More and more people are coming to see the U.S. prison system for what it is, an institution aimed at removing Black people and poor people, people with mental illness, trans* people and people of color, from their communities, preventing them rising up against the injustices that their communities face. Throughout the U.S. everyday, Black people, including a massive number of young Black men, are arrested and forced into the prison system; though African-Americans make up only 13.6% of the U.S. population, they make up 40.2% of all prison inmates. Before the U.S.-government manufactured “War on Drugs” that intensified beginning in the 1980s, there were roughly 500,000 people in prison. Today, there are close to 2.3 million, with 743 people in prison for every 100,000 people living in the U.S., the highest incarceration rate in the world.
As a routine part of the logic that is perpetrated by the prison system that some people are simply “less worthy” of rights or even are not human enough to be treated with dignity, pepper spray is used as a routine torture tactic against prisoners. Organizations in support of prisoner rights receive numerous complaints from the people they work with about prison cops’ use of pepper spray as a means of “cell extraction”—getting someone to leave their prison cell—and/or as a form of punishment for speaking out about terrible prison conditions or engaging in organizing within prison walls, such as participating in a hunger strike or work stoppage/slowdown. Often these attacks using chemical weapons are accompanied with the use of other forms of torture, including the use of tasers and restraint chairs. Prisoners have been killed by the use of pepper spray in prisons, due to suffocation connected to respiratory failure brought on by the gas.