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. 

NEXT: If Traffic Deaths Were Rising, Would the Los Angeles Times Be Less Alarmed?

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  1. 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."

    Wouldn't have helped much. The damage might not have been bad, but once you get that to 140-150 decibels (which is about as loud as a gunshot), damage can happen instantaneously. Prolonged exposure just makes things worse.

    1. Prolonged exposure just makes things worse.

      10 seconds exposure to the Youtube video had one dog howling and the other barking at the moon.

  2. The Thompson Harmonizer. Obscure?

    1. Obscure?

      Not here.

    2. Not obscure enough. I rushed on here to post just that comment, and you beat me to it.

    3. Good call but this one must be the "Obama Peacemaker".

    4. I thought at first you were referring to a Penfield Mood Organ. I think this device would work too.

  3. What the hell was the Mayor and the Police Chief thinking?

    Also why do they hold these meetings in large urban centers? What the hell was the G20 thinking?

    1. The mayor? The mayor, hoho your'e a kidder JayCee. If Lucy's feeling generous maybe she'll post some links detailing the adventures of our boy-mayor.

      Lucy, were you in town when the g20 went on? I was here and rode around town on my bike checking stuff out. I was even in Lawrenceville when the cops and protesters clashed; it wasn't as exciting as the news portrayed it to be. Bunch of fat cops stuffed into riot gear looking like christmas sausages. I missed the action at Pitt though.

      I wasn't protesting or anything like that; just like to be where stuff is happening.

      1. At pitt it was a bit more eventful, but in a stupid silly way. More police, fewer protestors, and lots more bystanders just wondering why an ocean of cops in riot gear had flooded schenely plaza.

        The most surreal image for me was seeing 3 PAT buses and 2 school buses filled with stormtrooper-esque cops unload in front of the carnegie art museum.

        1. Definitely a weird time. Seemed like all the security was to stop protesters rather than some kind of attack. I guess when you bring in Chicago meathead bacon they come to crack hippy skull and eat sandwiches. And we were all out of sandwiches.

          1. Rowdy Roddy Piper approves

      2. I saw the unpermitted march in Lawrenceville and both nights near Pitt, since I lived in Oakland. I was just trying to take pictures and see the action. My libertarianism was confirmed, that's for sure.

      3. I used to work at a large power plant west of the city...they hired extra security and everything. They thought that the anti-nukes and anti-fossil crowd were going to try to pull a stunt like draping a banner from our cooling towers or something. Lots of money spent, no protesters.

        1. A bunch of storefronts got smashed up on South Craig Street in Oakland, a few blocks from where the cops were playing FutureWar.

      4. I had some choice thoughts about our mayor while I was dumping $2.25 into a meter to park in a shitty spot for 90 minutes today.

      5. I wasn't protesting or anything like that; just like to be where stuff is happening.

        If you always go where stuff is happening, it's only a matter of time before the stuff happens to you.

        I don't remember what I was doing. Probably sitting on my couch on the front porch wondering when order would be restored, blissfully unaware that my right to have upholstered furniture outdoors would soon be revoked because of excitation seekers like you lighting them on fire in the street.

        1. Couches are for the inside, hippy. What else have you got out there, colorful tapestries and chicory plants? A tandem bicycle??!!

          There's really only one good reason to have a couch outside: to burn it.

          1. If I keep the couch inside, the house is going to stink after the whores come over.

            1. Febreeze, man.

              Febreeze kills whore stench, kills it dead.

              I don't know about Tulpa stench, but yeah it'll get rid of skank no problem.

              1. Well at least you're saying I'm not a whore.

    2. I half want the G20 to be held in Beijing just to see what the groupee protesters do.

  4. They weren't exactly protesting free trade. G20 is all about centrally planned trade. Not that the protesters would know the difference.

    1. Content is irrelevant.

    2. Trade? Fuck you, fascist!

      1. Yep, "unalienable rights".
        Shout nonsense all day long; I have the right to ignore you.

        1. Right to ignore me? Fuck you, fascist!

  5. I'm sure they feel that we should just shut up and be grateful that they don't actually open fire on us.

    1. Dunno about "us"; most of the trade-protesters seem to be, well, anti-trade; you know, grow your own Ipod.
      Regardless, 'unalienable rights' and all that; if spewing nonsense is denied, well......

