Ban Tear Gas Now!

Stop using chemical weapons on citizens of any nation.

My Story

I grew up thinking tear gas was non-lethal. My army father told me about troops being sent into a room in basic training, dressed in full gear, and after the door was shut, just sitting and waiting as tear gas was pumped into the enclosure. After the room was filled, they were instructed to take off their gas masks so that they would learn not to panic. A classmate in my undergrad classes told me what it was like to be tear gassed as a child in South Korea — this came up because many of my classmates had attended the WTO riots and came back with smoke filled portraits of the chaos. She said it’s important to let your eyes tear up and not try to wipe them, and don’t sniffle because you’re just trapping the toxins in instead of letting them out.

When I was exposed to tear gas, I wasn’t protesting, and I wasn’t in the military. I was walking through a parking lot on a Wednesday night with a group of students I was co-chaperoning for work, on the way to a soccer match. I was happy: I was in Athens, and I had just seen my baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound less than a week before, strong though tiny. As we neared the stadium, we started to notice something like the smell of burning rubber, or maybe someone was smoking something. It was seconds between the time my boss said, “I think it’s tear gas,” and we rounded the corner to see a line of police in full riot gear, faces covered, and our eyes and throats began burning. Students began coughing and sputtering, and I just repeated the advice I heard. I stayed calm. Instead of physically separating the AEK inspired scuffles that broke out through the night, police would continue to release multiple canisters of tear gas.

When I got home, my clothes reeked of the gas. I called my fiancé and told him what happened. We started trying to get in touch with all the medical professionals we knew. Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center connected us to US Poison Control: the answer was that if I wasn’t right on top of a canister I was probably ok. I called my Greek doctor in the morning, and he said I was probably ok. We went on a class field trip over the weekend. On the way back, my boss noted he was surprised to see me actually eating food (my morning sickness had kept me from eating much up to that point). The next day, I began experiencing intense cramping. I went to work briefly the day after (a Monday) and was put on bed rest and medicine to control bleeding until my doctor could see me on Thursday. There was no heartbeat on the ultrasound. I called my fiancé and begged/ ordered him to get on a plane in time for the follow up ultrasound a week later. I was still on medicine and bed rest, meaning until he came out, I didn’t have an assured means of even getting groceries. The second ultrasound confirmed the worst, and after a physically and emotionally painful weekend, I had surgery and decided to return to the States.

Why am I writing this? It’s humiliating, depressing to talk about it. In part, I write this for solace of and as a resource for others who have experienced the same. Over a year later, I still think about it. I admit that even after the birth of my daughter, I still cry for the loss of my first pregnancy. They say tear gas is a temporary irritant, but that has not been my experience. Some may even state that because I was in Greece I should have expected this, but Americans need to pay attention. Greece, like many other nations, is supplied with their military weapons by the US (since the end of WWII). Tear gas is an American export: an American company profited off the loss of my pregnancy and countless injuries to others. So then I also admit I write out of anger: anger at the thought that other women have gone through this, and I’ll be damned if I allow my daughter’s generation to be harmed by her government’s practices in the same way I was. The American government has the responsibility of protecting its citizens from irresponsible corporate practices and the use of unnecessary force.

The sad fact is that activists and soldiers alike almost claim it as a badge of honor, “Yeah, I’ve been tear gassed.” If you’re a healthy young male, you probably won’t notice any long lasting effects- maybe more of a desire to protect yourself against it next time, or maybe you build up a tolerance to it. But tear gas does not only target healthy young males. When it is deployed, it hits whoever is in the area. The elderly, young children, and pregnant women are just as likely targets for an uncontrollable chemical weapon. Due to the nature of laboratory studies, it is not ethical to test the effects of tear gas on humans or human pregnancy, yet governments have no qualms about actually using the substance on pregnant women. Articles have been published on the rise in miscarriages due to tear gas exposure (see “Relevant Articles” at http://www.banteargasnow.com), but many medical professionals are still citing the lack of “laboratory testing” to prove a link. We see tear gas’s brutal effects in the real world, but it doesn’t count because the dispenser of the tear gas wasn’t taking notes or wearing a lab coat.

