When has American law enforcement used tear gas?
November 28, 2018 10:28 AM   Subscribe

What are examples of uses of tear gas by US law enforcement or other governmental agencies from the last ten years? I’m referring to canisters, not hand held pepper spray. Links to articles appreciated, but I can google if you think you know about something.
posted by andoatnp to Law & Government (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Anna Feigenbaum's 2017 Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today is a deep and innovative dive into the big picture here.

It was used in Ferguson, Standing Rock, outside a Trump rally in Phoenix, in Charlottesville - many examples.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:38 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

I mean, this happens at protests as a matter of routine. I googled my home town and "teargas" and lots of examples came up. In my town it's been used at anti-Trump protests, anti-police protests and Occupy-related protests.
posted by latkes at 10:39 AM on November 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

Thanks latkes! I think Oakland and St. Louis are major outliers in the use of tear gas, although if they are not, then I will have to rethink my understanding of its use.
posted by andoatnp at 10:50 AM on November 28, 2018

CS gas is still used on inmates in prisons.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:05 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have been tear gassed a couple of times at protests in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The protests in summer 2016 after the murder of Philando Castile were heavily tear-gassed, far more heavily than appears in official accounts. I heard from a guy - as we were running from the tear gas at the one I went to - that the cops had been using tear gas on the nightly vigil protesters in the week or so before the big protest. A more general account is here.

I was also tear gassed at the protests of the Republican National Convention in 2008, although my friends and I were on the far side of the protest and basically were able to sneak away before anything got bad.

There have been a number of other protests here where tear gas was used. I can't speak about anti-war protests in the sixties or anything much before the mid-nineties, but it seems to me that I attended some big protests here before about 2005 where, if they took place today, I would expect tear gas, but all that was used was pepper spray. (Which was enough, don't kid yourself.) That and batoning people in the stomach. I am pretty sure things have changed here as police departments in general have gotten more militarized. Also, once they bought a lot of stuff for the RNC protests, they have incentive to use it to preserve their budget.

(That said, St. Paul elected a reformist mayor, Melvin Carter, who seems pretty committed to a drawdown for the police force, so things may yet change over there.)

Tear gas was used during the 1999 anti-WTO protests and I'm pretty sure that it was used at some of the other big anti-globalization protests.

I'd be surprised if it wasn't used on the bigger Black Lives Matter-related protests from a few years ago, but I'm not sure.

Tear gas was used at Standing Rock.

A good rule of thumb is that basically the only thing that hasn't happened in the past few decades at big protests is the police actually shooting into crowds with live ammunition.

Here is a thing that happened to someone I know: They were locked down at an environmental protest and a cop held a gun to her head, called her a bitch and said he was going to shoot her. Other friends of mine were held at gunpoint after police raided a media center - this was later found to be completely wrong and illegal, but that didn't stop the cops in the moment. \

Like, do not underestimate what the state will do to protect itself from even the slightest challenge. And particularly from any challenge to its right to murder and dispossess its citizens.
posted by Frowner at 11:11 AM on November 28, 2018 [19 favorites]

Coincidentally, Anna Feigenbaum was just interviewed on KPFA's "Letters and Politics".
posted by ryanshepard at 11:21 AM on November 28, 2018

Frowner's experiences are in line with mine as a participant in and follower of a lot of the same movements. In fact based on their comment I wouldn't be surprised if we know some of the same people.

Note that the media may report on tear gas without distinguishing it from other chemical weapons.
posted by entropone at 11:26 AM on November 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

Columbus, Ohio riot police used tear gas on students celebrating Ohio State's 2014-15 national championship in football.

When I was in college (15-20 years ago), it was something of a tradition for Columbus police to use hypermilitarized police tactics against partying students. Around dinnertime on Saturdays, police would begin moving APCs and mobile command posts into the campus area, pretty much every week. Then, when they determined that parties had gotten "out of hand", they would march down the street in formation, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse partygoers. Probably happened 20 times during my undergrad years, and it continued for a few years after I graduated. One student lost vision in an eye after being shot with a rubber bullet because, even though she obeyed police commands to go back inside her house, she apparently did not do so fast enough. They toned it down a bit (IIRC, DOJ got involved), but as the link above shows, it still happens.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:42 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think when teargas gets used is basically about who is protesting and the tenor of the protest as two independent variables, not so much geographically where the protest is taking place. Let me emphasize, I'm not blaming the protestors, I just think these things do correlate.