      1. Quite right, I didn't mean to lump myself, or anyone else, in with the self-described "anarchists" (re: dorm-room revolutionaries).

        But doesn't hurt to show solidarity when resisting law-enforcement trying to supress speech.

        1. Gojira,
          Tough call. See "Skokie"; no way I'd 'show solidarity' with those asshats, but props to the ACLU.

        2. The best part is that after the Jr. Jr., oh so Jr. Battle in Seattle of Lawrenceville, the majority of cop insanity happened beside a college full of jocks milling around wondering what was going on. The most arrests happened the day after the summit was officially over.

          No solidarity required to object to what happened.

  6. C'mon it wasn't that loud. Well, not that loud for people like me who were never closer than a couple hundred yards from the thing. Didn't they announce that they were going to use it over a megaphone first? They gave people some chance to get the fuck out at least.

    It seemed like some of the protesters wanted to get beaten, cuffed, and deafened. The cops were perhaps too happy to oblige them. This lawsuit is decidedly meh.

    1. And so are you, judging from your lame-azz comments....

    2. I don't remember it being that loud, either. But the rest of your comment disappoints me.

      1. Me too. Common sense dictates not to play around with the cops playing storm trooper. But that doesn't mean it's okay to blast ear drums and smack my friends around with clubs.

        Is this the only lawsuit? Or is it just high profile because the LRAD? I know several that where either ziptie cuffed and taken downtown or simply smacked, beaten, or shoved to the asphalt. The fallout was pretty damn nonexistent.

  7. Hearing loss...bah.

    when it starts the stripping the skin from innocent gamboling goats, I'll worry.

    1. isn't there some kind of light beam version that sears any exposed flesh? It hasn't been field-tested yet, but I'm sure there's a precinct out there just aching to get their hands on one.

      1. There's a microwave version that heats up the outer layer of your skin...

        1. Mmmmmmmmmm, pork rinds!

          1. LRAD is brought to you buy Clagnar's human rinds. It's a buncha muncha cruncha human!

  8. Ignoring the weapon chosen to disperse the protesters and the content of the protest, the question is 'were the protesters violating others' rights?'
    If not, why were they dispersed?

    1. +1,345,679

      1. Isn't that "3.1417......."
        Or to which constant are you referring?

        1. Maybe he counts like an ACLU lawyer.

          1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11...

    2. They were interfering with the right of the police to bounce sound waves off of buildings.

  9. The Japanese whalers used it on us too!

    1. Not sure we have an equivalence here.

  10. Lucy! You Someone's got some 'splainin to do!!!!!


  11. Some of the shit that Warty listens to makes my ears bleed.

    1. And he lived in a certain Pennsylvania city for some time...


  12. From the Carnegie Mellon website:

    "Karen Piper's research focuses on globalization, colonial/neo-colonial discourse, and the rhetoric of "development." With a Master's degree in Environmental Studies and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, she has always pursued interdisciplinary projects focusing on the language of resource scarcity and distribution. Her first book, Cartographic Fictions: Maps, Race, and Identity (Rutgers 2001), looks at the evolution of mapping technology in the British colonies--from triangulation to GIS--as a way to gain distance and control over local populations. Her second book, Left in the Dust: How Race ad Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A. (Palgrave Macmillan 2006), examines the environmental justice issues surrounding water pollution and scarcity in Los Angeles. Currently, at Carnegie Mellon, she is working on a book about World Bank rhetoric regarding water privatization, including in India, South Africa, Bolivia, and Iraq, as well as the mass protests movements emerging around the world against the privatization, or corporate control, of water. She has also published in journals and books including Cultural Critique, the American Indian Quarterly, MELUS, and Postcolonial Literatures: Expanding the Canon. She received the Sierra Nature Writing Award, a National Endowment of the Humanities grant, and a Huntington fellowship."