This is my plea to you: write your local representatives, your federal government officials, and your police departments. Send them articles and information about the dangers of tear gas. (I will do my best to continue making material available through this website. If you have resources you would like to add, please email banteargasnow@hotmail.com.) Tell the “authorities” you will not stand for the deployment of chemical weapons on citizens.

In the meantime: When you protest, do so non-violently – for the safety of those who are not as strong, do not give the police justification for dispensing this “crowd control method”. If you are exposed, seek medical attention and help others do the same.

Do not just brush it off as a temporary nuisance. Tear gas is a Chemical Weapon. Any nation that uses chemical weapons on its own citizenry is not free, and any country that exports it for the abuse of other countries’ citizens is not just.

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7 thoughts on “My Story

  1. Reblogged this on Barefoot and Political and commented:

    It’s been almost a year since I started http://www.banteargasnow.com as a resource to combat the falsehood that tear gas is “safe”. I am still working through legal and financial issues related to my initial exposure two years ago. And every day, more stories of the abuse of this weapon are brought to our attention.
    Please read and share my story with the realization that my loss is not a unique case.

    Let’s keep working for a more socially just world, one in which women don’t have to fear their governments when they step outside. We must hold our governments accountable for our sisters and their children in Bahrain, Greece, Turkey, and wherever your home may be.

    –Suzanne

  2. My husband went to Vietnam a lifetime ago and when he came home he had his share of effects from his time over there, but nothing that we couldn’t deal with … until our first son was born 10 months later — he was born on October 6, and died on October 8. He would be 41 this Sunday if he had not been born with cancer. It took me years to grieve his death because I was trying so hard not to be sad, or angry, or to blame myself; but the truth is — as with you — I bore the effects of yet another chemical weapon that our country has always been so good at deploying all over the world. As the mother of a child who never got to run and play, learn how to ride a bicycle, or drive a car I stand in solidarity with you and your cause to ban tear gas and ALL chemical weapons!
    And I reblogged this on our blog — with thanks to Jeff Nguyen for the link.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story with me and mine with others. Nothing will change until more mothers and victims speak out. Thank you for your support!
      — Suzanne

      • My Sister and I have a wordpress blog also …. and we both tried to sign the petition but couldn’t — is there a way to access it that we failed to see?
        I will be checking over here regularly just to keep up on what’s happening on the chemical weapons front. 🙂
        How is your daughter, and how old is she? I understand if you want to keep your private life private, but after reading your article I was thrilled to discover that you had been successful the second time; and yes, we need to take better care of our Earth Mother for our children!

      • The petition did not get enough signatures initially, so I will try to get one going again after increasing our support base (hopefully after the first of the new year). As protest movements increase worldwide in response to economic and human rights issues, we all need to work together to prevent governments from using tear gas and other chemical weapons to suppress free speech.

        She’s not yet two. 🙂 What is your blog?

  3. Our blog is wolfessblog.wordpress.com. We need to work together over the next few months to get this info out there — I wouldn’t have known anything about it if Jeff (Deconstructing Myths blog) hadn’t posted a link to it. I will post a comment on his blog entry: Dear Monsanto, to let him know that I have been in touch with you so that we can all work on spreading this. Colleen (my sister from another mother) 🙂 and I have a couple of friends left from our time at Current that we will contact about this and encourage them to post your info and articles as this is truly something that touches many of us in a very personal way, even if we haven’t gone thru the heartbreak that you and I have experienced. 🙂
    I have read some of the articles detailing the effects of depleted uranium — yet another chemical weapon — and find it both maddening and heartbreaking; as I did that wholly infuriating picture of the students on the UC-Davis campus 2 years ago. You are right, there has GOT to be a better way to deal with protesters!

    Not yet 2 — ahhhh, you are soon to experience that wonderful phase known lovingly as the ‘Terrible Twos’ — you have my sympathy and support for that also! 🙂

  4. Jeff Nguyen on said:

    I’d definitely be willing to share the petition also. You guys rock!

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