Tear Gas

by Judy Arnold


Police forces, outfitted in combat-level riot gear, wielding military-grade weapons and riding around in tanks, waged war against the very people they are sworn to protect.


What is tear gas under the Geneva Convention?

“Tear gas under the Geneva Convention is characterized as a chemical warfare agent, and so it is precluded for use in warfare, but it is used very frequently against civilians,” Sven-Eric Jordt, a nerve gas expert at Yale University School of Medicine, explained to National Geographic.  I actually remember the reason we don’t use it in armed conflict: it incapacitates, and therefore would make it illegal to further injure any combatants suffering from it.

His fear of tear gas is appropriate. Despite its ubiquity across the globe and in United States, tear gas is a chemical agent banned in warfare per the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which set forth agreements signed by nearly every nation in the world — including the United States. The catch, however, is that while it is illegal in war, it’s legal in domestic riot control.

Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson has defended the use of tear gas. “There are complaints about the response from some people,” he said, “but to me, nobody got hurt seriously, and I’m happy about that.”


But sometimes things don’t go as planned. “The use of tear gas in … situations of civil unrest, however, demonstrates that exposure to the weapon is difficult to control and indiscriminate, and the weapon is often not used correctly,” wrote Howard Hu in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1989. “Severe traumatic injury from exploding tear gas bombs as well as lethal toxic injury have been documented.” Hu found that if exposed to “high levels of CS,” some victims experienced heart failure or even death.

“An infant exposed to CS in a house into which police had fired CS canisters to subdue a mentally disturbed adult developed severe pneumonitis requiring therapy with steroids, oxygen, antibiotics, and 29 days of hospitalization.”

Another Palestinian died of inhaling tear gas. Earlier this year, in April, one Palestinian woman died of tear gas inhalation, Agence France-Presse reported.

In Egypt, policemen shot tear gas into the back of a vehicle carrying supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to prison, asphyxiating and killing 37 inside. “Of all the ways to die,” Foreign Policy reported, “this was one of the most horrible.” The men’s lawyer would later say that the men’s faces were so distorted and blue that most thought they had been burned.


June 1 A full 25 minutes before the curfew and without provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protesters in front of the White House.



WHILE down the street a tense situation on Swann Street in DC. as cops surrounded protesters and started firing pepper spray. A resident let more than 100 protesters take shelter in his home. “I’m not letting any of these kids out of my sight,” he told me over the phone.

I’m at a house in DC after being pepper sprayed and knocked down by the police. There are about 100 of us in a house surrounded by cops. All the neighbors on this street opened their doors and are tending to protesters. The cops corralled us on this street and sprayed us down.

LaToya Ratlieff was stumbling away from a cloud of tear gas in downtown Fort Lauderdale Sunday — choking, coughing and trying not to vomit — when a police officer shot a foam rubber bullet at her head.

The round, traveling more than twice the speed of a Major League fastball, smashed into her face just above the right eye, opening up a bloody gash. The impact brought Ratlieff, who was attending an anti-police brutality protest, to her knees. Her eye started to swell shut. Her eye socket was fractured, her medical records show. The projectile that likely struck her, known as a foam baton, has roughly the hardness of a racquet ball and is fired from a rifle-barreled launcher. Foam batons are considered a lethal munition when aimed at the head, according to the manufacturer’s manual.

(Miami Herald)


Another young man was in ICU with a concussion from a rubber bullet and a reporter lost an eye.


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