Police brutality has become a growing trend in the United States. The tactics used to apprehend suspected criminals have become cruel and demeaning, not to mention life threatening. There have been numerous cases where police officers have intentionally brutalized people during attempted arrests. Pepper spray seems to be the new weapon of choice among police officers nationwide; it contains a dangerous chemical component known as OC (oleoresin capsicum). Contact with this chemical may, "choke people already impaired by medical conditions such as asthma, enlarged hearts, hypertension or obesity, or people affected by drugs or from being tied up and left lying on their stomachs" (Koury and Reed 19). There have been cases where people have actually died from being sprayed with pepper spray; therefore, pepper spray is a lethal weapon that police officers should use only during life threatening situations.
The safety of pepper spray has never been proven scientifically. Furthermore, "since 1992, there have been over seventy in-custody deaths related to OC/ pepper spray, thirty-seven of which were in California" (Earth First 7). In spite of all those deaths pepper spray is still being used haphazardly by police officers. For example, "San Francisco police are still sticking by the chemical [pepper spray], even though it has been linked to at least a pair of highly publicized in-custody deaths" (Koury and Reed 11). A deadly incident involving pepper spray occurred in Novato, California, when Brian Prosser who reportedly had asthma, "died October 20th, 1997 after ... police doused him with pepper spray to subdue him" (Barak 5). His death was said to have been caused by "cardio-pulmonary arrest due to agitated delirium due to substance abuse" (Barak 6). According to Allan Parachini, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), "... pepper spray never alone causes death but when it is combined with other restraints, there is a definite risk of fatality" (Wilson 23). People are dying after coming in contact with pepper spray because police officers do not know the complications associated with it when used against someone with a medical condition or a drug problem. This incident tells the citizens of America that no matter what illness they may have; pepper spray will be used without concern for their lives. Since then, "Berkeley's Pepper Spray Task Force declared that police [officers] should abandon the noxious liquid" (Koury and Reed 2).
The police officer's use of pepper spray is targeted toward, "subjects who are highly aggressive, agitated, intoxicated, or suffering from mental illness" (qtd. in Earth First 12). Although pepper spray is used against hostile individuals, "Humboldt County Sheriffs have used OC/ pepper spray ten times against non violent activists acting completely passive and in no way endangering the lives of the officers on the scene" (Earth First 10). One incident in particular happened on October 3rd, 1997, during a non-violent protest against logging policies at Bear Creek, Pacific Lumber property in Humboldt County, California:
Earth First Environmental Activists were locked together and protected by metal sleeves on their arms. When the police officers arrived at the scene, Earth First members were asked to remove the metal sleeves, they refused. Since the police officers believed that cutting the metal sleeves could cause serious injury, they decided that rubbing pepper spray into they eyes of the activists would be an effective way to force everyone out of the metal sleeves. This tactic did in fact work, except for the fact that police officers still had to cut the metal sleeves off of two activists whom after being sprayed with pepper spray still did not remove the metal sleeves. (Earth First 17)
It is common knowledge that when suspected criminals are arrested by police officers they are handcuffed to prevent injury to the police officers as well as the suspect. When Humboldt County police officers arrived at the scene of the (supposed) crime, Earth First activists were already restrained by handcuffs; therefore the police officers had no cause to use the pepper spray. The police officers endangered the lives of the activists by not knowing whether or not the pepper spray could interact with a preexisting medical condition.
Many law enforcement officials believe that pepper spray causes less physical damage than a gun or an attack dog, yet there are people who have died after being spray repeatedly with pepper spray. According to the ACLU, "the number of deaths in which OC has been a contributing factor may be much higher than ... documented" (Wilson 10).
Although none of the autopsy reports for twenty-six post-spray deaths studied by [ACLU's] southern California branch listed pepper spray as a cause of death, the group concluded that documents recorded ... established that [California] state scientists have warned for more than two years that so little is known about residual effects of pepper spray that medical examiners may not know what to look for during an autopsy. (Wilson 11)
Pepper spray has not been thoroughly researched by the Federal Government. In fact, "there is not a single federal agency currently responsible for [the] regulation" of pepper spray (Wilson 25). The American people should not tolerate this blatant act of negligence. Police officers nation wide have proven themselves to be careless with the use of pepper spray, especially against non violent activists, therefore, it is imperative that police officers only use pepper spray during life threatening situations.
Barak, Tamara. "City of Novato Faces Two Lawsuits." Novato Advance Archives 20 January 1999. Novato Advance. 22 pars. Online. Internet 25 April 1999. Available HTTP: www.novatoadvance.com/archi...doc=/1999/January/20-272-news9.txt
Earth First. "How You Can Help On Pepper Spray." Headwaters Jail and Legal Support Fall 1997. Envirolink Network. 18 pars. Online. Internet. 12 April 1999 Available HTTP: www.enviroweb.org/headwaters-ef/actions/pepperspray/support.html
Koury, Renee, and Dan Reed. "Berkeley May Ban or Limit Police Use of Pepper Spray" San Jose Mercury News 28 October 1997. Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services. 25 pars. Online. Internet 19 April 1999. Available HTTP: www.inspire-indiana.net
Wilson, Lynne. "Pepper Spray Madness." Covert Action Quarterly Spring 1996. Covert Action Publications, Inc. 28 pars. Online. Internet. 12 April 1999. Available HTTP: caq.com/caq56pepper.html