Evidence abounds of US police using excessive force against demonstrators across the country, and the use of UK-made riot control equipment in the brutality could spell trouble for the influential island nation.
As anti-racism protests across the US grow increasingly confrontational and violent, the UK’s Labour Party is urging the country to halt all exports of riot control equipment — such as tear gas, guns, and shields — to its ally across the pond.
After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, more than 400 American cities erupted in protest. As evidence of police using excessive force against demonstrators and journalists multiplies, Labour is calling for a review of the UK’s exports of riot gear to the US.
The center-left political party says in the past year, the UK has licensed exports of anti-riot shields, anti-riot guns and their components, portable riot control electric shock devices, and tear gas to the United States. If the equipment is used for internal repression, however, the sales contravene UK laws.
Labour is urging ministers to publicize information regarding the use of UK-made riot control equipment in US police operations against demonstrators. If it is in use, the party is demanding the immediate suspension of all future exports.
Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry said American police have used “excessive force” against peaceful protesters across the country, including children. It is an “obvious matter of concern” that UK-made equipment could be used to “crush” legitimate demonstrations, she continued.
Thornberry urged International Trade Secretary Liz Truss to publish details of all current riot control exports and said ministers should not overlook their duty to protect human rights because of the UK’s close relationship with the US.
“It has been the policy of successive governments over the past two decades to refuse licenses for the export of arms and equipment that might be used for internal repression in the countries to whom they are being sold,” Thornberry argued in a statement.
“If there is a risk that any of these riot control projectiles and equipment are being used in the United States against peaceful, unarmed civilians, then the government must act immediately to stop their export,” she continued.
“The British public deserve to know how arms exported by this country are being used across the world, and the American public deserve the right to protest peacefully without the threat of violent repression,” she said.
Tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash-bang grenades
Parts of American cities resemble war zones as cars burn, clouds of tear gas fill the air, and rubber bullets ricochet off buildings and protestors’ marching bodies.
Derek Chauvin, the police officer seen kneeling into George Floyd’s neck and killing him, has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, but protests rage on.
Demonstrators are calling for the other three officers involved in Floyd’s murder to be brought to justice and demanding an end to the institutionalized racism and police brutality that plagues the American justice system.
Despite widely circulated images of some police departments taking a knee or marching in solidarity with Black Lives Matter demonstrators, incidents of excessive force against protestors is on the rise — with some incidents immediately after “displays” of solidarity.
One particularly harrowing incident occurred in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 1 as protestors gathered on a busy expressway to carry out a peaceful protest and briefly disrupt traffic.
Several protestors report that without warning and at exactly 5 p.m. — one hour before the city’s 6 p.m. curfew came into effect — police officers marched forward and unleashed tear gas onto the crowd.
Tear gas is a banned substance listed in the 1993 international Chemical Weapons Convention. The convention allows “very limited” production for “protective purposes,” although the text does not explicitly cover its use against rioting civilians.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, tear gas can cause excessive tearing, burning, blurred vision, a burning sensation in the nose, difficulty swallowing, chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath, and a choking feeling. At close range, tear gas can inflict long-term effects including blindness, glaucoma, or respiratory failure.
Footage from the horrific scene in the “City of Brotherly Love” shows hundreds of protestors scrambling to climb up a steep embankment and scale a wall and fence to safety, screaming in pain, clutching their eyes, and struggling to cover their noses and mouths.
“They coated the entire crowd with zero warning while everyone was trying to get out,” Philadelphia protestor Annemarie Branco told Morocco World News. “I was able to climb up a hill and help other people get out. Tear gas canisters started falling more and more and people were starting to blister and puke.”
“Everyone was just trying to get people off the highway and get their eyes rinsed so they could get out, find their people,” she continued.
She went on to describe how police shot rubber bullets on the highway as helicopters hovered low overhead, blaring loud sirens and dropping tear gas canisters on the crowd as they tried to escape.
“Not a single protestor was violent. No cars were causing problems,” Annemarie maintained, recalling the joy she felt at the beginning of the protest when the crowd was united in solidarity—a feeling that dissipated once the clock struck 5:00.
The incident is under official investigation.
Targeting the media
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism reports US police have arrested or attacked journalists more than 110 times since May 28. Several instances have occurred on live television.
Minnesota State Patrol just fired tear gas at reporters and photographers at point blank range. pic.twitter.com/r7X6J7LKo8
— Molly Hennessy-Fiske (@mollyhf) May 31, 2020
During a live broadcast in Seattle, Washington on June 2, a flash-bang grenade hit NBC News correspondent Jo Ling Kent as she reported on the protests.
Footage from Louisville, Kentucky shows police aiming and firing pepper balls at WAVE 3 News reporter Kaitlin Rust and photojournalist James Dobson as they covered protests on May 29. “I’m getting shot! I’m getting shot!” Rust exclaimed, live on air.
Police shot Linda Tirado, a freelance photographer and activist, in the left eye on May 29 as she covered protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“I was aiming my next shot, put my camera down for a second, and then my face exploded,” she said in a phone interview. “I immediately felt blood and was screaming, ‘I’m press! I’m press!’”
Tirado is not likely to recover her vision, according to the New York Times.
President Donald Trump is fanning the flames, accusing the media on May 31 of “doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy.”
The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it is investigating reports of attacks on the media and arrests in Louisville, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.
“Targeted attacks on journalists, media crews, and news organizations covering the demonstrations show a complete disregard for their critical role in documenting issues of public interest and are an unacceptable attempt to intimidate them,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, program director of the CPJ.
“Authorities in cities across the US need to instruct police not to target journalists and ensure they can report safely on the protests without fear of injury or retaliation.”
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