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Seattle City Council responds to protest violence with restrictions on police use of tear gas, chokeholds, and badge coverings

Responding to the violence from three weeks of protest, the Seattle City Council voted Monday to ban the Seattle Police Department from using crowd control devices including chemical agents, dangerous chokeholds, and mourning badges that cover an officer’s badge number.

The three measures, two of which were sponsored by council member Kshama Sawant representing Capitol Hill and the Central District, passed the council unanimously. The legislative changes join a roster of progress for the protests against police violence — though many of the larger goals around equity and Black Lives Matter have yet to be achieved.

Within the legislative victories, one prohibits the SPD from owning, purchasing, renting, or using crowd control weapons, such as tear gas and pepper spray. Such devices have been used several times in the past few weeks in Seattle to break up protests of police brutality.

“Here in Seattle and around the country, demonstrators have been grievously injured by these weapons,” Sawant said. “The police and the political establishment simply cannot be trusted with them.”

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Facing criticism after using such weapons several times against protesters, Mayor Jenny Durkan banned the use of tear gas for 30 days against protesters. But within days, plumes of gas filled Capitol Hill as tensions once again escalated over the weekend between law enforcement and demonstrators.

Earlier that week, Durkan refused to promise a crowd of protesters that SPD would not use tear gas against them. The chemical agent was deployed against demonstrators that night.

Monday afternoon’s meeting featured over an hour of public comment as more than 100 residents signed up to give input on the legislation, with the vast majority in favor of Sawant’s measures and standing against Herbold’s amendment.

“I’m one of the people who was out there with those guys and we got hit so many times in a matter of minutes with so many flash bangs and so much tear gas and so much pepper spray, like you would have thought we were in Iraq,” protester Tealshawn Turner said Monday.

Council President Lorena González noted that the bill doesn’t require SPD to dispose of the crowd control weapons it currently possesses, so the council will need to have a “conversation” about how to handle that.

Council member Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s Public Safety & Human Services Committee, originally offered an amendment that would have allowed SPD to continue to use such crowd control weapons if they were used for reasons other than crowd dispersal. But she withdrew this section of the amendment and voted in favor of the legislation after Sawant called this clause “racist.”

Another piece of legislation banned SPD officers from using chokeholds without exception. The Seattle Police Manual currently prohibits such tactics “except when deadly force is justified.” An analysis from council staff argues that prohibiting chokeholds could lead to a reliance on other forms of deadly force, such as shooting a firearm or striking a person with another weapon.

The analysis also notes that when the current policy was implemented, the SPD told the Community Police Commission that chokeholds were not being routinely used.

“This legislation is absolutely the least the Seattle City Council can do,” Sawant said.

Sawant noted that the ban would impact the types of force used in the deaths of Eric Garner, George Floyd, and Manuel Ellis. Following the police killing of Floyd, the Minneapolis City Council similarly voted to ban police officers from using chokeholds or neck restraints.

Mourning badges that cover officers’ badge numbers with a band of tape have also been a sticking point for protesters who see them as a way of avoiding accountability. After days of intense criticism from demonstrators of police brutality, SPD Chief Carmen Best announced on June 4 that all officers would have their badge numbers “prominently displayed.”

The council reinforced this order Monday by banning coverings used by officers that cover their badge numbers.

This legislation, sponsored by Herbold, still allows officers to use mourning badges to honor officers killed in the line of duty as long as they don’t block the badge number.

The quickly-passed measure will go into effect immediately following Durkan’s approval.

While Sawant lauded the progress of these three bills, she also noted that this is only the beginning of the movement to overhaul the city’s police force.

“All of this is extremely important and it’s historic, but it’s also minimal,” Sawant said, “so we need to go forward in making the real kind of change that we need to do to defund the police by 50%, to raise progressive revenues by taxing big business to fund housing, and most immediately we need to make sure that those who have been arrested in the protest movement — the peaceful protest movement — should be released and no charges filed against them.”

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33 thoughts on “Seattle City Council responds to protest violence with restrictions on police use of tear gas, chokeholds, and badge coverings” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. This is a start.

    But here’s the thing: the real demands haven’t been met and Best/Durkan are bound and determined not to allow what really needs to be done.

    That is, massive defunding of the SPD.

    Unless you’re talking about slashing–and I mean f&^king slashing–the police budget in this city, we aren’t really getting anywhere.

    And all the goodwill gestures, like Best going to some church service on Sunday, are just PR stunts.

    The SPD budget needs to be slashed. By a lot.

    Like 50% slashed.

    Like, “Oh, the city needs. money for X? Well, let’s just take that away from the SPD budget.”

    Because it’s bloated beyond belief.

    The protests happening all over have exposed many things, but one of the BIG things they’ve exposed is how police around the country have turned themselves into little miniature armies, and how they’ve EATEN CITY BUDGETS ALIVE.

    The way to stop the militarization is through a forcible dismantling and restructuring, but the way you pare back the budgets is by MASSIVELY CUTTING THE BUDGETS of these orgs.

