Riot control methods: What’s in your riot’s menu? How to deal with them? – Çağrı Mert Bakırcı part 1.
The Turkish original of this article, “İsyan Kontrolünde Kullanılan Yöntemler ve Biyolojik Etkileri”, signed Çağrı Mert Bakırcı, was published on June 16th, 2013 in Evrim Ağacı.org. The content of the article is as follows: Introduction, The chemicals used in riot control and their biological effects, Pressurized water, Water cannon, Armed vehicles, Scent-based weapons, Pepper gas, Tear gas and its varieties, The expiration dates of gases and their effects, Why we feel that the effect of the gases change/increase, How to protect oneself, Batons, Conclusion.
We will divide the article into parts and therefore restructure the sections for presentational reasons. This text covers the sections below, the rest will be available soon.
The uprising ignited by the Gezi Park protests resulted in millions of people being exposed to riot control methods such as baton violence, pepper gas and pressurized water. But there are plenty of unanswered questions: Which gases were used and how harmful are they? Is it possible that the orange gas was used? Which chemicals were mixed to pressurized water? What is to be done when one’s exposed to any of these?
As the Wikipedia article on Riot Control states,
Riot control refers to the measures used by police, military, or other security forces to control, disperse, and arrest civilians who are involved in a riot, demonstration, or protest. If a riot is spontaneous and irrational, actions which cause people to stop and think for a moment (e.g. loud noises or issuing instructions in a calm tone) can be enough to stop it. However, these methods usually fail when there is severe anger with a legitimate cause, or the riot was planned or organized. Law enforcement officers or soldiers have long used less lethal weapons such as batons and whips to disperse crowds and detain rioters. Since the 1980s, riot control officers have also used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and electric tasers. In some cases, riot squads may also use Long Range Acoustic Devices, water cannons, armoured fighting vehicles, aerial surveillance, police dogs or mounted police on horses. Officers performing riot control typically wear protective equipment such as riot helmets, face visors, body armor (vests, neck protectors, knee pads, etc.), gas masks and riot shields. However, there are also cases where lethal weapons are used to violently suppress a protest or riot, as in the Boston Massacre, Haymarket Massacre, Banana Massacre, Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Kent State Massacre, Soweto Uprising, Mendiola Massacre, Bloody Sunday (1972) and Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Within the scope of this article, we will not deal with lethal weapons but focus only on the chemicals that may still lead to loss of biological integrity and death. Many types of chemicals are used all around the world in riot control. While not all of them are lethal weapons, some do lead to death and are therefore monitored and prohibited by international law.
We would like to start with a remark. Below, we will talk about various chemical gases. In fact, almost none of these are actual gases, they are all aerosols. In order to avoid confusions, we will still call them “gas”.
The Wikipedia article on Baton states:
A truncheon or baton (also called a cosh, billystick, billy club, nightstick, sap, blackjack, stick) is essentially a club of less than arm’s length made of wood, plastic, or metal. They are carried for forced compliance and self-defense by law-enforcement officers, correctional staff, security-industry employees and (less often) military personnel. Other uses for truncheons and batons include crowd control or the dispersal of belligerent or non-compliant targets.
In general, non-expandable straight stick is used in police interventions. It is produced of polyurethane plastic and contains a fiber stick of 10 mm radius. Its length is 65 cm and its handle is 13 cm long. It is 3 cm thick. Clearly, these numbers are approximations and they can vary from type to type and from producer to producer.
There is also the T-baton which has an additional side-handle.
As can be seen in the images, the batons can be made of wood or metal too. Besides these, there exist expandable (or telescoping) batons made of metal.
We find the technical details rather irrelevant for our purposes. We would like to explain the effects of a baton strike:
A baton strike, depending on its impact, can easily break your bones or seriously damage your organs (like your eyes, nose, mouth, chin or teeth) as well as resulting in temporary bruises. The immediate result of a strong baton strike is the destruction of the capillary vessels feeding the tissues at the point of strike. As a result, a small amount of blood fills into the tissues and lead to reddening and then to a purple bruise. In later days, this purple area becomes blue, then yellow or green, and finally the tissue is fully recovered. This change of color is due to density changes in hemoglobin, methemoglobin and sulfhemoglobin within the vessels. At least 5 grams of hemoglobin in 100 mm blood is needed to trigger a typical bruise. In anemic individuals the bruising may delay as the amount of hemoglobin is positively correlated to the speed of bruising.
There can be tingling and ache in the recovery period. If the impact is strong, more serious problems may arise. Hence, if you feel that your experience is abnormal, we recommend you to get medical support as soon as possible. Put ice cubes on the area for at least 10 minutes. This would help to stop or slow down the bleeding in the vessels and thereby you would be able to reduce the bruises.
As known, water of high pressure produces a non-point impact and can help to disperse protesters. An average water cannon can carry 8000 liters of water and can spray water at a speed of 15 liters per second. Therefore, a nonstop spraying in 10 minutes would empty its tank. The important point here is that a focused spraying of a liquid in such speed can seriously harm bodily organs. Therefore the operator should target at the feet or the legs of the protesters. Yet, as is seen in Turkey, security staff does not worry about such “technicalities” and target at the protesters’ heads or chests. Such practices push protesters back severely in such a way that it even rolls them over. The primary effects of such a strike are heart attacks and neck fractures. Moreover, if pressurized water hits the eye, it can cause loss of sight or blindness. Therefore, usage of water in riot control is not as innocent as initially thought.
To avoid such effects, the responsibility is on the security forces. In case police forces are not properly controlled, those who are within the range should come nearer to the water cannon in order to pass the minimum range. (The range starts by 1 meter away from the vehicle.) Alternatively, the protesters should use obstacles or hide behind an object to reduce the impact. Otherwise, they can be subject to permanent damage.
There is an essentially important aspect of water usage in riot control: The water sprayed from water cannons is not necessarily pure water. Sometimes, chemicals are added to the mixture. These chemicals are acid and, as we will explain in further on, their effect is similar to pepper gas. Therefore, it is not strange that the sprayed water results in reddening, dermatitis and infections. The critical issue is the portion of chemicals in water, because increasing the amount of chemical can result in serious and permanent damage in individuals.
Some micro-particles can also be added to the water mixture to increase the corrosive effect. Like small sand particles, these micro-particles may result in cuts or corrosion in the skin. Hence one should not consider pressurized water as harmless.
In the next section, we will take a closer look at water cannons and examine other armed vehicles used in riot control.
Ege M. Diren