The United States military went public with their new heat ray this week. This device fires an invisible ray of hot pain at unsuspecting people with the idea that it will be used to get crowds of angry people to run away and calm down.
With the warm spring weather on its way, expect the heat ray to be used at this year's Occupy Wall Street protests. It's great for cameras, because while last year media and onlookers captured video and images of police and crowd control authorities exercising their muscle a little heavy handedly with the pepper spray, the heat ray is not seen or heard.
Now authorities can go crazy with the heat ray, blasting people with a highly-focused oven. All we'll see is a bunch of people running away and maybe screaming a little. The transparency of the heat ray does nothing to add to the transparency of policing forces.
I don't like to be the guy who sides with the mobs that in many circumstances can be out of control, like Vancouver when one of its sports teams inevitably loses the big game, but there is a problem with crowd control measures that can't be measured by the public.
There are situations when police and military need to use some degree of force to control mindless hordes of rioting people, but those actions are still open to public criticism. It's hard for the public to determine for themselves if a person in authority is abusing their power through force if what they are doing is invisible. This heat ray is like the wind; you can't see it, you can only see it's effect.
They say the heat ray is safe, and it doesn't heat you up from the inside like a microwave. Imagine the heat ray were visible though, and it was firing a red laser, like an alien from a movie, at a group of running people. I don't know what would look more comically evil than that.
I think the answer to this is pretty obvious: yes, a heat ray is awesome at controlling crowds. They were developed by the military and they blast people with heat to a point where they have no choice whether or not to flee. Their genetic desire to stay alive makes them need to run away. So that's pretty awesome when it comes to keeping unwanted crowds from assembling.
But if the question was "are heat rays a humane way to control riotous crowds?" then I'd say the answer is probably no. Blasting people with heat from a weapon that the military decided wasn't appropriate to use on civilians doesn't strike me as a great idea.
From what I've seen online, the heat ray is intended to be used on riotous prison crowds. And while I still maintain that this is a pretty special and brutal form of crowd control, blasting prisoners trying to escape seems all right. Not to say that they aren't people too, but they're people who have murdered, raped and stolen (etc.) and if my choice is between a pile of prisoners escaping and ray-gunnnig them, then I'm going to choose the latter.
But heat blasting crowds of people? Not cool. After watching so many videos of police abusing their power and shooting Occupy protesters in the face with pepper spray, I really am not keen in handing them yet another weapon to use at their discretion. Whether or not their intentions are noble, the power to control any crowd will probably prove too great for power-hungry cops looking to keep teenage protesters off their lawns.
What if there are babies in the crowd? Young children? Elderly? What if there are innocent bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time? At least firing rubber bullets or spraying mace is well controlled and fairly easily directed.
So I vote no to heat rays for crowd control. If the military doesn't think it's cool to use the ray on enemies, then it has no place being used on civilians.