On Monday, a reporter asked Donald Trump how he felt seeing images of unarmed women and children fleeing border agents’ tear gas attack on them.
“I say, why are they there? First of all, the tear gas is a very minor form of the tear gas itself. It’s very safe. The ones that were suffering to a certain extent were the people that were putting it out there, but it’s very safe.”
“It’s very safe.”
That’s an interesting statement, especially when Customs and Border Protection later confirmed there is no “safe” tear gas.
In fact, it is so unsafe, international law bans it under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Johns Hopkins University sociology professor Stuart Schrader traces how tear gas graduated from a Vietnam-era weapon of war to a law enforcement device in his forthcoming book Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing.
He told Democracy Now!:
“He [President Trump] is trying to claim that the tear gas is a mild form, and that’s simply untrue. The tear gas that was used is a chemical called CS…the term ‘tear gas,’ when referring to CS, is misleading, because it doesn’t just make your eyes tear when it affects your body; it also makes all of your mucous membranes become inflamed. You expel large amounts of mucus. You cough. You feel like you can’t breathe. You feel like you’re choking. So the term “tear gas” doesn’t really describe the effects that are the result of this chemical.”
In other words, the United States–the heretofore theoretical bastion of human rights and morality–unleashed a chemical weapons attack on unarmed migrants who spent weeks traveling on foot from impoverished, crime-ridden Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, hoping for a remote chance at a better life in a nation of immigrants, a “land of opportunity.”
In an attempt to justify the brutality, Trump is engaging in classic demonization tactics, claiming without evidence that the migrant caravans are dangerous groups of mostly single men, “stone cold criminals.”
Tijuana, Mexico’s social services department director Mario Figueroa, however, confirms that, as of Friday, of 4,938 asylum seekers remaining in Tijuana, 933 are women, 889 are children and 3,105 are men, including fathers with families.
Trump went on to blame the migrant children’s parents, saying:
“Why is a parent running into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it’s going to be formed, and they’re running up with a child?”
Trump also admitted in an interview with The Washington Post that the border crisis provides him with good leverage against the Democrats for his precious wall.
“I think that’s been shown better than ever in the last short period of two weeks–that we need a wall. I see the Democrats are going to want to do something, because they understand too. Those pictures are very bad for the Democrats. We’re not having a wall because of the Democrats. We need Democrat votes to have a wall. Now, if we don’t get it, will I get it done another way? I might get it done another way. There are other potential ways that I can do it. You saw what we did with the military, just coming in with the barbed wire and the fencing, and various other things.”
In response to the attack, the Mexican government is demanding a full investigation.
Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S./Mexico Border Program, witnessed Sunday’s chemical assault. He stated border agents fired on the migrant without warning.
“The first shot that I heard did not come after any sort of warning. It was very quickly shot. It was one shot that I heard, one bang. Subsequent shots of tear gas, I did hear some sort of muffled warning or at least a vocal announcement. I believe that might’ve been some sort of call for dispersement. But the very first one did not follow any sort of warning.”
“Border Patrol agents began firing what seemed to be these gas canisters into the crowd. We heard popping noises and whizzing noises. We also witnessed how a helicopter flew down low enough to use its rotors to push this plume of smoke, of tear gas into the canal where many of the migrants were gathering and had formed. It was clearly an aggressive action meant to debilitate all of the people who were there, and my concern especially was for the children who were breathing in these toxic fumes.”
California Gov.-elect, Gavin Newsom, tweeted:
“These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas. Women and children who left their lives behind — seeking peace and asylum — were met with violence and fear.
That’s not my America. We’re a land of refuge. Of hope. Of freedom. And we will not stand for this.”
What country is this?
Is this the United States of America?
If any other country had done this, we would be filled with righteous indignation, shake our heads, and retreat into that superiority we have always been told is so exceptional.
Can we claim that anymore?
Could we ever?
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons