Rep. Connolly files amendment to ban the use of tear gas by law enforcement in Massachusetts

JULY 21, 2020


Dear Honorable Colleagues —

I’m writing to invite you to quill on to Amendment #200 to H.4860, which would implement a ban on the use of tear gas or other chemical agents by law enforcement officers in the Commonwealth.

The need for a ban on the use of tear gas was brought to my attention on the evening of May 31 when I ran into staff from the ACLU at the Black Lives Matter demonstration in front of the State House. They advised that tear gas is banned on military battlefields and suggested that we in the legislature should do something to ban its use against civilians, too.

As I contemplated the fact that tear gas isn't allowed in war and watched as the police seemed to escalate tensions that evening and on several other occasions in response to the public outcry over the murder of George Floyd, I started working on this issue in consultation with the ACLU, Rep. Liz Miranda, and others.

When law enforcement reaches the point where they feel the use of a chemical weapon is necessary, then a breakdown or a failure has already occurred. This is just one reason why I was very proud to co-sponsor Rep. Miranda’s “An Act Relative to Saving Black Lives and Transforming Public Safety,” which included a complete ban on the use of tear gas by law enforcement in Massachusetts.

It should also be noted that serious concerns have been raised regarding the use of tear gas in this time of COVID-19 pandemic. Sven Eric Jordt, a researcher at Duke University's School of Medicine who studies the effects of tear gas, calls its use “a recipe for disaster” during the COVID-19 pandemic — because tear gas and other chemical agents can damage the body in ways that can spread the coronavirus and increase the severity of COVID-19.

Additional points to consider:

  • Amnesty International has documented misuse of Tear Gas during recent protests. 125 separate incidents of police violence against protesters in 40 states and the District of Columbia between May 26 and June 5, 2020 saw a misuse of tear gas. Tear gas canisters are heavy, sharp and therefore dangerous and led to one protester losing his eye.
  • Tear gas exposure causes serious and long lasting harm. People with underlying respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis may be particularly vulnerable to damage caused by inhaling the chemicals in pepper spray, mace and tear gas. Some harms are immediate, but people exposed to tear gas also develop medical issues later, including acute respiratory illness and chronic bronchitis. Disturbingly, some protesters recently exposed to tear gas have experienced sudden and painful periods — including people who otherwise were not menstruating, like people with IUDs and trans men. Balin Brake, a 21-year-old student in Fort Wayne, Indiana lost an eye after being hit by a tear gas canister. Several eyewitness accounts and testimonies of people fainting, drooling, coughing uncontrollably and eyes blistering shut.
  • By their nature, tear gas and other chemical weapons cause indiscriminate harm – there’s no way for police to use these weapons without harming bystanders. For example, firefighters were exposed to tear gas when they were on scene to help at a protest.

If you would like to cosponsor Amendment #200 to ban the use of tear gas by law enforcement, please quill on in LAWS and reach out with any questions.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly