Wearing masks in public has been a common theme across the world these days. Yes, they are hard to breathe in and yes, they are a pain in the ass. Just yesterday, my daughter wanted to go into the grocery store with me for the first time in months, but we ended up walking out of the line because it was in the 80s and the mask was just too much for her to wear as we waited for almost a half hour to get in. It doesn’t matter; we can go on a different day when it’s not sweltering, because I have that choice.
But those few minutes of being uncomfortable made me think about an article I’d seen about tear gas where a woman explained after being exposed, even despite wearing a mask, she was unable to breathe and felt as though she was “choking to death.” And I thought about how tear gas is being used during protests around the world to control crowds by police officers — which means that literally thousands of people have likely been exposed to this harsh chemical over the past few weeks.
Now. Before you come at me and say that those protesting deserve to be sprayed in the face with a chemical weapon that can cause bleeding, blindness, and death and justify that it’s a good way to calm them down, take a seat.
Tear gas is so dangerous, it’s been banned for military use on the battlefield, but police officers are still allowed to use it on civilians?
There are no words to describe how fucked up that is.
According to experts, the chemical is incredibly dangerous. In these times, where we are fighting for our lives against a virus which affects the respiratory system, and in the middle of protests to fight for justice and equality around the world, there’s absolutely no reason for the use of tear gas. Also, note the irony in protesting against police brutality and then being brutalized by police.
Dr. Purvi Parikh, an immunologist at NYU Langone Health, tells ProPublica she fears this will make the pandemic even worse and cause those exposed to the gas to become more susceptible to COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets — the kind expelled through coughing and sneezing. Which are exactly some of the things that happen, forcefully, when a person is suffering from the effects of tear gas. And in a protest, especially one that is being dispersed with gas, social distancing isn’t exactly at the forefront of anyone’s mind.
Just last week, a letter was issued by over 1000 health professionals urging police officers to stop using the dangerous chemicals and smoke irritants, as they can make “the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection.” A comprehensive study of over 6000 military troops found that after exposure to tear gas, they were more likely to contract respiratory illnesses.
But no one seems to care, because it continues to be used liberally, carelessly, and with cruel intentions.
The most reported-on example was from June 1st in Washington, D.C., where people gathered to protest police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death. As The New York Times reports, protesters “watched as police officers and National Guard units flooded Lafayette Square, delivering on a threat made by President Trump. And just before the city’s 7 p.m. curfew went into effect, they were hit with flash-bang explosions and doused with tear gas.”
This was all so the president could take a stroll and have his picture taken in front of St. John’s church — a church he doesn’t even attend.
According to NPR, “Protesters and civil liberties groups are suing President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr and heads of military forces and law enforcement for violating their constitutional rights by violently dispersing a peaceful protest at Lafayette Square on Monday evening, all so Trump could walk to a nearby church for a photo op.”
Many attending the protest, including a nine-year-old child, had zero warning before being blasted with the gas.
While Trump denied the fact tear gas was used, Nathan Baca, a WUSA journalist tweeted a video of tear gas canisters, which will be used as evidence.
Tear gas doesn’t just stop you in your tracks and make your eyes burn for a moment, like many people think. The CDC reports its short term effects include vomiting, skin burns, difficulty swallowing, and choking.
This is poison being shot into the faces of people of all ages for the sole purpose of getting them to move. It’s cruel and inhumane. But it doesn’t end there: Long term exposure can cause blindness, glaucoma, and death. It can be especially harmful to those who suffer from asthma.
For those who think they are safe if they just stay away from protests, think again. Those attending aren’t the only ones being affected by tear gas or smoke. Tear gas used in protests can permeate homes and businesses in the immediate area.
If that wasn’t maddening enough, it seems people are not safe anywhere in some cases. The Washingtonian reports that when a D.C. healthcare executive, Rahul Dubey, opened his home to protestors after the police showed up during a peaceful protest, officers began spraying tear gas into his home.
Dubey tells the Washingtonian, “There were booms and screams. A hundred people raced into my house within ten minutes. It was a human tsunami. These twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, fortysomethings that didn’t know each other at all—they were perfect strangers. They were talking to each other, consoling each other, rinsing each other’s eyes out while the police sprayed tear gas in through the windows. The police were spraying tear gas into my home. It was for an hour.”
The CDC says, “If the release of riot control agents was indoors, get out of the building.” So, what do you do when it’s intentionally being sprayed into your home because you went in there to get off the very streets it was being released on?
There are some cities that have banned the use of tear gas for 30 days, which isn’t even close to a very lukewarm start.
I’m baffled and infuriated. Why is something that has been banned to use during war legal to use on your own citizens who are — according to the First Amendment — allowed to be in the streets protesting?
It needs to be banned forever, end of story.
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