What the evidence says about pepper spray safety

The casual and close-range use of pepper spray on nonviolent protesters: It's not just morally bankrupt, it's also not evidence based!

Judy Stone is a doctor, infectious disease specialist, and the author of a book on how to properly conduct clinical research. She's got a guest post on Scientific American blog network looking at the scientific research that's been done to document the effects and safety of pepper spray, and how to treat exposure to pepper spray.

Shorter version: The evidence basis behind the use of pepper spray, especially in the sort of contexts one is actually likely to encounter in the real world, is woefully limited. (It's a lot like tasers that way. In both cases, the research that does exist has mostly been done using physically fit, healthy, adult subjects who are not emotionally or physically distressed in any way at the moment they are hit. They're also being hit using manufacturer recommended dosages and distances of application. Real-world data suggests there's a MASSIVE difference between the effects of that sort of scenario and, say, a terrified teenager being shot in the face at point-blank range. Or an old woman who has been walking quickly, trying to get away from police. Just to throw some hypotheticals out there.) Meanwhile, the evidence that does exist strongly suggests that police forces are currently using pepper spray in ways that are inappropriate and unsafe. Evidence. Not opinion.

Also: Liquid antacids seem to be the best way to alleviate the effects of pepper spray. Read the rest

Interview with a pepper-sprayed UC Davis student

Photo:Brian Nguyen/The Aggie.

22-year-old UC Davis student W. (name withheld by request) was one of the students pepper-sprayed at point-blank range Friday by Lt. John Pike while seated on the ground, arms linked and silent.

W. tells Boing Boing that Pike sprayed them at close range with military-grade pepper spray, in a punitive manner. Pike knew the students by name from Thursday night when they "occupied" a campus plaza. The students offered Pike food and coffee and chatted with him and other officers while setting up tents. On Friday, UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi told students they had to remove their #OWS tents for unspecified "health and safety" reasons.

"Move or we're going to shoot you," Pike is reported to have yelled at one student right before delivering pepper spray. Then, turning to his fellow officers and brandishing the can in the air, "Don't worry, I'm going to spray these kids down."

Photo:Brian Nguyen/The Aggie.

XJ: So, we see in the videos and photos that you were one of the students pepper-sprayed by Lieutenant John Pike yesterday. How are you doing today?

W: I still have a burning sensation in my throat, lips and nose, especially when I start coughing, or when I'm lying in bed. Everyone who got sprayed has sustained effects like this.

XJ: Can you tell us how it happened, from where you were sitting?

W: I'd pulled my beanie hat over my eyes, to protect my eyes. I received a lot of pepper spray in my throat. Read the rest