"Less lethal" is a deceptive term to describe the weapons that routinely kill and maim peaceful protesters

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/11/22/the-right-to-protest.html


I think these sort of things have a niche purpose and may be used in a proper setting. (i.e. a last resort before real bullets are used) But I think the main problem is too many people are more willing to use them, thinking they are going to cause pain and inconvenience, not death.

Of course the best option is to have proper crowd control and a relation with protest organizers to help make sure things don’t get out of hand. People in large groups cease being people, and become more of mass. Any spark of violence can easily prompt people who normally would not be violent into becoming so. I am talking about both sides.

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There is a difference between “less lethal” and “less than lethal”. “Less than” implies that the weapons are an intermediate step between zero harm and dead.

“Less lethal” is actually an accurate term. These weapons are statistically less likely to be deadly to the entire crowd as opposed to the police opening fire with standard ammunition.

Which is not saying that these weapons should be used for crowd control during your average protest because they still can be and often are lethal to someone there (law of large numbers strikes again). The biggest problem is that the public, including probably most police who are entrusted with these things, don’t understand how statistics work. So they conflate it with “less than lethal” and think that it’s an acceptable alternative, when it’s not.


I hate being right about things:

From last year:


It’s the same problem police have with tasers - not that they use them when they might otherwise use firearms, but that they use them when they might otherwise (in an appropriate approach) use nothing.

Except even that’s not true if the police are improperly using rubber (coated) bullets by firing them directly into a crowd. They’re going to be just as lethal as the regular kind of bullets when misused that way.


The trouble with both-sidesism is that peaceful protestors aren’t always trained how to handle those situations, and they certainly aren’t paid by the government to do it well.


Abusing these things is a very shortsighted mistake: when you raise the risk/cost of protesting, that doesn’t make the protest less likely, it makes the next protest more likely to get violent. Those sonic weapons in particular seem designed to create terrorists faster than they can be arrested.


Oh ferghodsssake, we went to a lot of damn trouble to force the local PD to use the term “less lethal” INSTEAD OF “less than lethal” or “non-lethal” as part of a recognition, in official policy, that these tools should not be used unless lethal force is justified - once the decision to use lethal force is taken, then the choice between more- and less- lethal can made based on officer assessment and available equipment, but only with the understanding that all these tools are “more or less lethal.”

“Never Taze anyone you wouldn’t otherwise shoot if you didn’t have a Tazer” is the basic idea.

The fact that people are routinely killed by these tools is precisely the point of “less lethal”: it’s not a euphemism; it’s an honest, accurate description. “Less likely to kill, but still quite capable of killing.”

To be used only when lethal force is justifiable, because they ARE lethal weapons.

That these lethal weapons are being used inappropriately where lethal force is NOT justified, is a different problem - the very problem that the descriptive term “less-lethal weapon” was invented to attack.

It’s not “deceptive.” It’s not a “lie.” “Non-lethal” is the deceptive lie, and “less lethal” is the pushback against that lie.

Don’t confuse the two.

See also ‘bean-bag’ guns.

You’re assuming that the intention of the authorities is to avoid violent protest. That is not a safe assumption.

  1. The goal of the authorities is not to keep the peace. It’s to control dissent.
  2. A short term escalation of violence can be very useful towards this goal.
  3. Undercover police agents provocateurs are a thing. So is COINTELPRO.
  4. Even without direct instigation, the state often acts in ways designed to provide an excuse for crushing protest. See, for example, the events surrounding the killing of Michael Brown.

At any protest, the most violent participants are pretty much always the police.


That bit of spin has been spun by many police departments around the world.

I am unaware of anywhere in which it wasn’t shown to be bullshit as soon as the new weapons were introduced.

If you give police torture devices, they will use them. Frequently.

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It is always a mistake to go to war against one’s own people, even if that’s your govervenrment’s explicit intention.

Perhaps there’s something about the lens of a riot helmet visor that distorts an “active resistor” into an" active aggressor"?

I guess narrative is key too.


Plausible headline: “Escalation of Force Justified After Masked Protestor Hurls Chemical Weapon at Police.”

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