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From the Pages of Orlando Weekly: Orlando Police Department’s use of Tear Gas

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Image: Photo by Kayla L. Smith, Justice for George protest, downtown Orlando 2020, Orlandoweekly.com

Florida, like the rest of the country, is currently in the grip of twin exigencies: the pandemic and the protest movement. But as demonstrators assemble, risking their health to call for necessary changes in our nation’s law enforcement, police are using tear gas and pepper spray to dispel them — an incredibly dangerous decision in the middle of a respiratory disease epidemic.

Orlando police deployed tear gas on large crowds twice last week. OPD Chief Orlando Rolón says this was because protesters threw rocks and bottles at officers, and he promises there will be a use-of-force review.

Tear gas is banned in international warfare, yet it is classified as a “riot control agent” that law enforcement can use for crowd control. But tear gas and other chemical irritants can make people more likely to contract the coronavirus. In the short term, panic can cause a stampede, forcing people into close proximity as they’re expelling large droplets from their mouths. In the long term, tear gas makes the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection and can cause long-term lung damage.

Tear gas is not a successful tool for decreasing violence, a goal ostensibly shared by police and protesters. It’s just more fuel on a fire that must be quenched.

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