War on Drugs

Use of Sound Weapon Provokes Lawsuit Two Years After Pittsburgh G20


Just a week shy of the two year anniversary of the Pittsburgh-hosted G-20 summit that included the inaugural use of the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) sound weapon on Americans comes a federal lawsuit about its alleged harm.

The Associated Press (AP) reports:

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Karen Piper, then a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who contends she was a bystander when protests occurred in the city on Sept. 24, 2009. Piper's hearing was damaged by the speaker, called a Long Range Acoustic Device, which the suit said "emits harmful, pain-inducing sounds over long distances."

The device is described in some detail:

The device concentrates voice commands and a piercing, car alarm-like sound in a 30- or 60-degree cone that can be heard nearly two miles away. The volume measures 140-150 decibels three feet away—louder than a jet engine—but dissipates with distance…Among other things, the device has been used by cargo ships to deter pirates and those who may wrongfully approach U.S. war ships.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fills in more details about the suit:

The complaint said that the city violated Ms. Piper's rights to free speech and assembly by using the LRAD on her and other protesters. It also said the city was negligent by using "piercing, continuous, high-pitched sound . . . rather than short, intermittent blasts for a few seconds at a time that would have minimized the risk of bodily harm." 

Back in 2009, then Senior Editor Radley Balko quoted your humble now Associate Editor in his piece on the summit. Much more importantly, Balko did a fantastic job pointing out that yes, most of these protesters are not libertarian allies, but he concluded: 

These are precisely the kinds of events where free speech and the freedom to protest is in most need of protection. Instead, the more high-profile the event, the more influential the players, and the more high-stakes the decision being made, the more determined police and political officials seem to be in making sure dissent is kept as far away from the decision makers as possible. Or silenced entirely.

Here's what the LRAD sounded like during its debut, by the way, probably at least a few hours before it messed up Piper's hearing. Here's a closer, more painful video.

It was apparantly also used earlier this year on a rowdy college block party.