Protesters Rush Police to Neutralize Tear Gas Canisters

Volunteers in Peru wrest hot canisters from officers so demonstrations can go on
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 29, 2023 2:50 PM CST
In Peru, 'Deactivators' Run Toward Tear Gas
Police launch tear gas Thursday to disperse demonstrators during one of the daily protests demanding the resignation of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte in Lima.   (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

When police fire tear gas at protesters demanding the resignation of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte, most run away. A few, though, run toward the gas canisters as quickly as possible—to neutralize them. These are the "deactivators." Donning gas masks, safety goggles and thick gloves, these volunteers grab the hot canisters and toss them inside large plastic bottles filled with a mixture of water, baking soda, and vinegar. The deactivators made their debut in Peru street protests in 2020, the AP reports, inspired by protesters in Hong Kong who in 2019 unveiled new strategies to counteract the eye-stinging, breath-stealing effects of tear gas.

With protesters in Lima facing a nearly daily fusillade of tear gas, more people have joined the ranks of deactivators trying to shield them and keep the demonstrations going. Peruvians have been protesting since early December, when former President Pedro Castillo was impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress. His vice president, Boluarte, immediately took over—and has faced strong opposition since. Fifty-eight people have died in connection with the unrest, including one police officer. Forty-six of the deaths occurred during direct clashes between protesters and police.

On Thursday, as protesters gathered in downtown Lima, Alexander Gutiérrez Padilla, 45, gave a brief course about how to mix vinegar and baking soda into the water and how to grab the tear gas canisters most efficiently. "If we don't deactivate, people disperse, and the protest breaks," Gutiérrez said. Vladimir Molina, 34, runs what he calls a brigade. It consists of around 60 people, including paramedics and deactivators who stand in the middle of protesters and police with shields, in an effort to block any pellets or tear gas police may fire into the crowd. By tossing the hot tear gas cartridges into the water solution, "what they do is extinguish the pyrotechnical charge so the tear gas cannot come out anymore," said Sven Eric Jordt, a professor of anesthesiology at Duke University.

(More Peru stories.)

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