It’s Tear Gas’ 100th Birthday, and Police in Ferguson Are Blowing Out the Candles
This post was written by Alex Bauer and originally appeared on RYOT.
This month marks the 100th anniversary of the use of a game-changing weapon that, sadly, is still making headlines today.
Tear gas made its first appearance in 1914 at the Battle of the Frontiers during World War I. It was invented by French chemists, who were trying to develop a new method of riot control that would skirt around international laws banning poison gas.
Tear gas was only meant to force people out of the trenches, yet it also caused gagging and burning of the eyes and skin. Because of this, even military dogs needed protection.
“It is easier for man to maintain morale in the face of bullets than in the presence of invisible gas,” said Amos Fries, Chief to the U.S. Army’s Chemical Warfare Service in 1928.
In spite of its bad reputation, tear gas quickly found its way to the streets. By the end of the 1920s, New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago police departments were all using it.
With this high demand, “improved,” less-destructive tear gas reached markets. New ways to dispense it came about too: pistols, candles, pens and billy clubs.
On the cusp of World War II, the United States was spending approximately $1.25 million ($21 million in today’s value) on tear gas in anticipation of riots and strikes. The gas didn’t see any action in the second World War, but came back during the Vietnam conflict.
By the 1980s, tear gas was being heavily monitored by human-rights groups. It had been transferred to safer aerosol cans, but with 60 deaths in the 1990s linked to it, many questioned how safe it really was.
Because of this tear gas was banned in warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which the U.S. signed along with most of the world. However, it was not banned from police forces.
Today, tear gas sales are on the rise. From the Arab Spring to the protests in Brazil, police are still relying on a dangerous and outdated method that moved men from their trenches in World War I.
As we hear more horror stories about tear gas being used in Ferguson, Missouri against people protesting the shooting of a black kid by a white cop, you’ve gotta wonder: Why do we let police use a cruel weapon that soldiers can’t?
Photo Credit: RT via YouTube