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Open Letter to City Council Members and Mayor Katz Re: Use of Pepper Spray

Argument for banning use of pepper spray by police at peaceful demonstrations.
Open Letter to City Council Members and Mayor Katz Re: Use of Pepper Spray
Open Letter to City Council Members and Mayor Katz Re: Use of Pepper Spray
Dear City Council Members and Mayor Katz,

Over the past week the Portland police have used pepper spray against anti-war protestors on an almost daily basis. This is not the first time that the police have used such chemical weapons. At the rally to protest George Bush this past summer, the police pepper sprayed several small children. The question that Mayor Katz and the City Commissioners need to ask themselves is whether the use of this particular weapon is appropriate and justified against peaceful protestors.

Many people may be under the impression that pepper spray causes a minor momentary irritation of the skin. This is not the case. Having been the victim of a police pepper spray attack on March 25, I can attest to the searing pain that I experienced even twelve hours afterwards. While the chemicals only touched my hand, it felt like someone had taken a piece of cut glass and was tearing my skin off. I also witnessed several young women who had been sprayed in the eyes. Mucous streamed from their noses and mouths as their bodies reacted in convulsions to the shock of the poisonous chemicals. Their eyes were glued shut, their teeth clenched from the excruciating pain. They screamed in anguish as volunteer medics attended to them; the police stood by in riot gear and watched the pain they had just caused. Firemen arrived, and unlike the police, offered medical aid to the women. One of the women went into shock, her body violently convulsing after the trauma of the attack; she had to be taken away in an ambulance.

When I called the Mayor?s office, the spokesperson told me that the Mayor supports the use of pepper spray for crowd control. During the incident that occurred on Tuesday on SW 3rd St. and Washington, no one had taken over the street, no one had threatened an officer, no one had even jay walked. A bicycle police officer reached in to grab a woman off of the sidewalk and arrest her, thereby blocking the path to a group of protestors who were walking across the street in compliance with the traffic light. At that point police indiscriminately sprayed a large crowd on the sidewalk and in the crosswalk. None of the people sprayed were breaking the law, none were charged, and yet all of us suffered from this egregious and dangerous assault.

Of the many forms of crowd control, pepper spray is one of the most insidious because it cannot be focused and therefore inevitably causes a great deal of "collateral damage," because its effects last several hours, and because it causes intense pain. Several television news camera people have been pepper sprayed as well, suggesting that either the police are targeting them, or that they cannot control their spray. Beyond the inadvertent spraying, I have seen the police clearly aiming their spray directly into the eyes of people a few feet from them. These scenes have been documented by scores of videographers and photographers. After witnessing and suffering the effects of this chemical spray, I can only see such acts as cruel and inhumane. The primary purpose and effect of such a use of pepper spray is to cause pain and suffering.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines torture as follows: "To inflict severe pain or suffering upon; to torment; to distress or afflict grievously." The pain caused by pepper spray does disperse a crowd, but it does so at a high cost of pain and suffering caused to large numbers of people, many if not all of whom are law-abiding and peaceful citizens. I can see the justification of using pepper spray in lieu of bullets to defend police officers against the threat of violence. In none of the several instances where I saw officers using pepper spray was there remotely a situation that can be construed as threatening the safety of officers. Instead, pepper spray has become an offensive weapon in the hands of the police, not just to keep people on the sidewalks and obeying traffic lights, but also to create fear among the citizenry and obstruct our right to peaceful assembly and free expression. While there may always be conflicts between police and protestors, the City government should ban the use of pepper spray against unarmed protestors.

The night after the war against Iraq began, a Portland police vehicle with speakers mounted on top warned peaceful citizens to clear the streets or they would be hit with a chemical spray. It struck me as a cruel irony that one of the Bush administration's excuses for fighting the war in Iraq was Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons, and yet here in Portland "our" police were deploying chemical weapons against us for simply standing up for peace.


