Tear Gas Is Banned in Warfare: It Should Not Be Used By Police (OPINION)

Jun 5, 2020
1:24 PM

Protesters react to tear gas at George Floyd protests in Washington, D.C., May 30, 2020 (Rosa Pineda/CREDIT)

MIAMI — The world watched in horror this past week as the U.S. government gassed and violently cracked down on protests across all 50 states. In Washington D.C., the violence has been particularly pronounced as thousands of protestors have been gathering day after day to stand against police brutality and racial injustice.

Trump and his acolytes are now denying their use of tear gas against people in a crackdown outside the White House preceding a photo op in which Trump walked to St. John’s Church to hold a Bible. This was a lie, there is plenty of video footage and firsthand accounts of the deployment of gas against protestors.

The Trump administration should be embarrassed  by their use of tear gas. Not only does it evoke the horrors of war, but tear gas, as with all other chemical weapons, is prohibited by various international treaties that most countries have signed.

It’s with good reason that tear gas is banned in war. The ingredient known as tear gas was developed during world war 1 and it’s actually called 2-chlorobenzylidene malonitrile, or CS, which is a powder that becomes a gas once the canister which contains it goes off. It causes serious burning, itching, rashes, oozing blisters to the skin. Intense feelings of suffocation, choking and coughing can result when inhaled. Bleeding, tearing of the corneas and nerve damage can result from exposure to the eyes.

Law enforcement often touts tear gas as a non-lethal, crowd dispersal weapon, but it is actually a lot more dangerous than that. When deployed, tear gas affects everyone within the area, making no distinction of those who might be elderly or have respiratory problems. Children are particularly vulnerable, since their lungs are smaller and more vulnerable to the harmful effects of the gas, something that was observed when Border Patrol shamefully deployed the weapon against families and children who were asylum seekers.

The tear gas canister itself can seriously hurt someone, as it is shot at a high speed and explodes, potentially causing chemical burns and other injuries upon contact with the human body.

I was at a protest in Miami that spiraled out of control after police initiated violence by shooting tear gas canisters into the crowd unprovoked. I was also at a protest in Broward where a police officer hit a woman without provocation, leading to tear gas being again deployed against the crowd indiscriminately.

We are still in the middle of a global pandemic that primarily affects the respiratory system. We are in the middle of historic protests against long-standing racial injustice in this country. We are seeing a massive uprising across all 50 states against a police state that murders indiscriminately and sucks up resources that could otherwise be used to improve our communities.

Police should not be allowed to use chemical weapons that are banned in warfare against the public. Tear gas should be banned from further use by any police department.


Thomas Kennedy is a communications fellow for Community Change Action. He was a member of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and tweets from @Tomaskenn.