The Human Aversion to Killing and the Lie of "Non-Lethal" Weapons
Blank cartridges should never be fired against a mob, nor should a volley be fired over the heads of the mob even if there is little danger of hurting persons in the rear. Such things will be regarded as an admission of weakness, or an attempt to bluff, and may do much more harm than good.
General Douglas MacArthur, Military Aid in Civil Disturbances
One of the major things to come out of the WTO Ministerial Demonstrations in Seattle was a grudging acceptance of what are being referred to by some members of law enforcement as “non-lethal” weaponry.
In demonstrations that have followed the WTO Ministerial in Seattle, police seem more prone to using these weapons, then they were even a short while ago.
In Mardi Gras in Seattle, hundreds of revelers in Pioneer Square received doses of pepper spray for reasons that remain unclear at best.
In Washington D.C, during the meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, these weapons were employed on multiple occasions. The acceptance these weapons have gained is illustrated by the fact that many in the progressive community refer to these uses with terms such as “sparing” and “minimal.”
Two hundred miles to the south of Seattle, the Portland Police fire “non-lethal” bean bag rounds from shotguns, during a small May 1st street demonstration. This was a first for the city George Bush Senior once dubbed “Little Beirut.”
No Normal Person Likes to Kill
To understand the attraction of what are now being popularly referred to as “non-lethal weapons,” it is helpful to understand the basic aversion to killing that is biologically hard-wired into most of the advanced life forms on this planet. Most of us who have been around a television set sometime in our lives have seen the nature documentaries where two members of the same species engage in very ritualized combat over territory, food sex, etc. Even the most vilified species on the planet have adopted these sorts of rituals. Piranhas establish dominance by swatting each other with their tails. Rattlesnakes wrestle with each other.
In the human realm these same habits are reflected in the anthropological documentaries most of us have also seen, where the warriors of two primitive hunter gatherer societies stand in opposing lines, posture at each other, make loud noises and the like. When actual weapons such as spears and bows and arrows are employed, weapons these people use to hunt with and are indisputably competent with, the weapons inevitably miss their targets. The point is not to kill a member of one’s own species but to vanquish the opposition through a show of force.
These same habits and aversion have directed the way most war has been fought in most of Western Civilization including the United States. While the popular image of warfare is of soldiers on both sides valiantly fighting slaying and triumphing over phenomenal odds, these are usually just tall tales of another primitive society. In nearly every case, the vast majority of soldiers who behaved competently in training were unable to kill their opponents. Firearms and lines of soldiers seem to have been more often used as means of intimidation. Most soldiers would do things such as load and reload their weapons or fire over their enemies’ heads. A relatively small portion of the soldiers did the actual killing. These results are confirmed by numerous examples in history:
In studies of the Napoleonic and U.S. Civil Wars it has been shown that lines of two hundred to a thousand men standing thirty yards apart and firing their muskets at an exposed enemy regiment produced kill rates of one to two per minute. For point of reference, these were weapons that could fire between one and five rounds per minute and would have an accuracy rate of 50%. This should have resulted in a killing rate of hundreds per minute.
In World War Two, Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall worked with a team of Historians both during and after the war. They conducted interviews with literally thousands of soldiers in more than four hundred infantry companies. The results they found were consistently the same: only 15 to 20 percent of American riflemen in combat in World War would fire at the enemy.
Interestingly it was found that those who were further removed from their enemy had far less difficulty killing. Bombers, and even snipers had a much higher kill rate then their counterparts in the infantry who faced their opponents at close range.
(see Lt. Col Dave Grossman On Killing, 1995; also Marshall’s studies of World War II and Paddy Griffith’s studies of infantry killing rates in the Civil War.)
Making Soldiers into More Efficient Killers
As members of the U.S. military have become more aware of these natural tendencies to avoid killing, the training of soldiers has been modified to result in higher killing rates. During Korea, figures gathered by Marshall indicate that about 55% of U.S. troops were firing accurately upon the opposition. In Vietnam it is estimated that 95% of the soldiers fired at their enemies. The methods used to accomplish these higher kill rates were based on desensitization, conditioning and denial.
