In this edition of Forthright Radio, we focus on the final clause of the First Amendment, which addresses “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Governments around the world have developed ways to suppress the right that right, using diverse methods, including what are euphemistically called “non-lethal” or “less than lethal” weapons. Indeed, we live in an age of “the commodification of repression,” where global industries profit on the suppression of the right of the people to petition their government.
Anna Feigenbaum is currently a principal Academic in Digital Storytelling at Bournemouth University, where she teaches multimedia journalism and convenes their Civic Media Hub. In the Fall of 2017, Verso published her most recent book Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of WW1 to the Streets of Today. Funded by a Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities grant, she used archival and data storytelling methods to track the movement of tear gas from the trenches of WW1 to the streets of today, asking
‘How did it become normal to police communication with poison’?
Her earlier book, which she co-edited, is Protest camps in international context: Spaces, infrastructures and media of resistance. She has held positions at Rutgers University, the London School of Economics & Political Science, and the University of London. Her work has appeared in numerous, diverse journals from The Atlantic to The Guardian, Financial Times and Waging Nonviolence.
PIETÀ Gaza City, Gaza Strip May 14, 2018
Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images (https://www.theguardian.com/news/gallery/2018/may/15/gaza-mourners-and-a-nearby-moon-tuesdays-best-photos)
In Tear Gas she chronicles the history and use of chemical weapons against civilians, documenting the lack of scientific or medical proof that they truly are non-lethal.
Two German soldiers and their mule wearing gas masks in 1916.
Soldiers in gas masks advance on World War I veterans in the Bonus March protest in Washington in July 1932
Demonstrators react to tear gas and smoke bombs set off to deter their voting-rights march in Camden, Alabama, in 1965. (AP photo.)
State troopers wear gas masks as tear gas is fired on about 600 marchers trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. They had begun a 50 mile march to the state capital, Montgomery, to protest discriminatory practices preventing black people from voting. State troopers used brutal force to push them back on what became known as “Bloody Sunday”. Charles Moore via Steven Kasher Gallery
Police surround an incapacitated man after throwing tear gas into the crowd of protesters, 1968, Kansas City, Mo.
Credit Western Historical Manuscript Collection
Photographer Nacio Jan Brown captured a moment that shocked many: a National Guard helicopter spraying tear gas on students and antiwar protesters in Sproul Plaza on May 20, 1969 — in some sense extending “the front” from Vietnam onto college campuses. The juxtaposition of the military-grade helicopter with the Campanile — the unofficial symbol of the UC Berkeley campus — helped make this photograph an iconic image of the suppression of campus protest. The demonstrators had gathered to commemorate the death of James Rector, who had been shot by police while on the rooftop of Granma Books on May 15, during a protest over the disposition of People’s Park.
Soldiers taking cover behind their sandbagged armoured cars while dispersing rioters with CS gas in Derry, Ireland on their “Bloody Sunday” Photo: PA/PA Archive/PA Images https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/northernireland/7828754/Saville-Inquiry-Bloody-Sunday-timeline.html
police tear gas demonstrators they had penned-in on wall street #occupywallstreet
Then-UC Davis police Lt. John Pike hits protesters with pepper spray on Nov. 18, 2011. (Wayne Tilcock / Associated Press) The former UC Davis police lieutenant who pepper-sprayed student protesters at a November 2011 Occupy demonstration would later receive about $38,000 in workers’ compensation.
84-Year-Old Dorli Rainey, Pepper-Sprayed at Occupy Seattle, Denounces “Worsening” Police Crackdowns | Democracy Now!
Tear Gas or Lethal Gas? Bahrain’s Death Toll Mounts to 34
“The woman in red” shows Ceyda Sungur, an academic at Istanbul’s university, who stood defiantly in Taksim Square, centre of the uprising that has swept across the capital and beyond.
Two street stencils on walls in Istanbul Inspired by the protests in Taksim Gezi Park, Istanbul, the summer of 2013, when CNN Turkey aired a penguin documentary, while CNN International ran live coverage of the protests.
