The Insanity of Using Riot-Control Chemical Agents on Peaceful Protesters in the Middle of a Pandemic Commentary
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The Insanity of Using Riot-Control Chemical Agents on Peaceful Protesters in the Middle of a Pandemic

I am so pissed off. It is COVID-19 State Insanity to use riot-control agents such as teargas and pepper spray on peaceful protestors in a pandemic with highly contagious and deadly COVID-19.

Let me break it down.

Remember the protestors with guns walking into statehouses and protesting the stay at home orders? Do you remember a single case where teargas or pepper spray was used against those nearly all white protestors who were protesting in the sense of trying to encourage reopening which is what the Executive has been imprudently pushing?

Fast forward to this last week. Were teargas and pepper spray used on looters? No. It was used on peaceful protestors who were protesting after the murder of George Floyd.

Now, given teargas and pepper spray have the nefarious quality of causing people to cough and sneeze and rub their eyes, you see where I am going. If 5 percent of the protestors were infected with COVID-19, these riot control agents were operating as accelerants of community spread.

Think about that.

In the middle of a pandemic, the state uses tools that act as an accelerant of community spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus, particularly to black people based on the morbidity information so far.

And the state actors doing this hide their insignia, come from other states’ National Guards, and are not identified. So when they too get sick and maybe die, they count in those local state tallies of infected, sick and dying and the contact tracing back to the place of the use is hopelessly difficult.

And same for the peaceful protestors.

Now, if I can see this sitting in Toledo and as plain as the nose on my face, the people who put in place those uses in DC and around the country can see it. Yet they have proceeded so recklessly.

So in two weeks, there will likely be a huge spike in cases from the people at the protests against the government because of the conscious decision to accelerate the community spread among them.

Do you see how appalling and evil that is? Do you see how cynical and actually criminal (reckless disregard for human life, a depraved mind kind of criminality) that is?

The riot-control agent is the tool to use the COVID-19 like a biological weapon, without actually spraying a biological weapon. No need to. Let the people be the vectors as their bodies react spontaneously to the riot-control agents.

And then step back and wait a couple of weeks.

And since the testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment systems are totally screwed, people will get very sick and die. And at that point, their sickness and death will be posited as a reason for them not to protest.

A quite Machiavellian approach to repression.

Meanwhile, the protestors of the stay at home orders will sicken, but at a slower rate because the accelerant of riot-control agents was not used on them.

No wonder no one is taking responsibility and laying on the President the idea to clear Lafayette Park that way. And no wonder on Friday a judge in Denver prohibited the use of what he termed chemical weapons on peaceful protestors.

There was no necessity, it can not be reasonable given the accelerant use of a biological weapon in the form of COVID-19, and – if that is not enough – there is absolutely no way that qualified immunity should by any stretch of the imagination attach for these criminal state actors sworn to protect and serve its citizenry.


On Sunday, eight members of the Minneapolis City Council announced their intention to disband the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a new community-led system that truly prioritizes the safety and health of the community.

Given what I wrote above, it is urgent to do the same in all cities where riot-control agents are being used in a pandemic. This is both appalling and a crime somewhere in this country as well as a human rights violation and a crime against humanity under International Law .

For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.


Benjamin G. Davis is a Professor of Law at the University of Toledo College of Law.


Suggested citation: Benjamin G. Davis, The Insanity of Using Riot-Control Chemical Agents on Peaceful Protesters in the Middle of a Pandemic, JURIST – Academic Commentary, June 9, 2020,

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