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Police Use Noise as a Weapon for ‘Crowd Control’

by Kevin Bliss

Police are using harmful military-grade noise weapons in crowd control during protests. These items, flashbangs, and long-range acoustic devices (LRADs) can produce sounds of over 170 decibels, damaging vulnerable parts of the inner ear which affect other body functions such as balance and feelings of nausea.

Luna (who wished to keep her last name private, fearing retaliation) said that she has been at the front of the Portland, Oregon, riots over the police killing of George Floyd for the past two months. She said the noise weapons the police used to exhaust and agitate protestors had left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. “If I’m in public and I hear a loud bang, I’ll stop and duck and look around,” she stated. “It’s very exhausting, not just physically but mentally.”

One theory on Twitter stated that the police were providing the populace with fireworks to keep up the discord amongst protesters

Pedro Oliveira, a sound researcher from Brazil, said the military police in Brazil used these tactics as “material articulation of racialized sonic violence.” He said, “Sirens and whistles function more as devices for crowd control and establishing social order. [LRAD] performs similar functions, like organization and control, but the step ahead is that it is meant to hurt.”

Audio engineer Marisa Ewing-Moody detailed the history of LRAD systems on Twitter. She said it was a device police talked about as a non-violent means of crowd control. “You can cause permanent damage to people that are exposed to this,” Marisa stated. “I wouldn’t say that’s non-violent.”

Genasys, the company that created LRADs, said the device can reach sounds 30 decibels higher than typical vehicle PA systems. That is almost double the sound of a concert. Jet take offs have been recorded at a range of 150 decibels. Genasys said that LRADs can reach higher levels than that.

The LRADs are designed to target the inner ear. This can be damaging to the delicate workings of the organ. Ewing-Moody said that noise at that level assaulting the inner ear could “cause dizziness and nausea because your body is getting confused by the way your inner ear is moving.”

Melbourne Law School lecturer James Parker stated that even more problematic than the physical harm these noises can cause is the concept that police believe the right to protest is a criminal or deviant action that needs to be policed.



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