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.