The training camps of World War II and these later wars differed dramatically. Studies of the methods used in these camps show that use of the term “killing” was far more a part of the trainer’s vernacular in the later wars. Also the targets more accurately resembled human beings. Where once soldiers practiced shooting bulls-eyes, they now practice on human shaped targets that pop out at them. Some of these targets are even filled with jugs of red liquid to more effectively simulate a person being killed by a bullet. The point was to make the killing of what looked like a human being instinctual and reflexive.
There are also distancing techniques through mechanization. It’s easier to kill another human being if you’re looking through a simulator, scope, or any sort of device that makes them look less like a human being and more like a figure on the screen. This is why soldiers ranging from bombers to snipers have never been plagued with the low kill rates of infantry.
Another factor utilized is the use of pressure from leaders and members of a group. Two of the most famous experiments in the field of psychology help illustrate the methods used in the training of soldiers and more recently, police. In one experiment a person was told that they would be helping to administer an experiment. Their job, at the direction of a person in a lab coat, was to deliver shocks to a third party. In reality the person administering the shocks was the unwitting subject. The person in the lab coat and the person receiving the shocks were working together. As the experiment proceeded, the person in the lab coat would direct the true subject to keep increasing the level of shocks administered. The simple mechanism of having an authority figure there, ordering the person on was enough to make the vast majority of the subjects continue to administer shocks long after they were aware that what they were doing would kill the person.
In practical matters, this resulted in the “improvement” of having more commanders in the field to urge on the troops; an “improvement” that has recently been added to many police departments as a component of “community policing,” even as we enter a an error of “streamlining” government through massive cuts.
Another experiment involved group psychology. Two groups of people were selected at random. One was told that they were guards, the others, prisoners. With no other stimulus, the two groups evolved distinct behavior patterns. The guards became successively more brutal enforcing each other’s behavior.
This of course mirrors the sort of psychology that allowed U.S. troops to participate in events such as the massacre at Mai Lai. Stories also abound of troops shooting children, raping women, and executing entire villages. The point is that the group of soldiers engaged in acts that would have been individually repugnant and unthinkable to the vast majority as individuals. It also seems to mirror the abhorrent behavor that has been displayed when groups of police engaged in criminal behavior such as members of the NYPD did as revealed by the Mollen Commission’s Report, or more recently the Ramparts Division in Los Angeles.
Transferring Military Training to the Police
The reason this report examines the training methods of the military in such detail is that the training methods of the police have begun to resemble those of the military, especially as many of these police units train with and go into action with those of the military. Police shooting simulators, enormous video games, train police to reflexively shoot at human targets. Police sniper ranges also feature human figures with exploding heads filled with red liquid. Police gear including night vision goggles, gas masks, all serve to add another layer of distancing to what the police are doing.
The police have also utilized what has been learned from the field of psychology’s most famous experiments. Where government has been cutting middle level management in nearly every field, the opposite is true of the police. Instead the trend has been to increase the number of field commanders. This of course makes it more likely that police will be more likely to perform tasks that they consider repugnant such as tear-gassing members of their community. Consider the incidents at 6th and Pike where police were talked into removing their masks.
Consider also the analogy of gangs. Philadelphia Chief Timoney’s remarks not withstanding, there are numerous instances of police forming into gangs and performing acts as despicable as those of the worst of the troops in Vietnam. The recent Ramparts scandal is hardly something new. In New York the Mollen Commission reported officers in the NYPD forming gangs, taking property from murder victims, selling drugs and even going into a brothel, chasing out the johns and raping the prostitutes. In New Orleans one officer was convicted of murdering someone informing on a drug dealer she worked for. In Portland, a survey by the city’s Metropolitan Human Rights Commission found the thing that members of the city’s minority population most feared was the police. There are of course no end to the number of citizens who have attended forums in the past year to speak about police abuse, not only in relation to the WTO but also among the poor and minorities as well.
In a military campaign these sort of tactics can have a demoralizing effect on the native population. U.S. funded Institutions such as the School of the Americas even train “police” in foreign countries to inflict these harms upon the domestic population. CIA distributed manuals give step-by-step instructions on how “freedom fighters” can do the same. One cannot help wondering if policing economically depressed communities has become an example of what Van Creveld and Stratton call “Asymmetrical Warfare” if these patterns of abuses are in some way deliberate as they are in many third world regions outside the U.S.?
