Yesterday the Maddow Show devoted a short segment to non-lethal weapons and the OWS protests.
It started with a showing of graphics and citations on the more exotic and menacing versions developed for the US military in the last few years. First up was the microwaving pain ray, aka The Sheriff, written about many times on this blog.
MADDOW: From the files of accurately nicknamed weapons, this is the so-called giant pain ray. It`s technically called the active denial system, but really the nickname pain ray is so much more descriptive. This giant satellite looking thing, it shoots electromagnetic radiation at a target, also known as a human. It’s intended to cause a lot of pain. The top layer of skin is supposed to absorb the radioactive rays and get very hot.
In tests people could endure the pain ray for about three seconds.
Nobody lasted more than five seconds. So it hurts a whole heck of a lot, but in theory at least it does not kill you …
[Maddow goes on to say that non-lethal weaponry is rationalized as "an alternative to deadly force."]
But it turns out it`s not the way nonlethal weaponry gets used.
Often, instead of substituting for lethal force, nonlethal weapons just
increase the number of occasions, the types of occasions on which force is used at all. Seattle police, for example, probably would have never used guns and live ammunition to shoot this 84-year-old woman who was the defining image [as someone who had been pepper sprayed] of Occupy protests last week.
Another small homeland security industry now of importance is the one devoted to “non-lethal” weaponry in the United States. Small and large businesses, as well as the big arms developers, got involved in peddling various new arms to the government and police forces, all using the argument that technological advances would allow for non-bloody crowd control.
The most public example was The Sheriff, a high-powered microwave gun mounted on a Hummer and developed by Raytheon. The Sheriff took over a decade of taxpayer investment and an incredible public relations effort to push it (one that failed spectacularly) as a revolutionary weapon which could be used to disperse crowds.
Publicly, it was a disaster. The Sheriff was taken to Afghanistan a year or so ago and quietly brought back without firing one microwave shot in anger. It was, and still is, simply viewed as a device for torturing people who can’t fight back.
At which point in time Raytheon began peddling a much smaller mounted version of it for use in the California prison system.
The essential point to be made is a simple one. All the arguments for the development and use of “non-lethal” weapons rely upon the success in getting people to believe there is some magic point of force application in which people are not irrevocably injured or killed.
In real life, this point is imaginary. It does not exist. And there is no scientific method that can be used to find or elucidate it. As any perusal of the literature on use of tasers, rubber bullets and tear gas quickly reveals.
However, the argument remains seductive particularly when governments or law enforcement need rationalizations for using force short of bullets on the unarmed.
What the “non-lethal” weapon does is set the bar downward for the use of force. When one equips a military or law enforcement agency with weapons which the average soldier or policeman believes will not hurt people because they have been told there is a science to them making them safe, the problem becomes obvious.
The point to be underlined is that weaponry sold as stuff that doesn’t kill you only lowers the threshold for its use in the militarized police forces of this country. Restraints are removed.
And you wind up with what we have: Appalling incidents like the one in which the campus police officer blithely empties a canister of pepper spray into students — then goes for more.
On MSNBC Maddow has covered the pain ray before.
One of her producers, Laura Conaway, was also one of my editors at the Village Voice years ago.
In December 2002 I authored a column, “Weapon of the Week,” for the Voice. Conaway was my editor and one of the first pieces we did was on the pain ray.
At the time it was advertised for coming use in the imminent invasion of Iraq.
What is the microwaver’s target? It must be unarmed civilians, because as described, the VMAD wouldn’t seem to offer much against terrorists or regular soldiers ready to fire back with conventional weapons. What is certain is that the Pentagon’s microwave projects lack oversight and common sense.
However, pepper spray, as everyone knows now, is more than bad enough. We’ll probably never get to the pain ray because the old-fashioned stuff — capsaicin, tear gas rounds and rubber bullets — have been more than sufficient at horrification.
Use of non-lethals on unarmed crowds in the United States has led, and will only lead, to more civil unrest. And that’s because the rationalization for their use is totally rotten. Their practical use is in handing out severe punishments for stepping out of line. Everyone knows it, too.
Freedom of speech exercised against what in my younger days was called “the Establishment” is tolerated as long as it stays in the backwaters (sort of like this blog). Once persons start actually to notice it, the tear gas, or, these days, the pepper spray and tasers come out.
Hosing unarmed students with pepper spray, as the police did at UC Davis, is a new low.
The video speaks for itself. Use of burning chemical spray to the eyes is totally unjustified. And it tells us that many parts of this country are crippled by moral bankruptcy and bereft of basic human decency. Such actions justify further civil unrest.
