#Ferguson & Chemical War Agents: Wrong

Editors note: To donate money, food, or supplies to the efforts in Ferguson, please see the following link: http://breed7910.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/campaigns-for-mikebrown-ferguson/

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

There have been protests for the last few days in Ferguson, MO, due to the unjustified shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man. I hate to say "another" but it's true -this Mother Jones article focuses on four unarmed Black men shot in the last month!  Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Ezell Ford join an ever growing list with such names as Rekia Boyd, Tarika Wilson, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo.

This is an American tragedy, and it pains me to see so many lives wasted. Protests are well justified, and police have heightened the tension by excessively deploying military grade tanks and guns acquired through the controversial 1033 program.  In addition, police are using tear gas (also known as CS gas), which is more dangerous than you may think. According to Discovery Magazine:

"Despite it’s “non-toxic” reputation, CS is prohibited for use in warfare by the Chemical Weapons Convention that was signed by many countries (including the US) in 1993. It is classified as a chemical warfare agent. However, this does not apply to domestic use of it or any tear gas, and police use of CS is legal in many countries, including the United States."

Why would it be listed as a chemical war agent? Here's a list of common CS gas effects, all of which have been mentioned on the #Ferguson twitter hashtag:

  • stinging and burning of the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin
  • excessive tearing
  • blurred vision
  • runny nose
  • salivation (drooling)
  • exposed tissue may develop a rash and a chemical burn
  • coughing and difficulty breathing, including a feeling of choking
  • disorientation and confusion, which may lead to panic

These are the effects of a chemical war agent used against unarmed peaceful protesters in an American city. Also note that these effects are much more intense and possibly deadly for someone with existing respiratory problems.

In a 2013 interview with National Geographic, Sven-Eric Jordt, a professor of pharmacology at Yale University School of Medicine who discovered the connection between tear gas and pain receptors, shared his view on the use of tear gas.

"Law enforcement has to weigh the risk of tear gas injury of bystanders against gaining control in a riot situation, under the assumption that rioters break the law. Governments need to put in place immediate decontamination procedures for areas, and especially residences, when tear gas is used."

Jordt emphasized that such a dangerous war asset should be used to gain control in a riot situation.  All of the footage from Ferguson indicates groups of protesters standing firm and vocalizing their frustration, even despite a few bad apple that choose to loot.  There is no sense of a loss of control. A response with tear gas is just inhumane.

So far, there has been no reporting on any decontamination procedures used by the Ferguson police department, or any assistance to the medical personnel that will be burdened with people seeking treatment.

This needs to stop. I stand in solidarity with Ferguson.

Last Night a #Cosmos Saved My Life

Last night the series premiere of Cosmos, a miniseries exploring the universe, debuted on Fox. Its a reboot of the original 1980s series which was hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and is one of the most widely watched miniseries in history. I saw part of the original series in the mid and late 80s, but I was still young and didn't fully appreciate it.

Last night, a Cosmos saved my life.

After graduating college, my good friend Raymond told me about Sagan's book Cosmos, which was made after the TV series gained in popularity. I immediately recognized the name as the series that I watched so many years before, but I did not know that the book would become one of my favorites of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Sagan has a way of describing complicated topics such as the length of time since the big bang in terms that can be grasped by a variety of folks. His Cosmic Calendar - where the entire history of the universe is placed in a calendar year - remains one of my favorite ways to explain exactly how new humans are to the universe. All of recorded history takes place at the very, very end of the calendar. Puts things into perspective.

I had so much fun watching Cosmos and participating in the discussions that followed on and offline. Be sure to check me out on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) every Sunday at 9pm Eastern as I tweet about Cosmos during the show. A sample of my tweets from the premiere are shown below via Storify.

White House Recognizes STEM Champions of Change

This week, the White House is continuing its Champions of Change series with a focus on science.

 

From the press release, via The Urban Scientist:

 

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the White House will honor ten local heroes who are “Champions of Change” for their innovation in creating diversity and access in STEM fields. These champions are creating opportunities for young people typically underrepresented in STEM industries by using unconventional approaches to enhance student exposure ranging from photography and film, to Hip Hop music, to coding competitions and community-based workshops.

 

Besides the fact that it seems weird to see "hip hop music" in an official government communication, I'm always excited to see science be rewarded.  I'm especially excited to see folks that I've previously featured on my blog be honored. In my post "Wu-Tang and Science are for the Children" (props to you if you get the reference), I talked about Christopher Emdin and the hip hop science competitions that he helped organize in New York. I'm happy to see Chris be honored!

 

Christopher Emdin, Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education, Columbia University
New York, NY
Christopher Emdin, Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also a fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute at Harvard University. In these roles, he prepares teachers for STEM classrooms, conducts research in urban science education, and coordinates both the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. and the #HipHopEd social media movement. The Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. are focused on bringing attention to transforming teaching, learning, and engagement in science by using hip-hop culture to create science competitions among youth in New York City Public schools. The #HipHopEd movement focuses on engaging the public in conversations about the intersections of hip-hop and education. Dr. Emdin writes the provocative “Emdin 5” series for the Huffington Post. He is also author of the award winning book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation.

 

In my post "Hey Science? Respect Matters", I discussed how the scientific community has no room for discrimination, especially gender based. I've spoken with Danielle several times and met her in person, so I was thrilled to see her featured as well.

 

Danielle N. Lee, Biologist on Animal Behavior
Stilwater, OK; Ithaca, NY
Dr. Danielle N. Lee is a biologist who studies animal behavior. Her current research examines the natural history and individual differences of African Giant Pouched Rats. Her science outreach efforts emphasize sharing science to general audiences, particularly under-served groups, via outdoor programming and social media. She blogs about her research, evolutionary biology, as well as diversity and inclusion in the sciences at The Urban Scientist hosted by Scientific American Scientific American Blog Network. She is also a founder of the National Science and Technology News Service, a media advocacy group to increase interest in STEM and science news coverage within the African-American community.

 

Congrats to Chris, Danielle, and the rest of the folks being honored today!