    Not that she doesn't have a right to free assembly, because she does, but Zombie Jimbo feels that he may have to look elsewhere for his next meal of BRAAAAIINS.

    1. I think I might have boned her once or twice. Not bad, really.

    2. "Not that she doesn't have a right to free assembly, because she does, but Zombie Jimbo feels that he may have to look elsewhere for his next meal of BRAAAAIINS."

      The ACLU almost got some bucks from me when they defended the sleaze-bag neo-Nazis in Skokie.

      1. "She has also published in journals and books including Cultural Critique, the American Indian Quarterly, MELUS, and Postcolonial Literatures: Expanding the Canon"

        what about "social text"? now THAT's journal

    3. Environmental studies? WTF is that? Environmental engineering is a discipline, environmental studies sounds like a degree you order by mail.

      And don't get me started on comparative literature.

      1. if a major ends in the word "studies" it is almost always a bunch of crap

    4. As a former cartographer, I have to admit it! *sigh* It's ALL true! We only created maps to oppress people! It had nothing to do with helping people find their way, or describing the territory (physical, economic, and demographic components) of an area to give spatiality to its characteristics. It was all about the power!!

      1. Gotta ask:
        Cartographer = Environmental studies? Really?

        1. Huh? Did you read Zombie Jimbo's comment? Look at her first book title.

          If you're wondering about cartography, the major used to be geography. Now it's computer science, with a few geography courses.

          1. Sorry BP; sarcasm gauge needs calibration.

            1. My suggestion is to recalibrate with beer. It takes longer, and doesn't work as well, but it's more fun.

      2. Yeah, Galileo, Magellan, NASA, those guys did a pretty good job. But there's still, ya know...it never hurts to double check.

      3. After sitting in on a GIS lecture I find the oppressive nature of maps to be quite scintillating.

    5. "rhetoric regarding water privatization, including in ... Bolivia"

      She watched the last Bond movie?

    6. The only good thing about Carnegie Mellon is that the nutty liberal arts professors are mostly just of the visiting variety, not tenured.

  13. Ronnie James Dio and Twisted Sister fucked up my hearing back in '84.

    That moron who fired the main-gun of his tank on the range at Fort Dix while I was standing right next to it didn't help either.

    1. Damn. You had to sit through Twisted Sister to see Dio? I feel your pain - I once had to sit through Quiet Riot to see Iron Maiden.

      1. LOve Dio and Maiden. Don;t know why the cops didn't just crank up some Slayer. Everyone knows hippies hate Death Metal.

        Stan: So it seems like we have enough people now. When do we start taking down the corporations?
        Hippie (takes a drag on his joint): Yeah man, the corporations. Right now they're raping the world for money!
        Kyle: Yeah, so, where are they? Let's go get 'em.
        Hippie: Right now we're proving we don't need corporations. We don't need money. This can become a commune where everyone just helps each other.
        Hippie: Yeah, we'll have one guy who like, who like, makes bread. A-and one guy who like, l-looks out for other people's safety.
        Stan: You mean like a baker and a cop?
        Hippie: No no, can't you imagine a place where people live together and like, provide services for each other in exchange for their services?
        Kyle: Yeah, it's called a town


  15. quoted your humble now Associate Editor

    Hey, congratulations, Steigy! Drinks on me next time (hint hint) there's a Reason happy hour in the 'burgh!

    1. There never will be. The editors don't want to have me show up and skewer their cosmotarianism to bits.

      1. I'm guessing humor. I hope.

        1. You're better off despairing, young lad. Despair never disappoints.

          1. "You're better off despairing, young lad. Despair never disappoints."

            Oh, how..............

    2. Besides the dude I know in real life somewhere above, I refuse to believe any of you exist. Matt claims you do, but I just don't know...

      Thanks, though.

  16. This sound weapon development greatly pleases me. I shall combine it with this device, add a dash of Brown Note, and then mount it on one of these. LOL


  17. I hope they have the G20 in Beijing one of these years. It would be interesting to see what the pseudo-anarchists do to protest that one.