Elliott Young
Police Terrified by Organized Action 26.Mar.2003 16:00

PJ in Portland

I, for one, paid close attention during school when they taught us about the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and what it means to be an American Citizen.

I for one have always understood that it is our INALIENABLE F-ING RIGHT to speak up and make ourselves heard if we disagree with a government policy, law, action, tax, etc.

The Golden Rule has taken over our federal government; money has never spoken more loudly than it does now. The little people, (that's YOU if you are even reading this!- or make less than $750,000/yr. give or take $100K) are not being heard. People forget that politicians are shady...

The only way that tax paying, law abiding, conscientious citizens of this country CAN be heard is by organizing rallies, and other similar events that allow these voices to be heard. PEACEFUL PROTESTS are the most effective way of doing this. There is a MINORITY (1%?) of individuals that mingles in with this crowd and causes havoc and vandalism, throwing things at police, etc. There is a serious problem with these EXTREMISTS being involved with PEACEFUL PROTESTS because they, through their actions, create a dangerous situation. A VAST MAJORITY of the people involved with these peaceful protests are not interested in fighting with police, or causing vandalism. YOU GUYS NEED TO HOLD YOUR OWN RALLYS!!!

Why are the police so afraid? For the love of mike, do we really need fictional characters to point out to us that Fear leads to Anger, Hate, and suffering??? This poor girl was suffering for exercising her right as an American citizen to speak out through peaceful protesting, because someone (holding pepper spray) was afraid.

But there lies the biggest problem; there are people who simply want to be heard. They aren't going to be invited to speak on Nightline, or 60 minutes, the Oregonian isn't going to do a front-page story about the MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY, and around the world (Yes MILLIONS) who are against military action in Iraq.

So now Oregon wants to incarcerate participants of peaceful protests that obstruct traffic for 25-Life and label them terrorists???


Did anyone else notice that the ONLY ones stopping traffic yesterday (Tuesday) were the POLICE!


pepper spray not approriate for nonviolence 26.Mar.2003 20:10

max von smartt

yes i agree that pepper spray should only be used to defend from physical assault, and not to intimidate, terrorize peaceful protestors. not only is the spray painful, it can have powerful reactions on the nervous system. unprovoked attacks on nonviolent crowds can escalate the anger and militancy rather than quash them.

I witnessed the whole thing 26.Mar.2003 23:22

Jack Straw

I was on the corner of 3rd and Washington when all this happened. I was about a foot away from the officers when they sprayed me directly in the face and eyes. I've still yet to be able to successfully take a full shower because everytime the water wets my hair the chemicals run down my body and cause the same pain i experienced yesterday. The lady who was being arrested at the time had a press pass and did nothing wrong. This is complete and utter bullshit.

I've got a better idea... 26.Mar.2003 23:34


Just duct tape burritos and tacos all over your body and then after you get pepper sprayed you can just eat them and enjoy the spicy flavor...

to the imbiciles who think pepper spray is ok 27.Mar.2003 11:47


people who get sprayed are not doing anything wrong most of the time. they are walking on the sidewalk at the wrong place at the wrong time. the police gets a whim to spray and they love it. they like getting the crowd all worked up bcz they hope they will be able to spray more. they are sadistic and not protecting anybody. DO NOT tell me that i need to stay home if i dont want to get sprayed. if i disagree with the war, i have a right as an american citizen to make my voice heard, WITHOUT FEAR OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS BEING USED!

people need to wake up. if you are on this website, instead of leaving idiotic comments about how we provoked being sprayed by walking on the sidewalk, why dont you try to find some information that will help you to not sound so stupid when you spew non factual information.

Weapons that are banned under Geneva 29.Mar.2003 08:07

Cave Sixtyfour

If they aren't chemical weapons, WHY are THEY BANNED by the Geneva Convention? Oh, right, we don't abide by them rules, cuz we's amerikans!!!

By the way, isn't this around the 35th annaversary of the ME LIE Massacare? Why don't you brown shirted Clear Channel goons organize a rememberance of THIS?