In 2020, federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) descended on Portland escalating police violence against people demanding an end to racist police violence. DHS agents used unprecedented amounts of teargas, pepper spray, and other chemical munitions on the crowds. Thousands of Portland residents were exposed to harmful chemicals known to cause cancer, organ damage, and lung injuries. This all while a respiratory pandemic threatened the globe.
A broad coalition of organizations—Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Cascadia Wildlands, Willamette Riverkeeper, 350PDX, Neighbors for Clean Air, and ACLU of Oregon—filed a lawsuit against DHS, calling out its failure to consider the potentially severe human and environmental health impacts of its violent operation in Portland. This despite the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requiring that hard look.
After a federal judge in Oregon dismissed the case on shaky grounds, the coalition appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In part, the government argued that it was too late for a court to get involved because the operation had ended in Portland and doing an environmental review after the fact would do no good. On January 20, 2023, the Ninth Circuit agreed with the government that there was no longer a role for the courts to remedy our members’ injuries.
Respectfully, we dissent. Our coalition is committed to continuing to advocate for an end to the domestic use of tear gas. Measuring the impacts of tear gas on people and our environments is not only possible, but it is required by federal law. We stand ready to hold the government accountable to us the next time.