Grayscale photo of police riot team standing in a row with body and face shields. One officer has shooting a liquid substance to something in distance.
Image Source: Spenser H / Unsplash

Staying Safe from Police Munitions While Protesting

Police are accused of killing a teenager in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this month after igniting a home with multiple flash-bang grenades, trapping its occupants “like animals” as the fire burned (Mother Jones). Flash-bangs are one of the “less lethal” weapons the U.S. regime habitually uses against its own people. Though many are banned in times of war by the Geneva Convention (Britannica), police deploy them as riot control weapons against unarmed protesters. Social movements are constantly developing new ways to neutralize these barbaric weapons and keep all of us safe as we fight for justice. 

Bringing shields, providing medic services, and wearing respiratory protection are ways we can keep ourselves and those around us safe. Distressingly, some “allies” view collective self-defense measures like shields and masks as a provocation, as if defending those around them is “asking for” state repression. The nonsensical idea that only the defenseless protester is virtuous especially harms marginalized people who are the first target of police violence

TAKE ACTION

Understand police riot control weapons and how to defend yourself against them. 

• Find and support a local street medic collective and get trained as a street medic to help keep fellow protesters safe.

NBC journalist Jo Ling Kent walked away from a stun grenade explosion because she was wearing body armor, a face shield, and a respirator. After she was hit, she and her production team retreated as one group, not panicking or leaving each other behind—and was able to continue reporting (MSNBC/Twitter). We’re out in the streets because we want to win. That means we need to care for each other so we can all fight another day. With solidarity and preparation, our power is much greater than that of the police, no matter what they deploy against us.


Weapon: Tear gas 
Geneva Convention: Banned
Confirmed deaths: Yes (Amnesty, Insider)

Description: Police deploy tear gas from aerosol canisters, like pepper spray (see below), or canisters shot from grenade launchers (Vox). A “nerve gas” that induces coughing, a burning sensation, and pain, tear gas exposure can have long-term health consequences as well (CDC). Direct impacts from tear gas canister projectile rounds have led to protestors losing eyes (ProPublica). Countermeasures: Always wear glasses instead of contact lenses to a protest; police nerve agents can bond contact lenses to your eyes. Though chemical agents are excruciating, if hit, try to leave the area as calmly as possible and remember that the pain will pass. Take off and dispose of any contaminated clothing, and wash exposed skin with soap and water. Use water to flush the eyes for as long as necessary (CDC). Protesters in Hong Kong covered tear gas grenades with traffic cones and poured water through the top to extinguish them (Yahoo!).


Weapon: Flash-bang grenade
Geneva Convention: Permitted
Confirmed deaths: Yes (Scientific American)

Description: Exploding with a “blinding flash and deafening boom,” flash-bang or stun grenades are used to disorient and induce panic. Aside from the deafening sound, flash-bang detonations are dangerous for those in the immediate vicinity, such as a baby in Georgia whose face was blown off (NPR). As with tear gas grenades, direct impact can cause physical trauma such as skull fractures (CBS). Flash-bangs can also ignite fires and were the probable cause of death of a 15-year-old in Albuquerque (Raw Story).
Countermeasures: Protestors have used hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, and tennis rackets to volley flash-bang and tear gas grenades back away from a crowd (@plsnotmike/Twitter). Wear protective clothing like body armor and a mask to minimize injuries from stun grenades and remain as calm as possible when one goes off—the objective is to spread fear (MSNBC/Twitter). 


Weapon: Pepper spray
Geneva Convention: Banned
Confirmed deaths: Yes (CNN)

Description: Pepper spray creates a searing pain with excessive tears and mucus. Pepper spray can cause dangerous lung spasms in people with respiratory illnesses. Traditionally dispensed from aerosol containers, police also deploy “pepper balls,” paintball-like projectiles that create a 12-ft pepper spray cloud upon impact (Grunge).
Countermeasures: Wear a face mask with a respirator. Pepper spray wears off after about 30 minutes. Pour a continuous stream of water over an affected person’s eyes to get as much out as possible until the pain subsides. Discard any clothes with residue (Health).  


Weapon: Rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds
Geneva Convention: Permitted
Confirmed deaths: Yes (NBC, Chicago Tribune)

Description: Rubber bullets aren’t made of rubber; they’re metal rounds coated in rubber. Minneapolis police blinded photographer Linda Tirado with a rubber bullet in 2020 (NBC). Bean-bag rounds are bags of lead pellets fired from shotguns with enough force to crack a skull, which happened to a protester at Occupy Oakland (ABC 7). 
Countermeasures: Wear eye protection and long-sleeved shirts and pants, if not body armor. Apply ice to a bruise caused by a rubber bullet. If the skin is broken, flush it with soap and mild water, wrap it in gauze, and seek medical attention—there is a high risk of infection (Teen Vogue). Protestors construct shields and use shield walls to protect themselves and others from rubber bullets and other munitions (Mother Jones).


Weapon: Long-range acoustic device (LRAD)
Geneva Convention: Permitted
Confirmed deaths: Only permanent hearing loss (Lifehacker, ACLU)

Description: LRADs, or sound cannons, can be handheld or vehicle-mounted. They emit directed beams of “hellishly loud noise” so intense they feel like a “punch to the guts.” Police use LRADs to transmit crystal-clear threats over the noise of a protest or blast excruciating sounds to cause nausea and hearing damage (Digital Trends). 
Countermeasures: Sound cannons emit tightly-focused sound waves. If you’re in the path of an LRAD, move perpendicularly to the source to escape the sound cone. If a sound cannon is in front of you, move left or right. Earplugs or other hearing protection reduces the effects of sonic weaponry (Popular Mechanics).


KEY TAKEAWAYS 

• We can reduce harm by preparing for police riot control weapons. 

• We can share this information not to scare ourselves into inaction but to ensure that we and those around us are as safe as possible.

• Eye protection, respiratory protection, body armor, and shields can save lives. Discouraging people from protecting themselves or others puts us all at risk. 

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