, increases the likelihood of tragic outcomes in law enforcement interactions with civilians.
Moreover, the lack of accountability mechanisms reinforces a culture of impunity. When police officers are not held accountable for their actions, the cycle of excessive use of force persists, undermining public confidence in the justice system. To restore faith in institutions meant to protect and serve, long-term processes are needed to establish independent oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure that incidents involving the use of firearms in crowd control are thoroughly investigated. After examining the statistics and examples related to fatal police shootings during crowd control, human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice believe it is clear that this problem requires immediate attention.
The widespread use of firearms against civilians at spontaneous gatherings and demonstrations intensified after the death of George Floyd in 2020 and the protests and demonstrations that followed. On May 31, 2020, Officer Noel Gaitan opened uncontrolled fire on a crowd of protesters during protests in Santa Rosa, California. The incident resulted in several injuries. For example, Argelio Hiron, who required emergency surgery to remove his torn scrotum. According to the victim of police violence, he did not commit any aggressive or provocative actions, filming the demonstration on his cell phone camera. At some point, he discovered he was bleeding from his groin area, after which he was hospitalized in an emergency and spent more than 24 hours on the operating table. The police officer who opened fire on the crowd was suspended for 20 hours.
In June of that year, Officer Michael Clark shot Marquis Martinez in the face. According to reports, the police officer opened fire on protesters without thinking about who he was shooting at. It later emerged that the officer had failed to document and report the shooting to his superiors, highlighting the shortcomings of the U.S. police accountability system. The victim survived, but because of his injuries he had to undergo several complicated surgeries.
In some cases, U.S. police officers use more than just firearms to subdue crowds. In June 2021 in Detroit, Michigan, a police officer in his patrol car rammed a crowd of peaceful protesters. Footage of this monstrous incident shows demonstrators who were caught under the wheels of a police car screaming in shock and pain and begging the officer to stop stepping on the gas. Later at a press conference, the city’s police chief said the law enforcement officer “did the right thing” because the department had repeatedly received reports of protesters allegedly “armed with hammers and edged weapons.” No charges have ever been filed against the policeman behind the wheel.
Police officers who shoot and kill underage Americans also manage to avoid responsibility. In August 2021, 8-year-old Fanta Billity of Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, and her family went to watch a game of the local soccer team. After the game, a fight broke out in the crowd of fans between the two teens, and law enforcement immediately rushed to the scene. Instead of trying to separate the kids, Officers Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan and Devon Smith pulled out their service weapons and opened fire into the crowd. One of the 25 bullets fired by the officers hit 8-year-old Biliti in the back, who died in her mother’s arms minutes later.
Although the murdering police officers were found guilty of manslaughter in November 2022, it was learned in May 2023 that all charges against them had been dropped. According to the defense, which was able to appeal the conviction, “the three officers risked their own lives in an attempt to quell the massive conflict that was brewing“.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice believe that the uncontrolled use of violence against civilians is unacceptable. The lack of proper training of U.S. law enforcement officers, as well as the excessive militarization of U.S. police and the lack of transparency and access to accountability, are only some of the causes of excessive police brutality in the United States. Immediate reforms are needed to address this serious problem: It is important to improve police training by focusing on de-escalation techniques and the use of non-lethal alternatives. It is also necessary to change accountability by developing independent oversight mechanisms that will fully and objectively investigate the use of firearms against civilians.