In what appears to be his first television interview on the subject, Kamran Loghman, the developer of weapons-grade pepper spray and the policy for its use by US police departments, appeared on Democracy Now! to condemn how police forces have been using pepper spray on peaceful protesters in the country. He said he was “shocked” and bewildered to see UC Davis police pepper spraying students and the first thing that came to his mind was how the students could be his children “sitting down having an opinion” and being shut down forcibly by chemical agents.
Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman opened the segment by noting how it was not “unprecedented for an inventor to voice regrets when an invention turns out to have harmful uses.” She highlighted Alfred Nobel, who is believed to have regretted inventing dynamite, and Alfred Einstein, who felt guilty that his work had helped spur the invention of the atomic bomb. She said Loghman is now someone who could be added to the list of inventors that have had problems with how their inventions were used.
Loghman worked with the FBI on the research & development of pepper spray, which was tested over the course of three years in the 1980s. He described the development during the segment along with the ingredients in pepper spray.
Why pepper-spray was weaponized, he explains:
Prior to that, in the use of force by law enforcement, when you encounter somebody who is aggressive, let’s say somebody who is under the influence of narcotic or alcohol and you arrest them and the highway patrol wants to take him out of the car and they become combatant. At that time, police officers had really little choice. It was either baton or go to deadly force. By introduction of pepper spray, it was very quick. Police officers were trained to do that. They could arrest the individual, take him back to the jail, wash their face and give them proper decontamination and that was the end of the story. And in that regard it was a great weapon. It saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the last twenty years.
Loghman helped produce one of the original training manuals specifying how to use the pepper spray. The manual was required reading for officers looking to get certified so they could use the spray.
According to Loghman, what he saw with the UC Davis police was a “complete improper and inappropriate use” of pepper spray. It is to be used when there is threat to officers or the possibility of property damage. And, what transpired was “not in accordance with any training or any policy of any department” that he knows of, which is why he feels it is his ”civic duty” to speak up and “explain to the public that this is not what pepper spray was developed for.”
Loghman addressed the use of tear gas in Egypt on peaceful protesters—tear gas that has been made in the United States. He talked about the difference between weapons-grade pepper spray and tear gas and commented on the use of the tear gas on Egyptians:
It is becoming more and more fashionable right now, this day and age, to use chemical on people who have an opinion. And that to me is a complete lack of leadership both in the police department and other people who cannot really deal with the root of the problem and they want to spray people to quiet them down. And it’s really not supposed to be that. It’s not a thing that solves any problem nor is it something that quiets people down.”
Pepper spray was never meant to be used on a mass of people, like Egyptians, to force them to go home.
The pepper spraying of UC Davis students happened on November 18, when students were being forced to take down tents they had set up in the main quad area of campus. Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! producers deserve credit here. No cable or network news outlet has had Loghman on to talk about pepper spray yet, even though it has become routine to see police using pepper spray on Occupy protesters.
It was used on Occupy Seattle protesters, including an 84-year-old woman, who required the help of an Iraq war veteran so she would not be trampled, and a pregnant 19-year-old, who miscarried. And on Occupy Portland protesters, including a 20-year-old woman who vomited after being hit and was then arrested for trespassing. And on antiwar demonstrators trying to protest drones at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. And, in addition to rubber bullets, on Occupy Denver protesters by Denver police who violently cracked down on the camp late in October. And by police on Occupy San Diego to break up a human chain that was not dissimilar from the one UC Davis students formed. And, at the end of the first week of Occupy Wall Street, Officer Anthony Bologna touched off a media storm after video captured him pepper spraying female protesters penned in behind orange netting, who let out blood-curdling screams as they began to feel the effects of the spray.
As Jon Stewart said on The Daily Show last night, “Pepper spray has become America’s car horn.” Or a prime example of how militarized police forces in America have become and how police will be used to intimidate and suppress people who engage in peaceful protesting.