    1. Care to tell us why?

      1. Do you know what country Beijing is in?

        1. Can you answer the question?

          1. Yes, but I reject your authority to ask it.

    2. probably about the same as the PETA activists do when they confront bikers wearing leather

      1. "probably about the same as the PETA activists do when they confront bikers wearing leather"

        So free speech is only free when you agree with the speech?

        1. jesus christ. free speech is most in need of protection when it's offensive and you disagree: e.g. nazis in skokie

          my point was that these quasi-anarchist trust fund "protesters" only protest the easy targets . PETA does not confront bikers wearing leather


          1. Don't make dunphy put on his latex gloves, guys.

            1. yea. but some people are allergic to latex. that would be inhumane and unfeeling. if i'm going to probe you i will be sure to use the proper gloves.

            2. i wanna feel you from the inside...

          2. Don't pretend you didn't see Ad Hoc Latrine's posting on the other thread.

              1. i most definitely did. that's what made it a propos. duh

                1. Oh yeah? Well, I'm goin' out in my car for a drive after 7 beers! Come and catch me!

          3. "jesus christ. free speech is most in need of protection when it's offensive and you disagree: e.g. nazis in skokie"
            Uh, no, I *supported* the ACLU in that instance. Do you have difficulty reading?

            "my point was that these quasi-anarchist trust fund "protesters" only protest the easy targets . PETA does not confront bikers wearing leather"

            1. i never implied you didn't. my point was in response to the question made

              "So free speech is only free when you agree with the speech?"

              which implies i believe that, which is of course absurd. i have steadfastly supported free speech and support the right to burn the flag , for nazis to march, etc.

              in fact, i repeatedly criticize europe and canada for not respecting free speech and having "hate speech" laws.

  18. The protester were shitheads, moving on.

    1. And being a shithead is illegal?

      1. When the Tulpalution comes, it will be.

        1. And you're bleever as I recall. Good luck when bleef in sky-daddy is illegal.

          1. I only worship Peanut Butter.

            1. And you dick questions with 'clever' comments.

              1. Jif forgive you, heathen.

                1. I think he meant 'duck' questions, but RC'z Law!!!1!

                  1. It still looms, doesn't it?

      2. I, for one, exercise my right to be a shithead every day.

        I guess that's what it's about and it took me a long time to realize it. Nobody has the right to attack me for expressing my shithead views, even if I'm standing in front of an unholy legion of pigs.

  19. Yeah, use of sound weapons to disperse violent crowds, I really don't see the lawsuit in that.

    What I was hoping to see a lawsuit over was the tossing of this guy's apartment and taking all his stuff as "evidence" of his breaking an anti-rioting law using twitter.

    1. His stuff? What are you, some kind of capitalist pigdog?

    2. Yeah, all those fucking Pitt students standing around looking at the interesting spectacle of hundreds of riot cops on their campus. They were asking for it.

  20. The US Supreme Court has DENIED the Troy Davis appeal

    1. I'm not surprised.

      1. Better to kill 100 innocent man than let 1 guilty man go free

        1. You callin' me a square?

        2. You're doing it wrong. It's "better to kill an innocent man than let him go free."

        3. Or, the more wordy version:

          Better to kill an innocent man than to put him in jail, and better to put an innocent man in jail than let him go free.

          1. It does help the unemployment rate.

  21. Wait... couldn't protesters just start bringing ear plugs or muffs? Herp derp. Authority denied.

    1. Top flight muffs and plugs are going to decrease the decibel level by no more than 35-40. A hundred decibels is still a chore to deal with if sustained.

  22. Ok, this is stupid.
    It sounds like a freaking car alarm. Annoying, but if your hearing is damaged by this sort of thing, you should be sueing GM and anyone else who makes cars with alarms.

    Honestly this device is a massive civil rights IMPROVEMENT. We should be encouraging law enforcement to use annoying noises rather than rubber bullets and tear gas.

    1. Problem is, it won't be used to merely replace the old riot control methods, it will also be used in situations where tear gas or rubber bullets are prohibited.

      Remember when tasers were supposed to merely be a non-lethal substitute for shooting people?

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