VCU doctors urge police to stop using pepper spray during pandemic, ask others to sign letter

VCU doctors urge police to stop using pepper spray during pandemic, ask others to sign letter
The Richmond Police Department declared an unlawful assembly on the night of June 22 and used chemical agents to break up the protest. (Source: NBC12/Eric Everington)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Five VCU doctors asked the Richmond Police Department to eliminate the use of pepper spray and chemical irritants during the COVID-19 pandemic — now they’re asking others to sign the letter.

David Goldberg, a hospitalist and assistant professor at VCU Health, said in a tweet that other health care workers have expressed concern over the department’s use of chemical irritants. Goldberg said people could message him to sign on to the letter.

“Unfortunately, protesting makes social distancing impossible, and protesters must rely solely on wearing masks,” the letter stated. “Because of this, we are horrified to see the use of pepper spray and other chemical irritants against protesters. Pepper spray causes demasking, coughing, and heavy breathing. The use of pepper spray is antiethical to the public health guidance for avoiding COVID-19.”

The doctors say in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, chemical irritants should be used as a last resort and with “sufficient” warning beforehand. The letter — signed by Goldberg, Alan Dow, Nutan Gowda, Sarika Modi and Georgia McIntosh from VCU Health — was emailed to Richmond Police and posted to Twitter on Monday.

The letter states that pepper spray “indiscriminately” affects nearby parties, such as non-violent protesters, media, bystanders, and law enforcement officers.

The doctors stated that the city is fighting two “pandemics.”

“One, of course, is COVID-19,” the letter said. “The second is systemic racism, which has been around much longer than COVID-19, and has led to Black Americans having greater morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 and many other health conditions.

They asks that the response to one pandemic does not worsen the effects of the other.

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