The Correct Term is “Less Lethal”
One of the most efficient ways to get people to be able to inflict pain or harm is to build up denial mechanisms.
Most of the police in Seattle seemed to have believed that the weapons they had weren’t capable of killing anybody. This is seen by the repeated referral to them as “non-lethal” rather than “less-lethal” weapons. The term “non-lethal” was used in some of the SPD training materials and in many of the officers’ afteraction reports. It was even used by Chief Norm Stamper during WTO related Press Conferences when he first acknowledged these weapons existence after their use. Moreover the police officers are even forced to expose themselves to the effects of some these weapons. The author of this report has been giving training videos that show the police pepper spraying each other. For most the atmosphere is jubilant, almost like a watching a frat party. The officers make jokes, and go through macho posturing routines.
Using these weapons themselves is probably a huge adrenaline rush. Like taking part in a furious snowball fight as a kid, the adrenaline is pumping, the other side says “ow,” but it’s all in good fun. The author of this report had the opportunity of joking with a police officer who was inside the Ministerial doing security. The officer was asked questions about how quickly he’d be able to disperse the delegates with the same weapons he’d used on the demonstrators. The officer’s face lit up as he joked about a smoke bomb here and a concussion grenade there. The point in relating this is not to condemn this officer but to realize that these weapons have a powerful intoxicating effect, especially if one’s been raised on t.v. and video games, as so many have.
The problem is that the term “non-lethal” is a misnomer. These products’ manufacturers refer to them as “less lethal.”
In essence, these are weapons that can and have produced many fatal injuries. These have been documented in their use during war time, their use as weapons of “civil control” in other parts of the world including South Africa, Israel and Ireland and studies of their use domestically as part of law enforcement. (An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control, European Parliament, January 6, 1998.)
Indications are that a large part of the reason Seattle Police did not consider these weapons lethal had to do with their training. This is indicated by their placement in the “use of force continuum.” A use of force continuum is a guideline that tells an officer how much force is appropriate for a given situation, or put another way, how much force should be used to counter a specific type of threat. The rankings for these weapons provided by the manufacturer and the SPD in their training academy are quite different. The manufacturer rates these weapons in the same range as use of a gun or other potentially lethal force. The SPD rates them slightly above a verbal command.
“… Plastic and rubber bullets were products of British colonial experience in Hong Kong where the flying teak baton round became the template for future kinetic weapons. The concept was one of a flying truncheon which could disperse a crowd without using small arms. They were however regarded as too dangerous for use on white people, so in 1969, Porton Down came up with a ‘safer’ version for use in Northern Ireland in 1970. Just as plastic bullets were considered too dangerous for use in mainland Britain until 1985 when they proliferated throughout the UK’s police forces, so were baton rounds regarded as too dangerous for the residents of Northern Ireland but not Hong Kong. Now plastic bullets have been deployed in virtually every continent from the USA to Argentina, to South Africa…”
An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control, page 22.
European Parliament, January 6, 1998.
There were several type of projectile weapons, used by the police during the Seattle Ministerial. These projectile weapons included:
12 gage pump action shot guns
37mm and 40 mm weapons that fired large versions of what were in the shot gun shells
Both of these fired a variety of projectiles including:
32 caliber rubber bullets
60 caliber rubber bullets
leaded weights called “bean bags”
a variety of chemical agents
There was also CO2 powered launchers that fired individual .69 rubber spherical projectiles, or “rubber bullets,” at 350+ feet per second.
Additionally, exploding, “less lethal” grenades released some of these projectiles.
What makes these weapons less likely to produce lethal injuries is both the fact that ammunition that is propelled is physically lighter than that of the traditional firearms and that the explosive charge that propels these projectile is not as powerful as that is used for traditional firearms.