Ramadan Thawabteh, eight-months-old, died from asphyxiation after inhaling tear gas, fired by the Israeli army, that entered the house of his family. It was not immediately clear if a tear gas grenade had entered the house in the city of Bethlehem or if the gas had seeped in from outside. https://www.yahoo.com/news/palestinian-baby-dies-tear-gas-fired-israeli-army-165944094.html
Police fire tear gas at demonstrators protesting the shooting of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Scott Olson / Getty
Kosovo opposition politicians release tear gas in parliament to obstruct a session in Pristina, Kosovo March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Laura HasaniReuters
Sites of protest and political contention are often shaped by ‘other media’. Anna Feigenbaum looks beyond taken-for-granted media devices and practices and returns to the foundational roots of Communication Theory’s ‘the medium and the message’.
In addition to smartphones, Facebook pages, political posters and live-streaming laptops, communication involves all kinds of other technologies. Such “other media” objects include the fences, walls, and barricades, that become sites of and for communication. This ‘other media’ also includes ‘container technologies’ like shoeboxes or sound grenades, which function as storage devices, as well as re-crafted objects that become transformed through practices of disobedient design.
#teargasID The Riot ID Project
Who are the World’s Heaviest Tear Gas Users? Our 2015 Mapping the Media project on Tear Gas is now live! Check out the maps on our BU Civic Media Hub website.
Anna Feigenbaum, author of Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of WWI to the Streets of Today, in conversation with L.A. Kauffman, Mark Bray, Ali Issa, and Ajay Singh Chaudhary. At Verso Books in Brooklyn, November 8, 2017.
Watch it here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gPqfSPikWA
*** Some of the articles referenced in this interview can be found here:
What happened when US Police teargassed protesters – a visual investigation https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2023/apr/17/teargas-effect-portland-police-investigation
Judge Says Columbus Police Ran ‘Amok’ Against Protesters; Restricts Use Of Force https://www.npr.org/2021/05/02/992890494/judge-says-columbus-police-ran-amok-against-protesters-restricts-use-of-force
Columbus police ‘ran amok’ during BLM protests last summer, federal judge rules as he orders officers to stop using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on nonviolent demonstrators https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9537969/Columbus-police-ran-amok-BLM-protests-judge-rules.html
Hundreds report abnormal menstruation after being teargassed during Portland protests https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/29/teargas-protest-menstrual-cycles-health-impact
Hundreds Reported Abnormal Menstruation After Exposure to Tear Gas, Study Finds https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/01/us/period-tear-gas-study-portland.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
Teargas, flashbangs: the devastating toll of police tactics on Minnesota children https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/30/teargas-effect-children-police-minnesota-brooklyn-center
Federal Agents Used Toxic Chemical Smoke Grenades in Portland https://theintercept.com/2020/10/10/portland-tear-gas-chemical-grenades-protests/
A guide to the less-lethal weapons that law enforcement uses against protesters https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/06/05/less-lethal-weapons-protests/?arc404=true
Rubber Bullets Are Still Bullets https://www.huffpost.com/entry/rubber-bullets-deadly-protests-police-george-floyd_n_5eda9e47c5b68a90de7688de
How the ‘use of force’ industry drives police militarization and makes us all less safe https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/use-of-force-police-militarization-less-safe/
The profitable theatrics of riot control Militarized policing was designed to destroy the dignity of those who contest power
The profitable marriage of military and police tech War technologies aren’t just adopted by domestic law enforcement; they’re created with policing in mind
The National Guard protects Ferguson’s police, not its people Backing a militarized police force with civilian soldiers makes a mockery of the right to protest
This weekend, a one-stop-shop to militarize your town
Former UC Davis police lieutenant receives $38,000 workers’ compensation settlement http://www.dailycal.org/2013/10/23/former-uc-davis-police-lieutenant-receives-38000-workers-compensation-settlement/
Israeli Drones Tear-Gas Gaza Protesters in Latest Unmanned Weapons ‘Experiment’
Tear gas was banned for warfare in 1993 but police still use it, viral meme says http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/aug/26/facebook-posts/tear-gas-was-banned-warfare-1993-police-1997/