Recent violent clashes over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) have put a harsh spotlight on law enforcement’s use and abuse of crowd control weapons such as water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades.
The growing use of these weapons can do significant harm — not just physical harm, but harm to people’s basic freedoms of assembly and speech. That’s according to a report released last year by the Physicians for Human Rights and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations.
The report is calling for an international debate on safe standards and guidelines for when law enforcement can use “crowd control weapons” or CCW.
The 102-page report is called: Lethal in Disguise: The Health Consequences of Crowd Control Weapons. The American Civil Liberties Union posted it online. It offers case studies of the use of CCW around the world, including the 2014 response to the protests that erupted in Ferguson, MO after the police shooting of Michael Brown.
The report was released in April 2016, prior to the organized opposition to DAPL. However, the report’s conclusions are very relevant to the highly militarized response to the water protectors.
The report’s Executive Summary opens with the following:
In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of popular protests in which people have taken to the streets to express grievances and claim their rights. In many cases, police and security forces have responded in ways that profoundly undermine the fundamental rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, often leading to escalations in violence through unwarranted, inappropriate, or disproportionate uses of force. …
The proliferation of CCWs without adequate regulation, training, monitoring, and/or accountability, has led to the widespread and routine use or misuse of these weapons, resulting in injury, disability, and death. …
[We] seek to foster a global debate to develop international standards and guidelines. Ultimately, our goal is to prevent injury, disability, and death by providing information about CCWs and insisting on their safe use.
The ACLU website also provides some quick-read, fact sheets on the following:
- Water Cannons
- KIPs (Kinetic Impact Projectiles, e.g. rubber bullets)
- Chemical Irritants
- Acoustic Weapons (sound cannons — loud, painful, and even dangerous levels of noise)
- Directed Energy Devices (electromagnetic waves that heat skin on contact)
- Disorientation Devices (e.g concussion grenades)
There is a lot of information here, so as one example, let’s focus just on water cannons. These were used extensively in response to the water protectors near Cannon Ball, ND.
The ACLU’s fact sheet notes that water cannons can cause traumatic injuries, either by the blast of water itself, or when people slip and fall on wet ground. Further, if it is cold (like it has been in North Dakota) people can get frost bite and hypothermia.
The “Lethal in Disguise” report says there is limited literature on water cannons. It offered some specific examples.
Most notably, in 2010 a protester in Stuttgart, Germany, (Dietrich Wagner) was hit directly in the face by a high-pressure water cannon from an estimated 15-metre distance. He sustained facial bone fractures and lacerations of his eyelids as well as open globe injuries in both eyes, resulting in total blindness in one eye and 95 percent blindness in the other. In a case in May 2015, Chilean student Rodrigo Aviles suffered head injuries after he was knocked over by water cannons [putting him in a coma from which he later recovered].
The report continues, saying that England has rejected water cannons, period. English law enforcement tried and failed to get approval to use water cannons earlier this decade.
According to the report (p. 61): The Home Secretary decided that water cannons posed a series of medical risks, such as spinal fractures, concussions, and eye injuries.
[Further,] she critiqued the impact of water cannons on “public perceptions of police legitimacy,” and suggested that “in areas with a history of social unrest or mistrust of the police, the deployment of water cannon has the potential to be entirely counterproductive.”
This is how it has played out in North Dakota.
The report offers numerous recommendations on CCWs in order to develop safe practices. Here are just a few top line conclusions:
- Negotiations and open a dialogue with protesters is the most effective way to prevent violence.
- Crowd-control weapons should be a last resort when dealing with imminent threats, and even then the response should be proportionate.
- The mere fact that an assembly violates domestic law “does not justify the use of CCWs.”
For more details, here again is a link to the ACLU’s CCW page.
White House Deletes Native American Web Page
Within hours of taking office, the Trump administration took down the Native American content from the White House web page, according to a report in Native News Online. (Also gone are “the web pages on civil rights, people with disabilities and climate change,” it said.)
The Obama site on Native Americans led with the following quote from President Obama:
[My] administration is determined to partner with tribes, and it’s not something that just happens once in a while. It takes place every day, on just about every issue that touches your lives. And that is what real nation-to-nation partnership looks like.
One of Obama’s signature accomplishments in that nation-to-nation partnership was returning 500,000+ acres of land to Native control (see blog).
Trump’s priorities in working with Native American nations remain to be seen. Resolving the issues around the Dakota Access Pipeline will be an early test.