Just based on my anecdotal observation, tear gas more likely to be used if the demonstration is mostly young, led by people of color, and/or explicitly radical rather than reformist in agenda.

Also, if you specifically choose not to follow the orders of the police, no matter the legality of their order, you are much more likely to be teargassed. When they tell you you must dissipate, and you don't then you may be gassed. Also they may gas you even if you do dissipate, but if there are people planning to intentionally disobey, I do think that makes it pretty likely. I don't say this to excuse the gas, and their are many examples where no one intended to disobey their order to dissipate and gas gets used, but if people definitely choose not to dissipate, it will very likely get used.

In my view, that's why you see more gas in Oakland: radical demonstrations get gassed more than permitted, quieter, daytime demonstrations where people's agenda is like, "Vote them out!" rather than, "The whole system of white supremacy and capital must burn to the ground!" And it's also why you see gas in St Luis, Standing Rock and on the Mexico border: Where people of color demonstrate or even gather, no matter how peacefully, they are more likely to get gassed than white people.
posted by latkes at 11:47 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was tear gassed at a house party in Phoenix. There wouldn't be an article to link to because it seemed like a pretty normal Saturday night.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:03 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

I was tear gassed in Phoenix at an anti-Trump rally. Well actually, I wasn't tear-gassed, because I had goggles and a face mask, because tear gas is so routinely used that anyone who goes to a decent number of protests expects it. (This of course does not make it safe or humane.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:18 PM on November 28, 2018

2011: Occupy Oakland: police fire teargas and baton rounds at protesters
2016: Tear gas used against protesters in Oakland, unlawful assembly declared

If you're interested in police violence against civilians more generally than just tear gas, Oakland has examples of that too.

2003: Dummy bullets fired on protesters / Oakland cops fire dummy bullets at protesters
In one of the fiercest Bay Area demonstrations since the Iraq war began, dozens of war protesters were injured Monday at the Port of Oakland when police fired tear gas and projectiles to break up a crowd that failed to heed warnings to disperse.… Among the injured were nine members of the longshore workers union who were waiting to get into their work site and not participating in the demonstration, said union representative Clarence Thomas. A union official, Jack Heyman, was arrested.
2013: Oakland approves $1.17 million Occupy settlement
The city has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle claims from 12 Occupy protesters — including a man who filmed a police officer who shot him in the leg with a lead beanbag — injured during 2011 protests.
posted by Lexica at 12:24 PM on November 28, 2018

I'm an emergency physician/medical toxicologist.

In 2013, the Turkish police used weaponized forms of several gases to surpress peaceful protests. By weaponized, I mean they used formulations developed by the Turkish military for use as chemical weapons. Instead of standard police gases, which are designed to have temporary dermatological, ocular, and respiratory effects, they used gases DESIGNED to induce chronic or permanent effects.

Since the end of World War II, there have been only two clear-cut cases of a government using "military-grade agents" (one of many euphemisms for chemical weapons) en masse against a peaceful native population. The first was in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The second was in Turkey in 2013.

Turkey 2013 was uniquely egregious in extent but not unique in kind. In the past 20 years or so there's been a massive increase in tear gas use worldwide. In the United States, tear gas-related presentations at emergency departments are up about 300% since 9/11.

Advances in formulations and deployment technologies have attended this increase in frequency, and the absence or disregard of evidence‐based rules and public health considerations among police is becoming depressingly common. This is of great, great concern.

If you have any specific questions about the different kinds of formulations used, or are interested in what kind of cases I see as a physician (read: if you want anecdotes or even case notes) don't hesitate to MeMail
posted by BadgerDoctor at 1:26 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Note that the media may report on tear gas without distinguishing it from other chemical weapons.

What are the other chemical weapons that you are referring to?
posted by andoatnp at 4:25 PM on November 28, 2018

Yeah it’s not just protests. The cops just seem to like tear gas. I mean, they used tear gas when the Red Sox won the World Series.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:45 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

California state prisons train and are equipped with CN, CS, and OC in a variety of delivery methods.
posted by ericales at 8:55 PM on November 28, 2018

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