We Can’t Trust Police With Pepper Spray

The deployment of pepper spray against what the police would call “non compliant persons” is now, disturbingly, an everyday occurrence to which many of us have become desensitized. Very few of us have ever experienced being pepper sprayed and the mainstream media assures us that those who have, deserved it.

The introduction of pepper spray as standard issue police kit in has changed the dynamic between police and protestor to a point where officers spray first and ask questions later. Nothing could underline this more than recent events.

On 19th November 2011 Police Lieutenant John Pike, who was instructed not to use force when clearing protesters from the campus of UC Davis in California, casually walked along a line of students spraying them in the face at point-blank range because they sat down and refused to move.

On 15th November 2011 Jennifer Fox who is homeless and three months pregnant at just nineteen years old was pepper sprayed and kicked by police at the occupation in Seattle. Her crime was sleeping at the camp because it was safe. Five days later she miscarried.

On 24th September Detective Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper sprayed four women who were exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest. He has since been docked 10 days paid holiday as ‘punishment’ after claiming he was not aiming at the women.

Police in the UK use CS gas, which is more commonly known as tear gas, instead of pepper spray. Interestingly the CS used in the UK is five times more concentrated than that used by police in America. Some police forces in the UK have switched from CS to a synthetic capsaicinoid called PAVA which is much more potent and works in a similar way to pepper spray causing severe pain. CS gas was recently deployed against UK Uncut protesters in London on 30th January 2011

Having never been pepper sprayed I can’t attest to how painful it is so I did a little research to try to put it in perspective. As the name suggests, pepper spray is derived from pepper whose active ingredient is capsaicin the intensity of which is measured in Scoville Heat Units. I’ve graphed the SHU scores of some well-known chilies, pepper spray and the two hottest chilies known to man. The results were surprising…

Police guidelines state that pepper spray should only be used when “violence is imminent” yet this is ignored time and time again. I’m not saying that the police should never be allowed to use pepper spray because its use is clearly justified when an officer is confronted with violence but issuing it to every officer as a standard part of their kit has led to an intolerable number of abuses.

If the police are incapable of deploying pepper spray only as a last resort then their access to it must be restricted except in exceptional circumstances and harsh punishment for its misuse should be enforced. Nobody should have the power to inflict incredible pain on another with impunity.

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