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Tear gas, a chemical weapon, is banned in warfare but permitted in law enforcement and on American streets.

The chemical compound is designed to target pain receptors, inflame the lungs and debilitate by causing temporary blindness and difficulty breathing; the body reacts and if enough is inhaled you are rendered unable to function. It's use has the potential to increase the spread of the coronavirus and to cause long-term harm in people with asthma and other respiratory conditions. Scientists still know little about the effects of repeated and high-level exposure.

So why is tear gas used regularly in Portland and other American cities?

According to the ACLU, “This really goes back to the Chemical Weapons Convention. At the time when it was negotiated in the 1990s, there was a a lot of pressure to ban chemical weapons and they were used by law enforcement. That got pushback from many countries who said, “Well, we can’t really give up this weapon because if we don’t use tear gas we will have to resort to more lethal weapons.”

The compromise reached left open the option to use tear gas and other riot control agents in law enforcement, and only in law enforcement.

A Portland Police officer removes the gas mask of a protester amidst a cloud of teargas and then shoves a member of the Press (me) to the ground as his actions are documented.
On Tuesday several Oregon environmental groups sued the Federal Government for its use of tear gas during ongoing protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Citing health and environmental concerns the lawsuit aims to obtain a court order that would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from utilizing it and similar chemical weapons; the lawsuit follows several months where officers have used a vast arsenal of “crowd control” agents. The most recent example cited occurred last Saturday when Federal DHS officers responded to protesters assembled outside of a Portland Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility with pepper spray, tear gas and less-lethal munitions. 

In early September Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler banned the Portland Police from using CS gas (one type of tear gas). But, this ban still allowed law enforcement to use other types chemical agents and it did not prohibit officers with the Federal Government from using tear gas.

Though national attention has largely shifted away from Portland the use of teargas and less-lethal munitions occurs regularly and Federal law enforcement officers remain in the city.

After months of nightly protests consistently met with chemical gas and less-lethal munitions, Portland has become America's most teargassed city. 
On October 17, 2020 Federal DHS officers used a thermal fogger, a device typically used for pest control, against protesters assembled at the South Portland ICE building.

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Copyright © *Maranie R. Staab, 2020, All rights reserved.
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