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Report Counts Injuries in Thousands from Crowd-Dispersing Devices

A report released Wednesday by Physicians for Human Rights and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations revealed that more than 119,00 people around the world have suffered injuries from tear gas and other chemical irritants since 2015, the Associated Press reports. The study also counted some 2,000 injuries from "less lethal" projectiles. Some of the injuries were fatal but it was impossible from the data to estimate the total number of deaths, said the report’s lead author, Rohini Haar, an emergency room physician and researcher at the University of California School of Public Health in Berkeley. The vast majority of the data come from cases in which a person came to an emergency room with injuries from crowd-control weapons and the attending doctor or hospital staff made the effort to document it, Haar said. The report calls for bans on rubber bullets and multi-projectile devices in all crowd-control settings and tighter restrictions on weapons that may be used indiscriminately, such as tear gas, acoustic weapons and water cannons, which in some cases have been loaded with dyes and chemical irritants.


The report's focus is global, but such tools came under greater scrutiny after American police made heavy use of them during social-justice protests in 2000. Protesters have been blinded and suffered brain damage from beanbag rounds. Numerous lawsuits have been filed over use of force by police during protests. In November, the city of Portland reached a $250,000 settlement with five demonstrators in a federal lawsuit over police use of tear gas and other crowd-control devices during racial justice protests. The International Association of Chiefs of Police declined to comment on the new report. But, in 2019, it recommended guidelines on crowd management. Pepper spray, or oleoresin capsicum, may be used against “specific individuals engaged in unlawful conduct or actively resisting arrest, or as necessary in a defensive capacity,” the guidelines state. “OC spray shall not be used indiscriminately against groups of people where bystanders would be unreasonably affected, or against passively resistant individuals.” But the internet is full of instances in which pepper spray was used against non-resisting people, including against Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death by Memphis police in January. Tear gas “may be deployed defensively to prevent injury when lesser force options are either not available or would likely be ineffective,” the IACP guidance states. Projectiles that are supposed to hit a surface like a street before impacting a person “may be used in civil disturbances where life is in immediate jeopardy or the need to use the devices outweighs the potential risks involved.”

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