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Tear Gassing Children is a Crime Against Humanity
by George Cassidy Payne
2018-12-26 11:44:07
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Soon after President Trump positioned, encouraged, and sanctioned border patrol agents to deploy tear gas against migrants on the border, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a forceful statement: “Children are uniquely vulnerable to physiological effects of chemical agents. A child’s smaller size, and more frequent number of breaths per minute and limited cardiovascular stress response compared to adults magnifies the harm of agents such as tear gas.”

gas001_400The organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists and pediatric specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults, went on to add: “Immigrant children are still children, and they deserve our compassion and assistance. We will continue to speak out against their inhuman treatment and advocate for their safety.”

The president’s doublespeak aside, the use of tear gas against children is a crime against humanity. There is no way to safely gas someone. The gas chambers in Nazi Germany were not “showers.” No matter what acronym a regime employs, a canister of gas is still a canister of gas. If it wasn’t intended to cause pain and serve as a deterrent, it would not be used at all. Simply put, there is a reason that the use of chemical agents have been banned in warfare since 1925 (Geneva Protocol).

In Brighton is the Rochester VA Outpatient Clinic. As so many veterans can bear witness to, gas is one of the most sickening forms of violence ever devised. Tragically, thousands of soldiers in Vietnam, and millions of Vietnamese, were exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide, which acted as a defoliant during the war. The dreadful legacy of this chemical is still be grappled with.

Among the diseases linked to the exposure of Agent Orange include, a malignant lymphoma (cancer) characterized by progressive enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, a nervous system condition that causes numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness; a disease characterized by a reduced supply of blood to the heart, that can lead to chest pain (angina); and a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects muscle movement. The popular names of these diseases come in and out of the public’s consciousness, but the physical effects are a daily reminder that chemical weapons are inhumane.

So no, Mr. President, the use of chemical weapons is not safe. To authorize the use of tear gas against children is, for all intents and purposes, akin to a war crime. Period. Immigrant children are still children. In a civilized nation, that would be unnecessary to say. But after decades of using other words to label these children as something less than human, it has become necessary to say it. They are not aliens. They are not illegals. They are not migrants. They are not border jumpers, grabbers, thugs, or criminals. They are still children. For God’s sake, they are still children.


George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, social justice activist, and adjunct professor of philosophy at SUNY. 



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