When Protests Escalate, So Do the Sprays Being Used

Isaac Hoops reports how street medics at protests deal with different improvised weapons, one of the worst being wasp spray.

“I was literally just a protester,” Larry remembers. “And then, you know, in all the chaos, I started seeing other people with red duct tape on them, you know, in the shape of a cross. So we went up to each other, we’re like, ‘hey, do you want to switch phone numbers, just if something gets wild.’ And within a couple of weeks, we had formed Sac Street EMS, which was a group of like minded medics that just wanted to do some help.”

On Becoming a Street Medic during Protests

If the past year of protests has shown us one thing, it’s that in many ways our country is divided. As tension between the far left and far right grew stronger, individuals began identifying with their respective sides of this fight. In many cities across America the fight became one of Antifa vs. Proud Boys.

Larry, who wanted to go by first name only for this article, is a field medic who supports the left. He first found himself involved in the Sacramento protests after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. As night fell on the first protest he attended, the situation escalated. When tear gas was deployed on the crowd, Larry jumped into action and went from being not just a protester, but also a first responder during protests.

Throughout the summer of 2020 Larry continued working with Sac Street EMS and other groups to provide medical attention to those in need during protests. He attended to those who were maced or tear gassed by the police with a standard protocol.

“I do more of mine on a minimalist approach,” he explained. “I just use saline for everything. I also use big dish gloves that I put on people’s hands so they get access to their hands again. Usually if you get maced [your] hands are infected or contaminated as well. And just lots of saline and keep flushing the face. I make these chemical wipes out of baby wipes, the 99.9% water baby wipes. We put just a couple drops of tear free baby shampoo in there. And that’s for just wiping people’s faces and providing a cooling mat.”

Taking part in the protests, even as a street medic, comes with all the same risks. “I got arrested for carrying bear spray,” Larry said. “Everyone just had bear spray. If there was anything about Sacramento [that summer], it just became bear spray capital.”

Originally intended to protect hikers, campers and backcountry workers from bears, bear spray is increasingly being used both for defensive and attack purposes at protests.

As members of both sides continued to bring these chemical irritants to use against each other, there was one thing that stayed true. The effects of these products were treatable. But this changed when wasp spray was brought into the mix. Reddit posts indicated that during late summer pro-police protesters starting arriving at protests with wasp spray, which can temporarily blind someone until they get to the hospital for an antidote.

“I got hit with wasp spray twice last year,” Larry said. “And the difference between that and the pepper spray is that pepper spray is like a powder. It’s not really a gas, tear gas and all that it’s just an aerosol version of a powder. Wasp spray is a neurotoxin, so it’s actually a liquid chemical.”

As wasp spray is not intended to be used on humans, the effects of many of these products have not been tested. Raid Wasp & Hornet Spray does not even include what to do if their product comes in contact with someone’s eyes.

“Whereas pepper spray burns–this stuff, it was just a gradual heat,” Larry said. “My eyes were flashing white. I’m pretty calm when I get hit with stuff like bear spray. I’ll just take a knee and I can self-treat. But with this wasp spray I couldn’t feel my face. My eyes were just gone. I had to have both of my hands on my face holding my cheeks down and doing full face blinking just to try and get some irrigation going. Once I got home is where the pain really started to kick in. For two days it felt like my face was droopy and not really responsive.”

So why is this untested neurotoxin being used at protests? A short google search will provide numerous articles and videos which display these products as tools for ‘self defense’. Wasp spray is significantly less expensive than pepper spray. Whereas pepper spray generally has a range of around ten feet, wasp spray doubles that.

“The mental aspect of getting hit with a chemical like that, sitting there for two days knowing that you just had another human being hit you with a neurotoxin that is making your eyesight flash and pulsate. It’s pretty nasty stuff,” Larry said.

Reporting by Isaac Hoops for the Reynolds Sandbox

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