There is now an ordinance being considered at the Allegheny County level that would ban the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other chemical attacks for use by police in crowd control. Tear gas is actually banned for use during war by international law, and yet somehow police are allowed to use it domestically? It’s literally a chemical attack on our neighbors and should not be tolerated. I support this ordinance at the county level, and would introduce a similar statewide ban on chemical attacks by police if I were a current state representative.
To support this ordinance on the record, I submitted the following comment to the Allegheny County Council via email on 6/8; I hope it will be read into the public record, but either way, I am making my position known. I also specifically call on my county council representative Tom Baker to support this ordinance.
I am writing to submit a public comment for the county council in favor of a ban on tear gas and other chemical, explosive, or kinetic weapons for purposes of crowd control (ordinance 11516-20).
Tear gas was created for use in World War 1 and then marketed as “less lethal” after the war in order to keep profits up. It is literally a chemical weapon of war. As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in November 2018: “The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention banned the use of tear gas in war, but many countries, including the U.S., still deploy it against domestic uprisings and unrest.”
Our Constitutional right to free speech and assembly is not guaranteed if police can indiscriminately use banned chemical weapons of war against assembled citizens. But even the other “less lethal” methods such as so-called “rubber bullets” are not as “safe” as implied by the name. “Less lethal” methods still can result in serious, permanent injuries and even death, as we’ve tragically seen in cases across the country over the last few weeks. I strongly support a ban to prevent any more injuries and deaths, and to protect our rights to speech and assembly.
I would like to make two comments on the draft as introduced. First, use of banned chemical weapons against assembled citizens should be considered a higher crime than a summary offense, and I hope council will remedy that before final adoption. Second, the current draft is also lacking a proposed minimum sentencing which I hope will also be remedied.
I believe the council should consider how to best support the Constitutional right to free speech and assembly, and promote de-escalation and non-violent solutions. In particular, when the people march and protest, officials should listen and try to resolve their complaints – not meet them with violence. How many county councilmembers and officials went out into the street to talk with protest members? Do county officials understand the anger at the lack of accountability in especially municipal police forces? Do county officials understand how betrayed the people feel when their peaceful protests were violently attacked by police last week? I hope real grievances of the protesters against police brutality and systemic racism will be discussed and addressed in this and future council hearings. Fear-mongering about the ability to do crowd control is unacceptable when the violence has largely come from the police response, not protests.
Garret Wassermann Coraopolis, 15108
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