One of the messages from Occupy Wall Street is that civil disobedience can hurt. Protesters are getting a helping of what police dish out when you fail to obey their orders. It’s not pretty, either. Riot control is not only ugly; it can actually be lethal. If while protesting you decide to confront or disobey police, there are some things in store for you.
The aim of law enforcement in riot control is to use non-lethal methods of getting crowds to disperse or rioters to obey orders. They have come up with a number of ways to get you to comply.
1. One of the oldest and most familiar riot control implements is the baton – also called a truncheon, nightstick, billy club, or blackjack. Police use it to block, strike, or jab people. When using a firearm is deemed inappropriate or unjustified, the baton is the instrument of choice.
In the old days police would “brain” people with batons to stun them or knock them unconscious, but as you might imagine this is frowned upon in modern law enforcement – especially since it can be deadly. Generally police are trained not to hit the skull, sternum, spine, or groin unless they can’t avoid it. One way police try to disable someone is to aim for the common peroneal nerve, located roughly a hand span above the knee, toward the back of the leg. This will cause your legs to give way, and you’ll experience numbness and tingling down your leg. This can last up to 5 minutes.
Recently campus police at UC Berkeley were seen jabbing a group of armlocked protesters in the sides with batons. It caused outrage. Police generally do not jab protesters in this way unless the protesters are being physically aggressive or actively resisting arrest, according to police training guidelines I read. (UC is revisiting the issue of training methods.)
2. Police will sometimes fire bean bag rounds into a crowd. A bean-bag round is a small “pillow” filled with lead shot, weighing about 40 grams. It’s fired from a normal 12-gauge shotgun. The intent is to deliver a blow that won’t cause you any long-term damage but will render you immobile.
Bean-bag rounds can be quite dangerous or even lethal, depending on where they strike. If one hits you in the chest, it can break ribs, supposedly, sending broken ribs into the heart. A strike to the head can break your nose, crush your larynx, or break your neck or skull. If one gets you in the abdomen, it could cause internal bleeding or breathing difficulties. Police are taught to aim for the extremities when using these rounds.
3. Rubber bullets are another option for police. They can be fired from standard firearms. These are meant to hurt you but not cause serious injury. People struck with rubber bullets can expect contusions, abrasions, or hematomas – although they can cause bone fractures or injury to internal organs. They have notably caused eye injuries to people, and are reported to have caused deaths.
4.Tear gas works by irritating the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs. In the eyes it will cause burning, redness, and blurred vision. You’ll experience burning and irritation in your mouth, along with drooling and difficulty swallowing. You might experience chest tightness and shortness of breath. You might get a skin rash or burn. You might also experience nausea and vomiting.
5. One of the dispersal methods that’s been in the news lately is pepper spray. This inflammatory agent is said to cause immediate closing of the eyes (no kidding) along with difficulty breathing, runny nose, and coughing. You get an almost instant restriction of your airways and feel sudden, intense pain in the face, nose, and throat. Subsequent breaths can cause you to ingest more of the spray, which can cause choking. The burning reaction can last for hours.
If you have asthma or other pre-existing respiratory problems, pepper spray can be fatal. Numerous people have died in police custody after inhaling pepper spray.
These are what most protesters here in the US would encounter. Recently the Oakland Police were accused of using an M84 stun grenade – or “flashbang” – during a protest. There is an intensely loud “bang” and a blinding flash, which can cause temporary blindness, deafness, tinnitus, or inner ear disturbance. Their use has made headlines in Greece, South Africa, and Israel, among other places.