More than 600,000 Britons by Monday had signed a petition demanding a suspension of tear gas, riot gear, and rubber bullet exports to the U.S., calling on the British government to avoid complicity in "a continuous breach of human rights" as protests across America against police brutality and racism continue to be met with violence from law enforcement.
The petition at Change.org amassed the signatures in less than a week, with the goal of reaching one million supporters.
"Given the evidence emerging from numerous U.S. cities, there's a very real risk of U.K.-manufactured tear gas or rubber bullets being used against George Floyd protesters in dangerous and highly inappropriate ways."
—Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK
"By continuing the sale of these items, the U.K. is choosing profit over human rights and is unacceptable," the petition reads.
More than 160 members of Parliament sent a letter to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss last week making the same demand, with Labour MP Dawn Butler, who organized the effort, warning that British exports "could be misused" by U.S. officials.
"The brutality now aimed towards protesters and reporters across the country is unacceptable," the letter reads.
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn added on social media that the U.K. "should not be helping Donald Trump repress his own people."
We must stop teargas and rubber bullet exports to the US.
We should not be helping Donald Trump repress his own people.https://t.co/u2SqgDo6NB
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 8, 2020
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The letter was signed by the MPs after U.S. Attorney General William Barr reportedly personally ordered the tear-gassing of protesters near the White House last week, to clear the way for Trump to walk to a nearby church for a photo op.
In the two weeks since protests erupted over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other black Americans killed by police, law enforcement officers have been filmed pepper spraying and beating protesters, shooting protesters and journalists with rubber or "less lethal" bullets, and tear-gassing crowds.
"The U.K. will urgently need to investigate to ascertain whether any of those used were supplied by the U.K.," the MPs wrote to Truss. "Therefore, we call on the U.K. government to immediately suspend all export licenses to the U.S. of all riot-related items. Let us heed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.—an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
The petition points out that the U.K.'s own criteria for exporting military equipment stipulates that the supplies must not be sent abroad if there is a "clear risk that items might be used for internal repression."
Amnesty International agreed that the U.K. must halt its equipment exports to the U.S. until it can confirm its supplies are not being used against Americans exercising their right to protest.
"Given the evidence emerging from numerous U.S. cities, there's a very real risk of U.K.-manufactured tear gas or rubber bullets being used against George Floyd protesters in dangerous and highly inappropriate ways—something that ministers need to respond to," said Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International's military, security and police program director.
The U.S. is one of the world's largest buyers of British weapons, and since 2010 has imported $22 million in ammunition, including rubber bullets, tear gas, and other weapons currently being used at the protests.