Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators shooting tear gas next to St. John's Episcopal Church outside of the White House, June 1, 2020.
Jose Luis Magana/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump and his administration have repeatedly insisted that law enforcement did not use tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the White House on Monday evening.
  • But copious video footage, photographs, and dozens of witness accounts from protesters and reporters on the ground say otherwise.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the pepper compound the US Park Service says it used on Monday's protest as a form of tear gas, also known as "riot control agent."
  • But the Trump campaign told Insider the pepper balls used to dispel the crowd don't qualify as tear gas, despite the CDC's designation.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

President Donald Trump and his administration have repeatedly insisted that law enforcement did not use tear gas on peaceful protesters who were violently dispelled outside the White House shortly after the president called on states to "dominate" protesters with "overwhelming force."

But copious video footage, photographs, and dozens of witness accounts from protesters and reporters on the ground say otherwise. In fact, US Park Police later acknowledged they deployed "smoke canisters" and "pepper balls" as they advanced on the crowd, forcing hundreds of protesters and bystanders out of the square.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines tear gas, also known as "riot control agents," as "chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin." That includes chloroacetophenone (CN), the compound in the pepper balls used by law enforcement.

But the president accused the press of lying about the gassing and Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director, released a statement demanding news outlets "immediately correct or retract its erroneous reporting."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters at a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon that "no one was tear-gassed" and law enforcement "peaceably" dispersed the crowd to make way for the president's photo-op outside St. John's church.

But Murtaugh went a step further on Wednesday and told Insider that the pepper compound and smoke don't qualify as tear gas, despite the CDC's designation.

"The Park Police said clearly that neither they, nor their law enforcement partners, used tear gas," Murtaugh told Insider on Wednesday. "Pepper pellets and smoke are not tear gas. They acted in response to rising violence and protesters reaching for officers' weapons."

Protesters are tear gassed as the police disperse them near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd's death continue.
Roberto Schmidt/Getty Images

A weapon banned in war that could worsen the coronavirus

Tear gas has been banned under international law from use in warfare since 1997. But US law enforcement uses it regularly on civilians.

Civil and human rights groups have long objected to the government's use of tear gas against protesters, in part because of the indiscriminate nature of the weapon. Rather than targeting specific people, the gas hurts everyone it touches, including media, children, and bystanders.

"The United States is quick to criticise other nations for the use of tear gas on their protesters," Lecia Brooks, chief workplace transformation officer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Insider. "Yet, we use it quite frequently."

And the health impacts can be permanent and severe. The CDC warns that tear gas "may lead to long-term effects such as eye problems including scarring, glaucoma, and cataracts, and may possibly cause breathing problems such as asthma." The projectiles used to transport the irritant can maim and kill people hit by them.

As the coronavirus - which causes respiratory illness - ravages the country, health experts say law enforcement may worsen the problem with a weapon that makes breathing difficult and induces coughing and sneezing.

"I'm just very concerned this might increase the likelihood of infection," Dr. Sven-Eric Jordt, a researcher at Duke University School of Medicine's Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program, told the Associated Press.

The administration's decision to attack the peaceful protesters on Monday has been widely denounced, including by Republican lawmakers. In a forceful essay condemning the president's leadership, James Mattis, Trump's former Secretary of Defense, on Wednesday called the move an "abuse of executive authority" that makes "a mockery of our Constitution."

This week, some Democrats have begun calling for federal and state legislation to ban the use of tear gas by law enforcement.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argued the weapon "has no business being used by enforcement in the United States (or anywhere)."

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