In the aftermath of World War I, in 1925 world leaders met to come to an agreement to ban the use of chemical and biological weapons during warfare. It wasn’t until 1975 when the United States ratified the agreement in accordance with the 1925 Geneva Protocol. However, the United States made exceptions for the use of tear gas to control rioting by prisoners among other exceptions. It’s sad that the use of tear gas is banned by the United States military for use during warfare, but can be used by police institutions across the country with immunity. The Chemical Weapons Convention went into effect in 1997, further banning the use of chemical and biological agents which can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure. However, the United States still allowed an exception for these agents to be used to control domestic riots. It’s a sad time in our history when we have non-Federal non-military government policing institutions being allowed to use chemical weapons on its citizens in any case, but what’s more concerning is the use of tear gas on peaceful protesters who posed no threat to police officers and were certainly not rioting. This is one reason that the NOPD should be condemned for its use of tear gas on its own citizens, and furthermore, in 2020 in the United States, the use of tear gas should never be used by militarized police institutions across the country. This is one of many reasons that it’s time to significantly re-direct funding from police institutions to investments in health care, education, mental health, crisis counseling, and more. We have to fundamentally reform and redefine the role of policing in the United States.
In response to the use of tear gas by the New Orleans Police Department, Big Easy Magazine has decided to issue a round table editorial board discussion condemning the use of tear gas. You can find statements from several of our editorial board members and writers below.
-Scott Ploof, Publisher, CEO
“Trust and accountability are key components to building a better relationship between the community and the New Orleans Police Department. Both of these components were irrevocably damaged on Wednesday night when the New Orleans Police Department fired projectiles of tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters. These components were further damaged when Chief Ferguson lied to the community about the use of this illegal force. Had it not been for cellphone footage, there is no telling how long he would have perpetrated his false narrative. Chief Ferguson called the crime a “dark hour” for NOPD. Chief Ferguson, where have you been? For the black citizens of New Orleans our daily existence has been dark as thousand midnights and NOPD plays a significant role in our sunless existence. Now we are to trust NOPD to investigate itself??? The mere suggestion shows the callousness of the department.”
-Asad El Malik, Contributing Writer
“Simply put, we are lucky that Syria does not bomb us for using chemical weapons against our own citizens. After all, that is exactly how we justified bombing them.
Over the past decade, the city of New Orleans has stood out to me as a beacon of hope, less impacted by the nationalistic disease that grips so much of this country. However, that hope was snuffed out by the NOPD on June 3, 2020. On Wednesday evening, the New Orleans Police Department used chemical weapons against the very people that it was supposed to protect and serve during what had been a relatively peaceful protest. The leaders of New Orleans must all unequivocally condemn the NOPD for its use of chemical weapons on the citizens of this city. If they do not, we will join the many other cities in the United States that have bullies with badges and leaders who either cannot or will not stand up to them.”
-Nolan Storey, Founding Editorial Board Member, COO
“The U.S. Military is banned from using tear gas, but NOPD can use it with impunity to disperse peaceful protests. In Columbus, a young woman who had just graduated college died as a result of tear gas used during the George Floyd protests. The fact that police can use chemical warfare against protesters shows that America is often as bad as the dictatorships we criticize overseas.”
-Charles Schully, Contributing Writer, Editorial Board Member
“On Wednesday, June 4, the New Orleans Police Department took the unconscionable step of firing tear gas on protesters trapped on the Crescent City Connection. This was only 24 hours after members of the department knelt in solidarity with protesters near that very same bridge.
In a press conference the following day, Chief Shaun Ferguson stated that protesters had “rushed past” officers attempting to keep the crowd off the bridge. I find it difficult to believe that a department able to control crowds upwards of 15,000 people each Mardi Gras season was unable to prevent a crowd of around 1,500 from making their way onto the bridge – especially given that the department had anticipated their actions. I know this because when I drove by the entrance to the CCC nearly an hour before the protest was scheduled to begin, there were already multiple officers and squad cars stationed near the entrance to the bridge.
Chief Ferguson also stated that the crowd was warned three times not to attempt to cross a police blockade – however several journalists who were at the protest near the front of the crowd stated they did not hear those orders. Surely a police department capable of blasting COVID-19 safety messages through the French Quarter could have made themselves heard more efficiently?
Finally, every account of the events of that night – including video shown by the NOPD – shows that it was a very small group that attempted to push past officers. But tear gas can’t be confined to a few troublemakers. It dispersed over a large portion of the crowd, nearly causing a stampede, putting people in danger of being pushed into the Mississippi River as those at the front attempted to turn back, only to find themselves blocked in by over a thousand people who had no idea what was happening.
To ignore the history of this city and that bridge is both irresponsible and reprehensible. This could have been a chance to redo the horrific events after Hurricane Katrina, when JPSO, CCCPD, and the Gretna PD blockaded the bridge, turning crowds of desperate people back into a flooded city. This could have been a chance to forge new and stronger community ties, repairing some of the damage that was done at that moment. Instead, NOPD chose to allow protesters onto the bridge, only to meet them with another blockade, followed by several rounds of tear gas.”
-Jenn Bentley, Contributing Writer, Editorial Board Member