September 17, 2020

NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana issued the following statement regarding the New Orleans City Council’s passage of an ordinance that bans the New Orleans Police Department from using tear gas in most circumstances.  

“Tear gas is a dangerous chemical weapon that should never be used against demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “NOPD’s attack on protesters attempting to cross the Crescent City Connection in June was an inexcusable and excessive use of force that endangered the health and well-being of protesters who had every right to demand change and make their voices heard. While much more work must be done to ensure protestors are never met with reckless, militarized force, we’re pleased the New Orleans City Council has listened to the community and taken this long-overdue step forward.” 

While chemical irritants, commonly known as tear gas and pepper spray, are often thought of as causing minimal, transient harm, the findings of a systematic review of medical literature carried out by Physicians for Human Rights identify troubling levels of morbidity and even instances of death caused by these weapons. These weapons are inherently indiscriminate and therefore the risk of exposing bystanders and individuals other than the intended targets, including vulnerable people, is high. 

In June, health professionals wrote an open letter, warning that the use of tear gas is especially dangerous during a pandemic. “The use of tear gas is in direct conflict with appropriate infection control measures in times of a pandemic,” the letter warned. “Its use can increase the risk of infection with COVID-19 by irritating the respiratory tract, increasing inflammation and inducing cough, thus dispersing droplets throughout the surrounding environment. To use a chemical that increases the risk of these symptoms in the midst of one of the deadliest infectious disease outbreaks in modern day history is irresponsible and could contribute to overwhelming an already overburdened healthcare system.”