Crowd-Control Weapons and Social Protest in the United States

In response to recent protests against racism and police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd by police in May 2020, law enforcement officers across the United States have deployed crowd-control weapons, such as tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray to disperse large crowds. While these weapons are often referred to as “non-lethal” or “less than lethal,” our research and investigations have shown that CCWs often cause severe injury and even death.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has studied the overuse and misuse of crowd-control weapons (CCWs), which include a range of weapons typically used by law enforcement in a wide range of countries and contexts to discourage and disperse public protests.

This primer compiles an overview of the weapons used by law enforcement on protesters in the United States beginning in May 2020, including how they work, how they are used, and the serious health effects they can cause.