In theory, the smaller explosive charge delivers the projectiles at a slower speed. This less powerful charge is crucial to these weapons not producing fatalities. If a lightweight plastic munition is given a large enough charge it can easily be lethal. In fact some of the more popular “cop killer” bullets are made out of similar materials to some of the “less lethal” rounds. They are simply propelled with enough velocity to penetrate a “bullet-proof” Kevlar vest - it is similar to the way that a straw can penetrate a tree or a concrete block in a hurricane.
The smaller explosive charge is why none of these projectiles are dispensed from semi-automatic type weapons that rely on the charge’s backfire to cycle the next round into the chamber. The 37mm and 40mm mechanically load the next round in the manner of a revolver. The pump action shotguns require the user to manually cycle the next round in to the chamber. The problem here is that these weapons still must have a sufficient charge to propel the projectiles as far as they are intended to travel. In practice what this means is that they are traveling at much faster speeds when they leave the muzzle, then when they arrive at the distance they are designed to hit their targets at.
Though there is some variation with the many types of cartridges and projectiles used, as a general rule they shouldn’t be striking anything closer than fifteen feet, or you’re risking serious injury, trauma and possible death.
Even at these distances, the manufacturer’s guidelines stress that there are limited areas of the human body that these projectiles are designed to hit with a minimum expectation of loss of life. These areas where these weapons can be shot are limited to the areas of large muscle mass which include the buttocks and thighs.
Some of the munitions, such as the cartridges with multiple rubber bullets, are not even intended to be fired directly at the target. Instead they should be fired at the pavement in front of a large crowd so that they will lose velocity as they ricochet up and hit their intended targets. This method is called “skip firing.”
The literature provided by the Armor Holdings Company, a manufacturer and distributor of these weapons warns:
“Avoid striking the head, neck groin and spinal area.”
Armor Holdings gives a very lengthy list of the possible injuries that can result from these weapons misuse, or even by chance if used correctly.
Shots to the head can result in
“ Concussion - Mild injury to the brain resulting in short term loss of consciousness and memory, headache and possibly vomiting.
“Contusion - Bruising of the brain tissue or spinal cord, resulting in a loss of normal brain function to the affected area; may cause swelling hemorrhage, unconsciousness, and possibly death.
“Fractures - may result in abrasions, contusions, lacerations or, (sic) avulsions to brain and spinal tissue requiring neurological and orthopedic remedies.
“Fractures to trachea and/or pharynx that could obstruct the airway.
“Fractures may effect the teeth, jaw, facial bones, nose, sinus cavities and auditory organs.
Shots to the chest can result in:
“Mydrocordial Contusion - Bruising of the heart and surrounding tissue (thepericarium) resulting in tachycardia, arrhythmia, or weakening of the aorta or pulmonary artery that could result in tearing.
Fractures to the sternum or rib cage that may cause hemothorax, pneumothorax, hemmoraghic shock, or diagrammatic rupture; all of which are potentially fatal.
Shots to the abdomen:
Depending on the force of the blow, the trauma can lacerate the liver spleen, rupture the stomach and bruise or damage the kidneys and intestines.
These are the instructions provided with the munitions by Armor Holdings Inc. It is hard to imagine how they could be more explicit. Yet it seems from an overwhelming body of evidence, that these warnings were routinely ignored.
Witness statements given to organizations including NLG, DAN Legal and others report police firing both from distances that are potentially lethal or trauma inducing, and shooting into parts of the body that are potentially lethal or trauma inducing. This is confirmed in photos and video taken by the press, members of the independent media center and hundreds of independent citizens.
One witness states that an officer pointed a large barreled weapon in their direction and shot them. At least one of the projectiles seems to have struck them in the eye. Either from the force of the projectile, or as a reaction to the pain, they fell back into a large metal box. This person suffered partial blindness, continued bleeding in the eye, and the possibility of a detached retina.
Another person states that they were struck in the face by the rubber projectiles and that they made holes as they passed through the area around their mouth.
Neither of these individuals or any of the others shot with these rounds was, according to available evidence, ever offered medical treatment by the police. In fact this is something that is mandated by the manufacturers, the trainers and the SPD’s own guidelines. All of these require filling out a medical report each time a suspect is struck with one of these potentially lethal rounds. No completed forms of this type have ever been presented to this group or to all available evidence to the Seattle City Council’s WTO Accountability Review Committee during their half-year long investigation.
One Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Deputy wrote in a chat line for members of law enforcement, during a discussion on Seattle:
“As a less lethal weapons tactics instructor, I was somewhat concerned with what I saw.
“Why were officers with less-lethal weapons engaging suspects while their partners watched? These personnel should have been behind skirmish lines.
“I also hope that 37mm Stinger rounds were not being fired into the faces of demonstrators as some still photographs suggest. Shooting these rounds above a suspect’s waist is only an option at our agency in deadly force situations. Firing Stinger ordinance point-blank into someone’s face escalates the chance of inflicting a lethal injury.
“I noticed officers were firing full-auto pepperball guns in addition to tossing CS grenades. It was not clear what they were hoping to gain-crowd dispersal or shepherding suspects toward an arrest area? In either case, it seemed like too much of a good thing.
Col. Ijames of the Springfield Missouri PD, a leading trainer and expert on the subject of less lethal weaponry notes that at least six fatalities have occurred as a result of the use of these weapons in the United States, and an unknown number in Europe. Speaking in a recent training session, Ijames told the story of someone in Canada who was struck in the chest with a leaded weight known a s a “bean bag” round. The lead projectile traveled through the suspect’s chest cavity into their heart. “The subject was DRT - dead right there.”
Ijames also stressed the need for prompt medical attention with anyone who is shot with any of these rounds:
“You can’t see what’s going on inside the subject. He may have internal bleeding. If he goes into the drunk tank and dies, you are going to be in trouble.”
Additional complications in the deployment of these weapons has to do with the very nature of the situations in which they are deployed. In essence, the very nature of crowd control situations makes their deployment as practiced in a training situation, impractical. Simply put, with hundreds, or even dozens of people moving around in a close area, it is impossible to factor in the distance and trajectory for each of the people so that the weapon may be fired in a “safe” manner. This is of course exacerbated with the grenades.
This inability to actually use the weapons in their intended manner is born out by studies after the extensive use of rubber bullets in Ireland. One report compiled by physicians in the early 1970’s includes documentation of the following as some of the injuries sustained from 90 patients who sought hospital treatment after being hit with rubber bullets:
- 32 fractures of facial bones
- 8 ruptured eye globes, all resulting in blindness
- 3 cases of severe brain damage
- 7 cases of lung injury
- 4 cases of facial disfigurement
This and similar studies have found that the majority of these injuries were caused not only by their being pointed at the wrong parts of the body, but being fired at far too close a distance. In another study done of 12 fatalities caused by these bullets, inquests found that six out of the twelve killed were not in any way involved in any civil disturbance, and seven of the twelve were children fifteen years or younger.
It was also found, that each time these weapons were used, they required a stronger response. As was found in a 1987 study conducted by the Richardson Institute at the University of Lancaster:
“The initial use of water canon thus gave way to the use of CS gas. This was augmented by rubber bullets which were then replaced by the harder hitting PVC variety, and in greater quantities. Further empirical work suggested…the resistance they bred led to a successive deployment of each subsequent and more violent phase of the low intensity conflict programme. In effect they bred the dissent they were designed to ‘fix.’” (Emphasis added.)
It was based on facts such as these that their use was banned by the European Parliament in 1982, and upheld as a recommendation in 1998. (An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control, European Parliament, Luxembourg, January 6, 1998.)
Chemical Irritant Weapons
“On November 30 I observed police throw tear gas canisters at non-violent protesters…downtown. They were not…(warning) the crowds and people were taken by surprise. I had to assist an elderly man momentarily blinded by gas.”
“Around 8’O Clock PM, at my friend’s apartment on (Capitol Hill) I was inside the apartment - not even participating in the events. Watching t.v. coverage on Channel 5. Eyes started burning inside the apartment building. Realized it was tear gas. I went outside. Police outside. I complained to police about gas. Police said, ‘I don’t give a fuck. If you don’t want something more severe, go back inside your apartment.’…Gas continued inside for 2-3 hours. “
“Skin irritation, chest pain…(I) am asthmatic have heart problem. Was involved in good dose of pepper spray…could not rest could not breathe. Used (respirator) machine (to breathe).”
