Tear Gas and related chemical weapons are commonly used as tools of state repression and torture against people's movements and true democracy. They are used alongside other tools of torture (sometimes including live ammunition) by increasingly militarized police and correctional officers throughout the world.
In 1993 the Chemical Weapons Convention declared that tear gas and pepper spray may not be used as a "method of warfare" and should only be used by police forces for "law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes." Voices of movements all over the world however, backed by reputable studies, state that police use in effect has declared a war on the people. For this reason, the state's use of these chemical weapons must end.
Though marketed as an alternative to "conventional" lethal weapons, tear gas and pepper spray regularly cause serious harm and even kill, making them part and parcel of the global weapons regime as a whole. They are part of a broader process of the increasing militarization of local police and prisons -- where police forces look more and more like soldiers and the use of military weapons is financially incentivized by governments. Promoted to "control crowds" and people organizing in prison and in the streets, these chemical weapons are just the tip of the iceberg, and working to end their use is a step to put a stop to state repression as a whole.
In Bahrain, "after a large number of riot police arrived at a nonviolent demonstration in January of 2012, they shot volley after volley of tear gas canisters directly at a group of roughly 50 protestors. As white, low-hanging clouds of toxic smoke hung over the crowd, one person suddenly collapsed, blood streaming from his head where he had been hit by a canister." (from a 2012 report by the US-based organization Physicians for Human Rights) A War on the People.
In Chile, "as dawn broke over southern Chile on July 30, smoke and flames rose from barricades blocking the main highway in the town Padre las Casas, 675 kilometers south of the capital of Santiago. About fifty members of the Paillanao Mapuche indigenous community had constructed the barricades to protest the fact that the government had not responded to requests to improve six miles of rural roads in their community. On July 23, just a week before Huaiquimil was injured, police evicted sixty Mapuche protesters of the Temucuicui community from private land they had occupied to demand the return of their ancestral territory. Amnesty International reports that 200 police officers used tear gas, pellet guns and shotguns to disperse the occupation and a subsequent protest outside a hospital where injured community members had been taken." (taken from an article written for The Nation magazine by Brittany Peterson) A War on the People.
In Egypt, "When there were a lot of us and we managed to gain ground, they would fire several canisters in several spots, for example two in front of us and two behind us. They were firing approximately four canisters every minute...at most ten minutes would pass without them firing tear gas. Sometimes they would fire a canister behind us and we would be forces to run toward them, so they would pick us off with shot gun pellets and rubber bullets. And sometimes they would throw a canister in the middle of the street, so we'd run to the sidewalk on the right and the left. There would be two police officers on both sides standing there to pick us off with pellets and bullets." (from a 2012 report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights) A War on the People.
In Palestine, "At the end of 2008, Israel’s security forces began using a new type of 40mm-caliber tear-gas grenade...which launches the grenade as far as hundreds of meters away, a range much greater than that of the standard tear-gas grenade...The manufacturer’s user instructions explicitly prohibit firing the grenade at people, warning that its impact may cause serious injury and even death...With the advent of the use of this type of grenade, demonstrators began reporting an increased number of serious injuries. In 2009, Bassem Abu-Rahmah, from the village of Bil’in, was killed when hit in the chest by an extended-range tear-gas grenade. In the same year in the village of Ni’lin, US citizen Tristan Anderson was critically wounded when hit in the forehead by this type of grenade. He remains severely braindamaged. Following the death of Abu Rahmah, the Israeli military prohibited the use of extended-range tear-gas canisters. Nevertheless, in 2010, Israeli security forces resumed use of this grenade in the village of a-Nabi Saleh. " (from a 2012 report by Israeli organization B'Tselem) A War on the People.
In the United States, "The halls of a Pennsylvania high school are patrolled by numerous guards in uniform and plain clothes...and I've seen three students taken away in hand cuffs...During one incident, I was waiting with a book cart for the elevator. There were loud noises and students came pouring out of a nearby door followed by a caustic smell. There was shouting while the students stood in the hall, then a uniformed officer followed them through the door and the students bolted down the hall away from her. The officer was holding a student with one hand whose eyes were streaming. In the other hand she held a chemical spray container that she pointed at the students. I have been exposed to both tear gas and pepper spray in the past and could not tell you which this was, but even through peripheral contact I could feel my eyes begin to water and my throat burn." (from Global Network member organization Decarcerate PA) A War on the People.
In Canada, the use of tear gas and plastic bullets by police forces in the province of Quebec has caused several serious injuries in 2012, 2003 and 2001, including Francis Grenier who has lost the use of one eye after the explosion of a flash bang grenade during a student protest in Montreal on March 7, 2012. (from Global Network member organization COBP) A War on the People.
In addition to many other places outside of this growing global network as well as those who have already joined the campaign, tear gas use has been central in dispersing and suppressing movements for true democracy. Testimonies reveal again and again that tear gas and related chemical weapons serve to disrupt the alternatives that movements are striving to build.
United States-based manufactures of chemical weapons (including AMTEC, CSI, Defense Technology, NonLethal Technologies, and Sage, just to name a few) as well as the local and federal processes that rubber stamp their transfer to US police departments, prisons and police forces worldwide, allow for financial profit in the millions every year from this repression.
From expensive weekly weapons trainings offered to law enforcement and security personnel across the US, to lucrative deals with repressive regimes in every corner of the globe, US companies join other major global manufacturers, such as Condor in Brazil and Dae Kwang in South Korea, in repression profiteering and should be held responsible for their role in silencing the voices of countless uprisings and the world's incarcerated.
Tear gas and other chemical munitions are part of the state's arsenal of weapons of war on the people. For communities struggling against state repression, they know that "the war" has long ago come home and that US-based and multi-national companies are profitting from suppressing dissent and democracy. The moment to end war and repression is now.