Prison Abuse of Tear Gas
Tear gas, inside the confined spaces of prisons, takes on a particular abusive effect and lethality. It chokes off the air and lingers for hours if no exhaust system is used to remove it. It clings to surfaces for days, if sprayed areas aren’t decontaminated. To top it off, the weapon is lethal in itself.
As I’ve written before1 , this weapon, along with its sister chemical weapons like mustard gas, chlorine gas, and others, was designed and used during World War l, and subsequently banned from battlefields. It then became a common weapon of torture in colonizing Third World peoples and then U.S. prisons.
As its use became more common, it’s been refined by manufacturers with few to no regulations, to enhance its painful effects and make it more difficult to flush from the skin. Which has also increased its lethality.
In prisons across Amerika gas is used to torture and murder prisoners so casually and routinely, that most people who’ve been confined expect to be or have been victims of its abuse, either directly or as bystanders. And guards commonly make a game of inventing pretexts and outright lying to speciously justify gas assaults on prisoners.
Let The Records Reflect
I’d like to give two examples, both involving a prisoner at Indiana’s Wabash Valley prison where I’m presently confined. In one case the guards’ own documentation and surveillance video footage demonstrate they lied to justify assaulting a completely defenseless man. In the other case, surveillance camera footage was erased by administrators to cover up the assault.
Marshawn Weems is a young Black man who’s been imprisoned since he was 16 in adult Indiana prisons. He’s now 22, and still has the energy and instinctive tendency to question so-called ‘authority’ that his youthfulness suggests. Pigs don’t like Black males, or any prisoners for that matter, who question them.
Both assaults on Marshawn happened inside Wabash Valley’s solitary confinement unit, which has long been notorious for its abusive and torturous conditions.2
The first attack took place on November 16, 2019. It was breakfast time and a guard, J. Thompson, was passing out meal trays and beverages, by unlocking the hinged slots on the cell doors and handing in the food and beverages.
Thompson repeatedly bypassed Marshawn without serving him his beverages, while serving everyone else theirs. Marshawn asked Thompson several times why he was being bypassed and was ignored. Finally, Marshawn admittedly cursed at Thompson, stating it was disrespectful to ignore him and finally, “fuck you and that juice and coffee.” He then left his cell door and got back into bed.
Several minutes later, and without warning or explanation, Thompson came to Marshawn’s cell with another guard named Arnold and proceeded to repeatedly spray him with tear gas as he lay in bed.
Taken completely by surprise Marshawn, blinded and enraged, asked, between choking and gasping, why he was being gassed. Thompson only laughed and kept spraying him. When a ranking guard was finally called to the area, Marshawn not knowing what was amiss ended up being gassed several more times because he wouldn’t come to the door and be cuffed from behind, rendering himself even more defenseless to unprovoked attack.
Thompson subsequently wrote Marshawn a disciplinary report (DR) claiming falsely that he came to Marshawn’s cell and ordered him to come to the cell door and back up to be handcuffed, and Marshawn refused to comply. (DR case #WVS 19-11-0025)
The surveillance camera video record was narrated for the DR process and states what happened at Marshawn’s cell. Everything is described except the period between 07:00:41am and 07:01:19am, during which the document says, “Camera freezes.” At just the time when Thompson repeatedly gasses Marshawn, the camera is reported as having malfunctioned.
I have the “Report of disciplinary hearing video evidence review” right in front of me. It is clearly no coincidence that the camera supposedly “freezes” just when Marshawn is assaulted. And this at a prison where the still reigning assistant warden, Frank Littlejohn, and other officials and their attorneys were punished by a federal judge earlier this year for setting another prisoner up to be repeatedly gassed and shot point-blank in the face with a gas gun, while he was locked inside a shower, and lying in court to cover up the assault.3
The next attack on Marshawn happened on August 11, 2020, on the solitary exercise yard, while he was handcuffed.
On this occasion, he’d just been ‘escorted’ in handcuffs to the yard, which consists of a dog kennel type cage, and was locked inside by a guard M. Phillips and sergeant M. Smith. Phillips ordered him to give them a hat Marshawn had in his hand, which he did.
Words were passed and without warning, Smith repeatedly gassed him from behind. In response to being gassed Marshawn instinctively pulled away—he was held by a nylon leash connected to the handcuffs—and was pulled back toward the guards and gassed again.
Yet again a DR was fabricated to portray Marshawn as having done something to justify the assault. In the DR, Phillips outright lied claiming he was ordered to hand over his hat and he refused, and further refused to allow himself to be handcuffed. In a witness statement, Smith added to the lies, claiming Marshawn tried to pull the nylon leash out of their hands and was warned to stop or he’d be gassed. ( DR case #WVS 20-08-0010)
This time the surveillance camera video was not tampered with and showed the guards lied. The report narrating the video states before he was ever gassed, Marshawn “gives his orange hat to Sgt Smith.” And only after “Sgt Smith sprays his chemical agent at offender Weems,” does he begin, “aggressively pulling on the security lead.”
What To Do?
But of course, that the surveillance video shows these guards lied on Marshawn doesn’t matter. It wasn’t used to take action against them for unjustifiably assaulting him; and it didn’t help to acquit him of the blatantly fabricated DR—he was found guilty and punished on top of having been assaulted.
Unlike in society, videos of prisoners being abused, beaten, and killed by guards aren’t readily uploadable to social media to allow the world to bear witness to the outrages we suffer every day, and at rates much higher than those ‘out there.’ We live under the direct and total occupation of these armed enforcers of this fascist system, where every aspect of our lives is under their control and their acts of abuse and opportunities to abuse us are constant.
We need the unity and support of the outside movement that’s been awakened to the reality of police abuse, and not for mere reforms, but to build a struggle to end this decadent and incorrigible capitalist-imperialist system that sustains itself through institutionalized violence against the poor, workers, and people of color.
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
- 1Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Amerika Uses Military Grade Chemical Weapons on Prisoners That it Bombs Syria for Using in Civil War” (2018) http://rashidmod.com/?p=2580
- 2Cold Storage: Super-Maximum Security Confinement in Indiana, Human Rights Watch (1997) https://www.hrw.org/reports/1997/usind/
- 3Torment In Indiana Prisons: The Abuse, The Lawsuit, The Death of Phillip Littler (2020) rashidmod.com/?=2887: See, LITTLER V. MARTINEZ https://casetext.com/case/littler-v-martinez-2