From Declarations collected by the Seattle National Lawyer’s Guild Data Collection Group.
Speaking before a recent panel at the Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Dr. Kirk Murphy, a UCLA physician told those assembled that they were part of the largest experiment in chemical warfare in recent history. The reason Dr. Murphy was able to make this statement was that CN and CS gas fall into a sort of limbo where they are not subject to testing for their effects. They are not classified as weapons of war, though they have been used in warfare extensively.
Chemical Irritant Weapons were first introduced by Allied forces during World War I. They were intended to clear out German trenches so that the Allies could then machine-gun them. It was a weapon that remained popular with the Allies in the subsequent struggles they had with their colonies. The RAF dropped it on the Afghan trenches in the 1920’s. The French and Spanish used it in Morocco. The book A Higher Form of Killing provides this summary of the use and development of tear gas:
“The Geneva Protocol had laid down firm controls over the use of gas in war. But the use of chemical weapons, like tear gas, by domestic police forces was a matter purely for national governments. Both the United States and Britain had established factories to manufacture CN gas after the First World War, and the British were soon using the gas against rioters in the colonies. The weapon which replaced it, and was used in Vietnam, CS gas, (named after the two American scientists, Carson and Staughton who discovered it in 1928,) provides a near-perfect example of the way in which British chemical warfare research, despite its commitment to purely defensive purposes came to be applied to war.”
Britain realized the shortcomings of CN gas in the 1950’s in Korea and Cyprus. In particular, it was ineffective in controlling “rioters” who had only to close or cover their eyes to protect themselves from its effects. CS gas had the “advantage” of producing a far wider range of effects. These effects included making the victims’ eyes burn and water, their skin itch, their noses run, and inducing coughing and vomiting.
All of the above are complaints, not coincidentally, made by members of the Seattle Police Department in their afteraction reports.
The British first tested CS in Cyprus in 1958. Buoyed by the success of this, the British continued to use CS ‘in support of civil power’ as in when it was deployed in Ireland a few years later.
The U.S., under General Westmoreland, Commander in Chief of Operations in Vietnam, began to use CS Gas as early as 1965. Because of the deservedly horrendous reputation chemical and gas warfare had acquired, the term “tear gas” was first coined and U.S. Troops were specifically trained to refer to it by that term and that term alone. Literally thousands of tons of CS gas were dumped by the U.S. forces on the Vietnamese. Its purpose was to drive out those in hiding so that they could be killed by machine guns and carpet bombs. The CS gas doubtless mixed with defoliants such as Agent Orange and added to the literally millions of persons who’s long term injuries may never be understood. (A Higher Form of Killing, Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, esp. pp. 9, 44, 194-5, 233.)
The effects these substances have on humans and other living creatures is still not understood. A major portion of the notion of their safety comes from the belief that they will naturally disperse, so that persons will not be exposed to concentrated doses. This of course does not happen if the agents are used in a confined space, or are altered by such factors as weather.
All information provided on the safety of these agents to law enforcement comes form the manufacturers themselves. In many ways it is the ultimate WTO dynamic, as if the manufacturer of DDT or Thalidomide or Malathion were in charge of determining its products safety. The police rely on the manufacturers of these products for assurances of their safety, and the public in turn relies on police.
Compositions of these products all contain carriers and agents. As with the other weaponry examined, the lethality of each can vary depending upon the strength with which it is mixed. Often it is the carrier that is the most lethal part of these weapons.
CN is more commonly known by the brand name of its most popular brand, “mace.” During instructions in its use, trainees are told that it is not a gas, but really small metal barbs contained in a carrier agent. According to one manufacturer the propellant in the Def-Tec formula used in Seattle added a methylene choride a toxic substance used in paint removers as a propellant. OSHA classifies methelyne chloride as a “potential occupational carcinogen.” Both methylene chloride and CN are classified as hazardous materials that require notification of release. U.S. Army research shows that methylene chloride is, “reasonably expected to be a carcinogen.” Both the U.S. Army and NATO have removed it from their arsenals.
