Chemical Weapons, Racial Justice, Environmental Harm


The May 2020 police murder of George Floyd catalyzed a racial reckoning in the United States that saw millions of people take to the streets to protest police brutality against people of color. In following months, law enforcement used massive amounts of "less-lethal" chemical weapons against protesters in cities across the country. Despite widespread use of chemical weapons by police agencies and mounting evidence of related environmental and health harms, the federal government does not regulate the use nor the manufacture of chemical weapons. Chemical weapons contain toxic ingredients such as hexavalent chromium, lead salts, and methylene chloride, which are inhaled by protesters and bystanders alike before ending up in city wastewater systems. Lack of regulatory oversight has resulted in chemical weapons manufacturers having free rein to add these toxic chemicals to their products. The federal government should enact policies under both the Spending Clause and the Commerce Clause to regulate the domestic use and manufacture, respectively, of chemical weapons. Such federal regulations would both protect the health of people and the environment, as well as incentivize police agencies to move away from the use of indiscriminate chemical weapons and invest in more community-oriented styles of policing.