This week, the City of Philadelphia agreed to a $9.25 million settlement with protesters who were brutalized with tear gas and pepper spray during demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd in late May 2020.
Such accountability for police who crush protests with crowd-control weapons is rare both in the United States and across the world. The settlement comes as researchers report that police in dozens of countries have routinely injured and even killed demonstrators with crowd-control weapons since 2015 as governments cracked down on protests.
Injuries from crowd-control weapons are increasing and widespread both in authoritarian nations such as Iran and China as well as “democratic” countries that supposedly tolerate dissent and public assemblies, according to a new report from Physicians for Human Rights and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO). The report, “Lethal in Disguise: How Crowd-Control Weapons Impact Health and Human Rights,” found that more than 121,000 people globally were injured or killed by so-called less lethal crowd-control weapons such as chemical irritants, “flash bang” grenades and rubber bullets since 2015, although many other injuries likely went unreported.
From the uprisings in Iraq and Chile in 2019, to mass movements against regimes in Iran, Myanmar and Peru, clashes between police forces and social movements challenging government corruption and demanding basic rights are now a worldwide public health concern, according to the report. So far this month, crowd-control weapons were reportedly used against protesters in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Greece, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Italy, Kenya, Mozambique, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and the U.S.
“The repression of demonstrations remains as global as protest itself,” said INCLO Program Coordinator Lucila Santos in a statement. “In addition to the growing violent use of crowd-control weapons, since 2016 we have seen new technologies deployed by governments with next to no accountability or oversight whatsoever.”