    The only things I want to hear from Durkan/Best are:

    1.) How are you preparing for the 50% cut in funding that will commence immediately, not in FY2025 or whenever you think you can push it off to.

    2.) What is the timeline for de-militarization and the removal of all the military-grade toys the SPD has that they never should have had to begin with. In other words, when are your toys being taken away? The answer should be, “immediately.”

    3.) What are your plans for restructuring the department and identification and firing of the many bad officers who’ve been very, very bad but protected by the police union? When will these employees be fired?

    These are the only things I want to hear from these two. But, instead, we get empty gestures and PR.

    I mean, Durkan isn’t even monitoring her Twitter, and is largely unavailable to city residents…which is, of course, by design.

    When are these demands going to be answered?

    My sneaking suspicion is: “never.”

    • I’m confused. I thought we liked strong unions that protected employees and gave them a strong voice in management and administration of their organization. Isnt that what the police union does? How can we not like unions? I am confused.

      • Is this a bad faith argument from a troll thinking he’s made a “gotcha” argument and “owned the libs”?

        It is!

        Go away. You are not arguing in good faith (as trollish right-wingers never do)

        Oh, and I used “he” specifically. Why are these trollish a-holes always men?

      • Well PD, they have a strong union, able to extract concessions from management to their benefit. The union is doing what it is supposed to do, representing memberships and protecting them from undue hardship. Whether you agree with what they want to acheive or not, you have to admit that many who want to dispempower the union here are the same ones who beat the drum for strong unions. Those aims are in conflict, and it is ironic. And that includes the Council, which seems so pro-union until they have to negotiate with an adverse one. Turns out, that is difficult and sometimes impedes management’s goals.

    • I would encourage you to go back and listen to the first deep dive into the police budget last week or read a few of the articles that discussed the findings. The council is going to demilitarize the police and remove the “toys” as you say but that is literally a rounding error in the budget. Approximately 90% of the budget is personnel costs so to meaningfully reduce the budget you are reducing the number of police on the force. You can argue that is a worthwhile goal and those positions should be replaced with social workers or some sort of community outreach but you would still need time to set up that program, hire and train people so immediately cutting 50% of the people who are available today to respond to these issues is reckless and irresponsible. The first step to solving a problem is don’t make it worse.

      • It’s not reckless and irresponsible.

        And, no, with 1/2 the number of officers Seattle won’t descend into anarchy, don’t even think about making that straw man argument.

        And to head off the “I’ll make that argument anyway” response: you’re wrong, sit down. Did I mention you’re wrong?

        And, yes, I definitely want to see steep, deep cuts in the SPD.

      • Wow, I guess I stand corrected. Of course we can get rid of 50% of the first responders in the city without consequence. What was I thinking? I never said Seattle would descend into anarchy (that’s your straw man) but simple math would tell you if you remove resources without an adequate replacement calls will go unanswered or services will be cut and it most likely be the neediest among us who pay the price.

    • I’ve always wondered where the 50% idea came from? Were exhaustive studies done to determine that if we take precisely half of the current budget away from law enforcement, and distribute it to specific social services, we will more equally improve the lives of our citizens while still providing safety and security for everyone? Or does it just sound big and dramatic? How about 25%? or 75%? I love the idea of a smarter allocation of resources and of having someone besides a cop responding to every call. But when firearms are potentially at play in every situation, it seems pretty dangerous to just send a counselor. I think this is a much more complicated matter than just cutting a budget and feeling good about it.

      • Okay, so it’s a proxy. What’s substantial? Unfortunately, when making demands like this, they sound irresponsible unless they are grounded in “why this amount” and “what we will do instead.” To sell this idea to a big majority of people, I believe it needs to sound more like there’s a plan. It’s easy to say that we can easily do with half the number of police, but I’d feel better about that if there was some proof that this was true.

      • If you’d like to look into the over-funding over policing in America over the last 30+ years, just google.

        Spoiler: it’s nuts how these under-educated, under-trained officers have been overpayed and over-resourced.

      • I did Google “over-funding” of police. Now most of the hits of course relate to defunding police. When you are against something, it’s easy to say that it’s “over funded.” Perhaps it is. But many also claim that Healthcare in our country is over funded. That we should get better outcomes with what we spend. I agree with this, because all spending should be connected to outcomes. We obviously need better, more equitable outcomes with our investments in public safety. I think you’d win more arguments to your point if you’d focus more on what you’d do to achieve that than simply take away money from the police budget. (Trashing their education level and painting them all with the same brush doesn’t help your argument in my eyes, either. Making a generalized statement about a group of people is sort of what we’re all upset about, right?)