Torturing civilians in the US cannot end well for the torturers. In the short term, someone should begin buying police-style helmets with face guards for OWS protests.
UC Davis and the police erred badly. And the video shows this.
Despite the exhibition of brutality and callousness students gained the upper hand, herded there attackers into a defensive position, where brandishing riot control guns, the police were made to look even worse.
“You can go!” shouts the crowd. The police were forced to retreat.
“Join our strike!” the crowd yells as the video ends.
E-mail reaction, a couple days ago, to “In This Brokedown Country:”
nice. fun. but alas, I don’t post anything smacking of this or that side — now, for me, I am not one percent but half the country seems to identify with them — the conservatives
and when some time ago I posted [a] gallery of Occupy Wall St I got heaps of email lambasting me and telling me I was hardly non-partisan. So: though I enjoyed it I won’t post. Simply want to sail on my non-partisan way.
Inconveniently, civil unrest delivers a point of view that offends many people.
Anyone reading this knows I find keeping the peace for the sake of popularity an utterly baffling position. Particularly so for the last, say, five years, at least.
[These] Americans form a diverse group sometimes called “near poor” and sometimes simply overlooked — and a new count suggests they are far more numerous than previously understood.
When the Census Bureau this month released a new measure of poverty, meant to better count disposable income, it began altering the portrait of national need. Perhaps the most startling differences between the old measure and the new involves data the government has not yet published, showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.
After a lost decade of flat wages and the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the findings can be thought of as putting numbers to the bleak national mood — quantifying the expressions of unease erupting in protests and political swings. They convey levels of economic stress sharply felt but until now hard to measure …
Perhaps the most surprising finding is that 28 percent work full-time, year round.
Ms. Sheppard, [one person profiled], pays $2,000 in rent and says her employer classifies her as part time to avoid offering her health insurance, even though she works 40 hours a week. Unable to buy it on her own, she crosses her fingers and tries to stay health.
Give it a couple days until eruption of all the potentials for attacks on the national infrastructure, stories with headings loosely based on “Have we just had an electronic Pearl Harbor?” and “Our new electronic Pearl Harbor!”
But anything that comes from the non-lethal industry has always been dubious, from machinery to claims about said technology. Exotic non-lethal weaponry has been pushed for military and police use for almost twenty years, getting an extra shove during the war on terror. And it is no surprise that LRADs would have been sold into the NYPD in the last decade.
The LRAD company’s rationalization that the things are for communicating does not stand close scrutiny when considering the nature of the OWS protests.
It is not readily apparent that a beamed highly directional sound cannon, particularly the size shown in TPM photos, would be any good in shouting directions to a large moving crowd determined to go somewhere, a mass not particularly interested in police instructions or warnings. Which would be expected, anyway.
On the other hand, if you want to spray a crowd with random bursts of irritating noise that hits individuals, perhaps with the aim of instilling some manner of trepidation in them — well, that’s just what a beam-projecting weapon would be able to do.
The LRAD manufacturer concedes to TPM that it only sells to military and police force clients. So much for the handful of feeble humanitarian uses described for them. And it’s worth adding that LRADs and similar devices have been shown on American television on shows expressly interested in making entertainments out showing applications in weapons technology. For the US Navy, in addition to the non-lethal role (which is nil), they have also been sold as devices to be used in hailing, which is significantly different than use against a crowd in close quarters.
LRAD can broadcast in any language with authoritative and highly intelligible communication. LRAD provides military personnel with a powerful, penetrating warning tone that can be followed by clear voice broadcasts in host nation languages to warn and shape the behavior of potential threats.
If you read the details, there’s indication that up close — at distances of one meter — the portable LRAD can be damaging.
It also indirectly speaks to the relative ineffectiveness of the devices, other than as purposeful irritants to a few.
The broadcast, even designed to be directional, dissipates in power geometrically at distance. And it can be fought with barriers and ear plugs.
What needs to be understood is the long-term nature of the non-lethal industry in the US.
The purpose of it was to sell to the military and militarized police forces technology for use on unarmed crowds. And the major sales argument for all of it is that it puts into the hands of its users technology that allows them to do something without hurting the subjects being targeted. In other words, it’s always been sold by exploiting military and police force susceptibility to magical thinking.
Right now the LRAD is, at worst, a nuisance. At best, it’s a complete waste of money delivered with the delicious irony that if you were a taxpayer any time in the last decade (before losing your job and going to protest), in a general sense you helped pay for it.
However, a civil unrest propagates and grows in the United States, the potential exists for other more threatening “non-lethal” devices to appear in the hands of those the empire dispatches to quash it.
From the standpoint of the private sector businesses that make these things, it’s a sell-sell-sell time.