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Campaign to Ban "Less-Lethal" Weapons Launched

Save Our Civil Liberties launches new campaign to curb police violence.
For Immediate Release: November 4, 2004

Contact: Gan Golan (510) 290-3334,  press@saveourcivilliberties.org
David Meieran (412) 996-4986,  press@saveourcivilliberties.org

BOSTON DEATH SPARKS CALL FOR LESS LETHAL MORATORIUM
Controversial Weapons Increase Violence, Despite Police Claims

Boston - On Thursday, November 4, the Boston Area Faculty Group on Public Issues, the National Lawyers Guild and the Save Our Civil Liberties (SOCL) Campaign issued a public demand for an immediate moratorium on police use of so-called "non-lethal" and "less-lethal" weapons. The press conference, held at the Emerson College campus, highlighted the recent death of Victoria Snelgrove during a Red Sox celebration as an example of the misuse of less lethal weapons by local, state and federal law enforcement around the country.

Victoria Snelgrove is the latest in a string of incidents that indicate less-lethal weapons actually increase the use of force by police in situations where other alternatives could have, and should have been used.

In Miami during the November 2003 FTAA protests, less lethal weapons were used entensively to disperse peaceful crowds, including their use on unsuspecting journalists, local citizens and people silently praying. Street medics treated over 100 injuries including at least five serious head wounds caused by police firing projectiles to the head - the same scenario that resulted in the death of Snelgrove.

Less-lethal projectiles were also deployed and used during the April 2003 Oakland Port protests when police open fired on peaceful protestors, longshoremen, legal observors, and journalists with rubber and wooden projectiles. Several dozen people were injured, including some who were permanently maimed by the bullets. Recently, police used pepperball projectiles to disperse an anti-Bush crowd in tiny Jacksonville, Oregon when other alternatives were available.

Just yesterday, police fired pepperballs and injured protesters in a Tucson march spearheaded by the National Lawyers Guild.

"It has become clear that less-lethal weapons encourage officers to shoot first and talk later," said Gan Golan, a member of the Save Our Civil Liberties Campaign who experienced police abuse of less-lethal weapons in Miami. "Despite warnings voiced by Amnesty International, the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild, police continue expanded use of these controversial weapons."

The California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians points out areas most likely to cause serious injuries are the same areas that cause immediate incapacitation. ( http://www.calacep.org/lifeline/displaylifeline.html?ID=135 also lists other deaths) They state, "Although less lethal weapons were designed to be nonlethal, the potential for both blunt and penetrating serious injury does exist."

Following the death of Snelgrove, civil liberties groups have united to call for a moratorium on the use of these weapons until certain conditions are met. Groups also point out while the death of Snelgrove, who is white, has received broad media coverage, these weapons are used routinely against people of color and the working poor with scant attention.

"How many people have to be maimed or killed before we re-assess the role and use of these potentially lethal weapons?", asks Naomi Archer, a member of the Save Our Civil Liberties Campaign. "We cannot afford for police to relax into using less-lethal weapons as a substitute for other options, and we must ensure that adequate training and accountability mechanisms exist in the future so that our communities our protected."

Groups concerned with less-lethal weapons and civil liberties have assembled two petitions in support of this moratorium, one signed by dozens of Boston-area college faculty, the other by hundreds of city residents. For more information, visit  http://www.nolesslethal.com.

Save Our Civil Liberties hopes that the campaign to ban less-lethal weapons will spread to other cities that continue to use these weapons with impunity.

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homepage: homepage: http://www.nolesslethal.com