      • Why use a proxy when you can pick a target? Is the concern about the total number of officers, their total drain on city coffers or both? Oslo Norway, the capital of a perhaps the most successful social democracy on earth, has a per capita police force only 15% smaller than our own. If you look at the numbers, there isn’t a strong correlation between a country’s police count, economy, civil liberties and so forth. I see demilitarization as a necessary step, along with a host of new training and emphasis, but I don’t think that adds up to 50% less cops or 50% less budget. It would be great to see some actual proposals with real numbers, but that’s another topic…

      • PD better hope that he (she) is never the victim of a serious crime. If so, he will be “up a creek without a paddle.”

        About 80% of the police budget goes to salaries. Seattle already has a low number of police officers per capita compared to similar cities. If a 50% cut happens, that will mean even fewer officers.

    • This bears more than a striking resemblance to a tactic that is commonly deployed by those on the right – starve the beast. I get the appeal – forcing change using political persuasion to drive policy change is hard work. It is much easier (and quicker!) to go after the budget of the thing you want less of. A blunt tool, very much in the tradition of the great political strategist Tim Eyman.

  2. Inspiring to see ideas from from the 1960’s passed in my lifetime. Maybe children being born today will have some meaningful regulations passed when their kids are in their 40’s.

  3. Chokeholds are allowed in U.S. Judo competions starting at the age of 13. In Canada, it starts at 8 years of age.

    No fatalities as a result of choking techniques have been reported in the sport of judo since its inception in 1882. The police just need more practice & training.

  4. We can achieve two goals at once : reduce spd budget by 50% and reduce rent. Simple, give us the money back on our property tax bills. Thx Seattle !

    • This is the interesting thing that I think will REALLY spur change.

      Who do you think it paying these cops ridiculous salaries given their education levels, and is paying for all the military-grade toys?

      Who do you think is paying for these cops to be a little miniaturized army that is fully equipped as such?

      Well, it’s Seattle taxpayers, the VERY SAME people that the SPD treats as “the enemy” and whose streets (that we live on!) the SPD sees as its “battlefield”.

      This. Is. Nuts.

      And I think Seattle taxpayers are finally waking up to this.

      • The nuts part is that the city council seem to forget they are playing with our tax money. Oh, let’s take another $100m and spend it on blah. Times are hard and we need the money back.

  5. Is there a link or list of everything they did ban? I’ve seen a little here and a little there, but I would like to see the whole list. Thanks.

    • From SCC Insight

      The third bill, and likely the most controversial, would ban SPD from owning, purchasing, renting, storing, or using “crowd control weapons.” It defines “crowd control weapons” as:

      kinetic impact projectiles, chemical irritants, acoustic weapons, directed energy weapons, water cannons, disorientation devices, ultrasonic cannons, or any other device that is designed to be used on multiple individuals for crowd control and has the potential to cause pain or discomfort.

  6. I support the SPD and Police everywhere. Sure, they make mistakes sometimes just like everyone else. But the VAST MAJORITY of them are good people who have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

    The outlandish claims by folks on message boards are great because they help to solidify the views of normal people across this country who will not stand for this type of nonsense (e.g. cut the police budget by half! (based on what analysis – hint, doesn’t exist), police are uneducated idiots and beat their wives! (hyperbole gets you nowhere), police hunt black people to kill them (the data just doesn’t back that up), etc.).

    The US as a whole is never going to cave to these kinds of childish demands. Soon enough the chaz clowns will go back to their “normal” lives and we can all move on. At least those of us who don’t own a biz in the pike/pine corridor… hope some of them are able to make it through after the excessive COVID restrictions and now chaz. And maybe Seattle will cave more than most cities, which is fine. Let’s see.

  7. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think you can slash the Seattle PD by 50% – most of the budget goes to salaries and Seattle *already* has a very small police department.

    Seattle 9 officers/sq mile
    549 citizens/ officer

    Camden (a supposedly “defunded” police force)
    36 officers/sq mile
    192 citizens/ officer

    LA – 20 officers /sq mile
    404 citizens / officer

    Boston – 24 officers/sq mile
    388 citizens/ officer

    Philadelphia 45 officers/sq mile
    234 citizens/ officer

    Chicago 50 officers/sq mile
    278 citizens/ officer

    Detroit 15 officers/sq mile
    324 citizens/officer

    How about international – these were two I could find that are organized similarly (city forces, rather than national or provincial, which don’t make for good comparisons)

    Vancouver BC 20 officers/sq mile
    455 citizens/officer

    London 53 officers/sq mile
    279 citizens/officer (and this does not include the 3,300+ volunteer officers that work at least 2 days/month…)

    If anything Seattle PD needs *more* – they need mental health teams to help people before they are in such severe crisis that they become dangerous to themselves or others, they need addiction specialists that can get people into programs – and these people need the authority to mandate treatments – not simply offer it, only to have people walk away or opt out. They need social workers to help people get out of abusive situations before it becomes an emergency. They need community outreach to foster real communication and trust between the department and the people they serve. And yes – I think that this should all be under the auspices of the PD – because it is all related and these people should be colleagues – officers should know that there are always people available that they can call on when there is a situation better handled by non-enforcement professional – and those professionals should know that if they do lose control of a situation, that there is someone there to help them too.

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