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Police Chief Timoney, Meet Bahraini Mothers

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14-year-old Ali Jawad died when a tear gas canister fired at close range smashed his face.

John Timoney is the controversial former Miami police chief well known for orchestrating brutal crackdowns on protests in Miami and Philadelphia- instances with rampant police abuse, violence, and blatant disregard for freedom of expression. It should be of great concern that the Kingdom of Bahrain has brought Timoney and John Yates, former assistant commissioner of Britain's Metropolitan Police, to "reform" Bahrain's security forces.

Since assuming his new position, Timoney has claimed that Bahrain has been reforming it brutal police tactics in response to recommendations issued by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. He says that there is less tear gas being used and that while tear gas might be "distasteful," it's not really harmful.

I have no idea what country Chief Timoney is talking about, because it's certainly not the Bahrain I saw this past week, a week that marked the one-year anniversary since the February 14, 2011 uprising.

I was in Bahrain for five days before being deported for joining a peaceful women's march. During my stay, I accompanied local human rights activists to the villages where protests were raging and police cracking down. Every day, I inhaled a potent dose of tear gas, and came close to being hit in the head with tear gas canisters. Every evening I saw the fireworks and smelled the noxious fumes as hundreds of tear gas canisters were lobbed into the village of Bani Jamrah, next door to where I was staying. The villagers would get on their roofs yelling "Down, Down Hamad" (referring to the King). In exchange, as a form of collective punishment, the whole village would be doused in tear gas. I went to bed coughing, eyes burning, wondering how in the world the Bahrainis can stand this.

Tear gas is supposed to be used to disperse violent gatherings that pose a threat to law and order. It is not supposed to be used on unarmed protesters who are simply exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly.

"Shamefully, Bahrain has the highest tear gas use, per capita, in the world," said human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. "And the police don't just shoot outside to disperse crowds. They use the tear gas canisters as weapons, shooting them directly at people. And they shoot the gas right into people's houses. If Mr. Timoney thinks the use of tear gas here is "moderate,' he has obviously not spent many evenings in Bahraini villages."

Timoney also told reporters that there is no evidence that tear gas has killed anyone. He should meet Zahra Ali, the mother of Yassin Jassim Al Asfoor.

On November 19, 2011, riot police--running around the village of Ma'ameer searching for a few people chanting anti-government slogans--fired three tear gas canisters directly into her home.

Everyone in the family started choking, especially 13-year-old Yassin , who suffered from asthma. Yassin could barely breathe. Panicking, his parents called an ambulance. "I'm dying from the tear gas, I'm dying," Yassin cried on the way to the hospital. He struggled desperately to survive for the next 29 days before his lungs simply collapsed.

Zahra lovingly showed me photos of Yassin donning a party hat, celebrating his 14th birthday in the hospital a few days before he died. "All the doctors and nurses loved him--Sunni, Shia, everyone. They even came here for his funeral," she said proudly.

I asked Zafra if she had a message about the tear gas for Police Chief Timoney. "Just ask him if he has ever lost a child," she whispered.

Timoney should also meet the parents of 14-year-old Ali Jawad al-Sheik. He did not die from inhalation. No. He was killed on August 31, 2011, when the police fired tear gas at protesters from roughly 20 feet away. A canister broke open the young boy's face. To his parent's furor, the autopsy said the cause of death was "unknown."

The same thing happened exactly four months later to 15-year-old Sayyed Hashem Saeed. The police then used tear gas to disperse mourners at Sayyed's funeral.

Faisal Abdali, a businessman who lives at the entrance of Sitra, would also love to speak to the police chief. He is hopping mad and wants some justice and accountability.

For months now, as the police enter the village of Sitra, they have been tossing tear gas directly into his house. Every time he lodged a complaint, the house would be targeted even worse the next day.

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Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. 

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