CS is also a solid that is mixed with pyrotechnic carrier agent and propelled through a pressurized aerosol. The basic instructions manuals supplied by the manufacturers and the Seattle Police Department require that any person or group of persons being sprayed with CS gas be given an exit path.
There is no doubt that these are potentially lethal substances. In an investigation of the Israeli Army, the United Nations determined that there were dozens of deaths resulting from application of CS on Palestinians in closed spaces. The substance also killed a large number of children in South Africa under apartheid. CS has been determined among other things to raise blood pressure, sometimes heart failure, so could be potentially be the cause of the heart problems experienced by the SPD officer mentioned in one of their afteraction reports. “Of particular concern,” writes Harvard epidemiologist Howard Hu, “are allegations that exposure to tear gas has been associated with increases in miscarriages and stillbirths.” Hu has also linked CS to chromosomal mutation - changes to the very structure of a person’s DNA. CS also particularly puts people with asthma, diabetes and heart conditions at greater risks. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that one exposure to respiratory irritants similar to CS have led to the development of ‘reactive airways disease syndrome’ - in layperson’s terms this has meant a prolonged cough and shortness of breath. The British medical Journal The Lancet called for CS Gas to be withdrawn from police until more research has been carried into health implications.
OC (oleoresin capsicum, cap-stun or pepper spray) is made from extract of cayenne pepper. The substance gained popularity, because unlike CN gas, it did not merely incapacitate the person by causing great discomfort, it caused involuntary physical reactions. The fact that it caused involuntary physical reactions made more effective on persons on drugs, persons suffering from psychotic episodes, and animals whose nasal systems are different from humans. Pepper spray was first endorsed by the FBI in 1987 and trickled down to most of the other law enforcement agencies in the country. Thomas Ward the director of the FBI’s Quantico Firearms Training Unit, brought the weapon into the FBI’s arsenal and wrote the main study cited by law enforcement to defend it’s use.
In February of 1996 Ward pled guilty to accepting a $57,500 kickback from the pepper-spray manufacturer who was the leading supplier to the FBI making the entire certification of the substance suspect.
Some of the harshest criticisms of OC has come form Prison Guards and Police Officers, most of whom are required to have it sprayed in their eyes as part of their training.
OC may have some genuine utility for law enforcement, for example it does provide an intermediary use of force that might not otherwise be available. LA Chief Willie Williams, for example, states that had it been available at the time, it would have been used to contain Rodney King. But all objective criteria seem to prove that its use is becoming all too prevalent.
It is used routinely in prisons not only to extract troublesome prisoners, but also simply to quiet them.
In Northern California, it was applied by swabs to protesters’ eyes. The Court found that a reasonable person could conclude this was excessive use of force.
In Seattle, Philadelphia and other locations it was used repeatedly at close range on demonstrators on the street. It was also used in jail situations that from some witnesses’ statements, seem to resemble third world torture scenes, more than images of U.S. Justice
Like the other agents, OC has been linked to numerous fatalities. A 1995 article by the Los Angeles Times noted a minimum of 61 deaths linked with the use of OC by police in the U.S.A. A study by the ACLU in the same year documented 27 deaths in custody over a two-year period because of the use of OC in California alone.
(For a further discussion of these substances see the articles by Terry Allen in In These Times.)
Methods of Dispersal - Varied and Inaccurate
There are several methods of dispersal for all of these agents.
There were cartridges fired from the 37mm launchers, and shotguns. These seem to have been filled mostly with CS gas, some CN Gas. The police seem to have used these to fire into the middle of crowds from a distance. Some of these cartridges contained combinations of these and other “less lethal technologies.” For example, the “barricade rounds” were designed to penetrate a heavy barrier, then release then chemical agent on the other side. Other cartridges combined the release of the chemical agents with that of rubber projectiles. Yet others released multiple containers that dispersed the agents to minimize the chance that they could be thrown back at the police.
There were grenades that could be thrown. These contained similar components to the cartridges.
There were paint-ball guns. These shot rubber containers filled with OC powder.
There were canisters the size of small fire extinguishers that were carried by officers. These seem to have been carrying OC, and sometimes a combination of OC and CN. The OC was dispersed in both the form of a mist and in the form of foam that according to training officers was far more potent.
