Hesperian Health Guides
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Be careful: people helping victims of police violence often become targets of more police violence themselves. Try to get the injured person and yourself out of immediate danger.
Pepper spray and tear gas
If you can move away from where tear gas or pepper spray is being used, the effect will wear off. Tear gas wears off quickly, pepper spray can last an hour or more.
Do not touch tear gas canisters with your hands. They are hot and will burn you if you pick them up right away.
A water or vinegar-soaked bandana over the mouth and nose gives a little protection.
- Watch breathing. Pepper spray can cause severe breathing problems, especially in people with asthma. This can be very frightening. Help the person stay calm.
- Flush eyes with lots of water. Pour the water from the inside of the eye (near the nose) toward the outside of the eye (near the ear).
- Remove clothes that have spray on them once you are in a safe place and will not be exposed to any more spray or chemicals.
- Clean the skin, one area at a time (or just wait for the spray to wear off): soak a cloth with mineral or vegetable oil. Wipe off one area of skin using this oiled cloth. Then quickly remove the oil with another cloth wet with alcohol. If the oil is left on for more than 30 seconds, it will mix with the chemical and burn the skin. If you do not have oil and alcohol, just use a lot of water. Or just wait. With time, the pain will go away.
An eye and mouth rinse to relieve the burning of pepper spray
In a small bottle, mix ½ water, ½ liquid antacid (aluminum or magnesium‑based, such as Maalox).
For the eyes, hold the person’s eye open and pour from the inside (close to the nose) toward the outside of the eye (closer to the ear).
For the mouth, ask the person to swish the mixture inside the mouth and spit it out.
This mixture can be of some help to rinse pepper spray off skin.
Other police weapons
Rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, water cannons, and batons are all used to cause bleeding, broken bones, or injuries or bleeding inside the body. Injuries to the eye and head can be severe. Examine the person head to toe. Watch for signs of internal bleeding or shock: faint feeling, pale skin, or weakness. The chapter Problems with the Eyes and Seeing has more information on injuries to the eye.