Since the anti-racism and police brutality protests sparked by the death of George Floyd began on May 26, law enforcement agencies in at least 98 U.S. cities have used some form of tear gas against demonstrators, The New York Times reports.
The Times interviewed police departments and analyzed protest photos, videos, press briefings, and statements from law enforcement. The newspaper did not include police departments that denied using tear gas or gave inconclusive answers.
This has been the most widespread domestic use of tear gas against protesters since the Vietnam War-era, Stuart Schrader at Johns Hopkins University told the Times. "Thousands and thousands of utterly ordinary people who thought they they were going to an ordinary protest event are finding themselves receiving a really aggressive police response," he said. "That itself is a bit horrifying. The police have actually succeeded in making people more angry."
Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, tear gas is banned in warfare, but is used around the world to get protesters to disperse. Tear gas is an umbrella term for chemicals used to control crowds, and two specific types have been used during the recent protests: CS, a synthetic chemical released via grenades and canisters, and OC, which is derived from chili peppers and used in canisters, shells, grenades, and sprays.
Experts say canisters should be fired at a short distance, near the edge of a crowd. In Charlotte, North Carolina, local media reported that tear gas was used by officers at both ends of a street, leaving protesters without an escape route, and a 21-year-old protester named Balin Brake lost his eye after being hit by a tear gas canister during a demonstration in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "I'm angry that I was protesting police brutality and fell victim to police brutality," he told the Times.
Some major cities have temporarily banned law enforcement from using tear gas, but several police departments say they have no better options when crowds refuse to disperse or become aggressive.
Dr. Sven Eric Jordt, a Duke University professor who studies tear gas, told the Times there's "very little oversight" of the chemicals purchased by law enforcement, and gas manufacturers are the ones training police. "I think that really changes their mindset, that it becomes a first-line item to deploy against protesters, not a last resort," he said. "I'm very concerned that this gets normalized." Read more at The New York Times.