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A Weapon in the Wrong Hands

Esnart Nyirongo, a Kasungu resident, is demanding One Hundred Million Kwacha compensation from the Malawi Police. Esnart was allegedly injured by a teargas canister fired by the police during protests in the district. She claims that the police used tear in a residential setting. I, for one, am not surprised by this news; it is no secret that the Malawi Police appear to lack expertise, particularly when it comes to handling protests, demonstrations, or any other type of disorderly conduct.

Although teargas is a dangerous weapon, our police officers frequently choose to use it as a first line response when trying to disperse a crowd . Teargas which is designed to target specific pain receptors, irritates the eyes, burns the skin, and inflames the lungs. Exposure to the gas can cause blindness, chemical burns, respiratory failure and even death. It has also been linked to miscarriages, and has killed people when fired at a close range (Tear Gas and the politics of protest policing-Jessica Moss).

Teargas is banned in international warfare, and its health risks are well documented, still it remains a crowd control agent of choice for police world wide- Jessica Moss_Tear gas and the politics of protest policing)

At any slight sign of disorder, the police fires teargas canisters into people’s homes, and other enclosed spaces which has caused and could cause serious harm to even innocent bystanders. It is surprising really to witness how quick and careless the police are to use teargas.

Which raises the question as to whether police officers are taught alternative methods of crowd control, as I'm sure there are many more effective ways to handle out of control crowds. For instance, rather than just hurling canisters at the slightest sign of disorder, engaging in dialogue with the protesters or using announcements to keep protesters informed of their actions has proven to be effective in other countries like Spain.

As we wish Esnart a speedy recovery and proper compensation. We hope that the police will learn that negligence has repercussions. May this remind them that their job is to protect, and not harm.

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