If you're thinking about getting involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement, or any type of public free-speech activity, there is a clear likelihood that you will be sprayed by pepper spray. How dangerous is pepper spray and what does it do to a person? Should it be classified as a chemical weapon?
How Lethal is Non-Lethal Pepper Spray?
by Sayer Ji
John Pike, U.C. Davis Pepper-Spraying Police Officer
Were it not for the stoic immovability of the protestors in this picture, the image would resemble even more stunningly an exterminator dispassionately spraying a nest of roaches ... only, roaches know what to expect, which is why they scatter in all directions when approached with chemicals designed to harm them.
Who, among these young protestors, could rightly have expected to be doused -- directly in the eyes -- with a purportedly "non-lethal" chemical weapon, simply for sitting there?
Older protestors were more likely able to anticipate what was coming the moment they saw their paramilitary gear-laden "public servants," towing their projectile-less and therefore not-so-bad sounding "Sound Canons" (mind you, which can crush your eardrums and make them bleed) behind them.
And many old-timers already knew through direct experience that in the United States the freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of association, and freedom of speech -- all of which establish the right to protest -- have little more than sentimental value in our history books (many of which, at this rate, will soon be burned).
After all, we are in the post-911, post-PATRIOT Act era. What's a little pepper spray, considering the crimes against humanity perpetuated of late by our once great nation-state, on self (citizens) and other ( resource-rich countries), in the name of universal freedom, security and democracy?
So, what is pepper spray, after all? It certainly sounds "natural" -- far less harmful, that is, than its technical classification as a "chemical weapon."
While pepper spray invariably contains an extract of hot peppers (technical name: oleoresin capsicum), it is actually a mixture of petrochemicals, including: anti-freeze (propylene glycol), benzyl alcohol, and a variety of other strange-sounding chemicals, nearly impossible to pronounce, and with next to no toxicological data available to confirm or refute their safety. These "carriers" as they are called, are likely one reason why permanent eye damage from being sprayed is not a rare event.
The National Library of Medicine provides public access to peer-reviewed biomedical and toxicology research indicating that pepper spray is far more dangerous than commonly assumed.
A May 2000 study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine showed that 7% of those who are sprayed have "sustained corneal abrasions." In their words: "corneal abrasions are not rare events when patients are exposed to pepper spray."
Eye damage is just the tip of the iceberg. As far back as 1995, the use of pepper spray has been linked to "in custody" deaths. A report published in The American Journal of Forensic and Medical Pathology stated:
"Increasing use of oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray devices (i.e., pepper spray, pepper mace, OC, capsaicin) by law enforcement agencies as a means of sublethal force to control suspects has brought into question whether exposure to this noxious irritant (capsaicin) can cause or contribute to unexpected in-custody deaths. Capsaicin stimulates nociceptors in exposed mucous membranes to produce intense pain, particularly involving the conjunctiva, and generates systemic physiologic and behavioral responses consonant with such extreme discomfort. We describe two cases of in-custody death, both associated temporally with the use of pepper spray, to illustrate salient investigative considerations. "
Another report, published in a Polish medical journal in 2009, describes a young man who died of asphyxia as a consequence of being pepper sprayed:
"The report presents rare case of a sudden death of a young man, caused by an oleoresin capsicum spray. In consequence, the victim developed acute laryngeal edema and death by asphyxiation."
And then there is the 2005 case of a Bronx man who suffered a fatal asthma attack after cops pepper-sprayed him. The city medical examiner ruled it a homicide. The details of the story can be found here.
Given that pepper spray is capable of being lethal -- even if only in a small percentage of the population -- how can we continue to accept official descriptions of it as a form of "non-lethal" force?
If a potentially lethal chemical weapons -- not to mention the tear gas and flash bang grenades that have already maimed protestors - are being used on non-violent citizens for exercising their constitutional rights, are not the law-makers, policy-makers and law enforcement officers, who let and/or make this happen, breaking the law and/or engaging in criminal activity?
The Occupy Movement, whether we like it or not, is bringing to the forefront questions that we all must find answers to. One thing remains certain: chemical weapons have no place in peaceful protests, lest we slough off - here and now - any remaining pretense that the United States, vis-a-vis its own citizenry, is so very different from your average police state.
To view peer-reviewed medical research on the adverse, unintended effects of pepper-spraying go here.