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Students were tear gassed and pepper sprayed more than 300 times in Alabama schools

Tear gas at a demonstration in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.
Tear gas at a demonstration in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The Marshall Project's Dana Goldstein reports on a Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit alleging that police officers in Birmingham, Alabama, schools repeatedly used a combination of tear gas and pepper spray on students:

Incident reports show that Birmingham school officers have used a pepper spray/tear gas combination product on over 300 students since 2006, in 110 separate incidents at eight of the city’s nine high schools, according to SPLC attorney Ebony Howard.

Students were sprayed with the product, called Freeze-P — advertised as the strongest pepper spray available for non-military use, which includes both pepper spray and tear gas — for fighting, for watching other students fight, and for talking back. The case is currently in federal court.

Birmingham appears to use the chemical spray far more frequently than most other districts. But school resource officers in Tempe, Arizona, carry tear gas. Boston considered arming its school resource officers with pepper spray before backtracking on the plan.

The Geneva Convention bans tear gas in international warfare (but explicitly allows it in domestic policing situations). And its use in schools is controversial. "We don't know much about the long-term effects, especially in civilian exposure with kids," a tear gas expert told Vox's Sarah Kliff last year.

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