July 17 was the one year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death. After the incident that recently occurred in Dallas, regarding the alleged suicide of Sandra Bland, many people gathered in a collective peaceful protest against police brutality. The protest escalated into a sit-in and the police responded by making arrests and utilizing their new crowd-control device, the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). This device is considered a military-grade sound cannon that can be used as a megaphone to communicate to groups of people at long distances. However, during this protest, the police used the LRAD as a dispersion device, for the purposes of disrupting the crowd. However, the use of the LRAD device hasn’t been properly tested in order for the police to effectively use it without causing severe injury.
The LRAD is another tool at the police department’s disposal, which can potentially cause serious injury. In 2012, the NYC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) wrote a letter to the commissioner’s office requesting more information regarding this new device and whether it was properly tested. They received nothing in regards to department rules of how to use these military-grade sound cannons or any written policies. The NLG only received various documents describing the LRAD’s functions. In one of the documents, it shows a test that was performed by the police where they tested the decibel level of the device at different distances. At 320 ft, which is about 40 parking spaces, the device reached a little over 100 decibels. At double the aforementioned distance, the decibel level was measured to be about 80 decibels. The police documented that they did not test the levels of the device at distances lower than 320 ft because they categorized it as a “potential danger zone”.
According to the Gothamist, during the march, witnesses started to notice the police tactically attempting to separate the large mass of people into smaller groups. After the attempts by the police failed, they made a number of seemingly random arrests, which escalated the crowd’s intensity. A protestor commented, "All we want to do is commemorate the death of Eric Garner, who was killed by the NYPD, we're peaceful, we're organized, and yet they won't let us march, they're targeting our organizers. They're just keeping oppressed voices silent." The police infuriate the crowd further by using the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD); which is a military-grade sound cannon. The Police were using the LRAD to issue warnings of potential arrests. Undeterred, the protestors started to chant and eulogize the tragic deaths of Eric Garner and Sandra Bland. Accounts vary, but reportedly, about a dozen protestors locked hands while the rest of the crowd held a moment of silence. In a peaceful fashion the 12 protestors demonstrated a sit-in in the middle of 34th street and 5th Avenue. The police quickly interrupted the demonstration and arrested the participants and charged each with disorderly conduct. After the aforementioned arrests, the police kept the large crowd tightly confined to the sidewalk, by using these LRADs. The extremely powerful bursts of noise forced the crowd to go underground into the subway stations.
In a report issued by the CDC regarding the possible harmful effects of exposure to high decibel levels, they list different levels of noise and their corresponding limit of how long an individual could be exposed before they begin to experience permanent hearing damage. At 85 decibels, which is approximately equivalent to the noise of street traffic, the time limit before sustaining permanent damage was 8 hours of exposure. Every 3 decibels thereafter, the recommended time limit would decrease by exactly half. For example, at an 88 decibel level, the time limit would decrease to 4 hours of exposure. The testing of the LRAD that the police department performed was conducted at 320 ft from the nearest person. At that distance, the LRAD reached 100 decibels; which is equivalent to the noise of a tractor. Exposure to that decibel level for more than 15 minutes can result in permanent hearing damage. The police, however, neglected to test the device at ranges closer than 320 ft. As a result, these figures may be misleading. In pictures and videos of the protest, it looks as if the police are using this device at distances much closer than 320 ft. The official manufacturer’s website (LRAD Corporations) states that their LRAD device can produce continuous short bursts of high frequency noise at approximately 150 decibels at maximum power. According to the CDC report, 150 decibels is equivalent to a gunshot or a set of fireworks. When a person is exposed to such a high decibel level at close range, it can cause permanent ear damage in a matter of seconds.
Multiple protestors from last Friday’s march complained of sudden nausea, loss of balance/dizziness, and extreme resonating earaches that are worsened by even the slightest increase of sound levels. Some of the injuries that may result from extended exposure to these devices at relatively close distances include, but are not limited to the following:
- Temporary pain
- Loss of balance/dizziness
- Eardrum Rupture
- Permanent Hearing Damage
If these devices are not properly used by the police department, they may result in severe injuries. If you were exposed to an LRAD fired at close range, you may have grounds to file a police brutality lawsuit.