There were portable fogger units.
All of these methods of disposal encountered problems.
As reported above, police officers fired at themselves, dropped canisters at their feet, had gas blow back at them on the street and in buses of prisoners, and had at least one grenade explode in an officer’s hands.
The problems in dispersing these agents among large crowds were even worse. There was no way the police could separate who was being hit with these agents with any accuracy. They could not separate the old, the invalids, and the infants. They could not separate out those with heart conditions, diabetes, asthma or AIDs. They could not separate the bystanders from the demonstrators.
And they could not offer the medical aid they were required to once the gas was launched in large quantities.
Lethal Agents + Inaccurate Dispersal Techniques = Bad News
In the months leading up to the WTO Ministerial, Seattle officials explicitly played down the use of their weaponry. Mayor Paul Schell had even encouraged people to come do their holiday shopping downtown on November 30th. He had stated that downtown would be the safest place in Washington to be that day.
In considering the effects these weapons had, look also at who some of the most vulnerable people subjected to these weapons were:
There were children and pregnant women.
Capitol Hill arguably the community most affected by these weapons of war, houses several retirement homes.
Perhaps most vulnerable, were the people with AIDs, there to protest the policies of the WTO - an organization that prevented the manufacture of less expensive treatments and vaccines. These may have been the people who suffered the worst effects from these agents. Many with this stigmatizing disease were forced not only to take time off of work because of the effects the gas had on them, but also to offer explanations to their employers and acquaintances.
There seems to be at least one fatality as a result of deployment of these “less-lethal” technologies during the WTO Ministerial.
Key Martin was a long time activist and video producer. He suffered from asthma and AIDS. This put him in a more vulnerable position during the Seattle WTO Ministerial. Martin was shot with rubber bullets and exposed to numerous chemical agents. Some months after the WTO he developed swelling in the areas he was struck. He died shortly after this. Some of those who were close to him attributed his recent death to complications resulting from the injuries he suffered from these weapons. That Key Martin had these pre-existing conditions does not make his death reasonable or even legally justified. Under the most basic precepts of tort liability, a defendant takes a victim as they are.
The implications of Martin’s death are far reaching. It is well known that those with AIDs are already in a weakened and vulnerable state. Consider that among the leaders of those activist groups the police had met with were leaders of AIDs groups including ACT-UP. Perhaps Martin’s death can be excused as a case of cognitive dissonance. Future deaths cannot be excused this way. Knowingly using these chemical agents and other weapons on an infected population has to be recognized for what it is, a lethal use of force. It must also be acknowledged that if these chemical agents can be expected to be deployed with minimal warning those suffering from AIDs have effectively lost their right to free speech. So too have many of the elderly and the physically disabled.
Given the numbers of children, old people and disabled present at this event the numbers could also have been far higher and indeed they may be. What has kept many of these people from coming out with their stories is that they themselves are undergoing feelings of post-traumatic-stress-disorder usually assigned to survivors of wars. The legal system itself also presents massive hurdles, hurdles few people have the resources to overcome. Some state frankly, that they fear retribution.
In the aftermath of the exposure to these weapons, questions are being raised about the origin and toxicity of agents that were employed. Some of these are questions that may yield quicker answers such as where did the tear gas used after the SPD exhausted their initial supply come from and what was in it?
The other thing to consider is that many of the effects of these weapons are simply not known, especially since they have not been widely studied. Matters concerning the lethality of these materials may emerge over time as happened with symptoms associated Agent Orange and is happening now with the Gulf War syndrome. Ironically, should this occur, police officers that were affected may find themselves in a position similar to that of the veterans of these wars, relying on the protesters for information and support.
Ultimately, those in both the military and in law enforcement must look hard and honestly at the dynamic that is taking place in the streets after the Seattle WTO Ministerial. They must look at the ever more militarized force they are creating, the effect it has on the citizens right to free speech, the effect it has on the safety of those who enforce the policies and the effect it is having on the very fabric of democracy.
There is a moral and legal obligation to set up long term monitoring facilities for those who were exposed to these lethal substances. This includes protesters, bystanders and members of law enforcement.