Pepper spray can’t be washed off with water. The intense burning it causes — the stinging, the redness, the swelling, the coughing and gagging and gasping — will only subside with time, usually several hours. It can cause tissue damage and respiratory attacks. A study of its most commonly prescribed remedies found that none of them really work. It has been prohibited in war by the Chemical Weapons Convention, so our enemies don’t have to experience it on the battlefield. If only our citizens were so lucky.
Over the past several weeks police have been using pepper spray with alarming frequency in the United States against peaceful protesters. The injured include an 84-year-old woman, a pregnant woman, a priest and an Iraq war veteran. Over the weekend, we had to add to that list a group of college students, gathered nonviolently on the campus of the University of California at Davis.