Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Carmen Best announced Friday a temporary “at least 30-day” suspension of the use of the gas by police in Seattle as part of what they say will be a larger review of the department’s crowd control tactics including pepper spray, flash bangs, and use of force policing including chokeholds.
For now, only tear gas will be banned. Durkan said Friday the city’s police “do not need to be using tear gas as part of a crowd management tool.”
SWAT teams will still be allowed to use the gas during standoffs and when authorized, Best said.
Seattle’s police oversight agencies the Community Police Commission, Office of Police Accountability, and Office of Inspector General Friday morning made a joint recommendation calling on SPD to stop using the gas:
SPD has no department-wide policies on the use of tear gas. Police officers should not be deploying use of force tools for which they do not have policies and training. That is not how our system of police accountability works, nor should it.
Tear gas is a serious and indiscriminate use of force. Indeed, the Chemical Weapons Convention has explicitly banned the use of tear gas. Furthermore, infectious disease experts have warned police departments around the country against using tear gas, which causes people to cough and can make the body more susceptible to infection, only helping to spread the coronavirus during this pandemic.
As Dr. Jeffrey Duchin of Public Health of Seattle and King County said in a tweet last night, “Seattle & King Co opposes the use of tear gas and other respiratory irritants based on the potential to increase COVID-19 spread.”
“To be clear, as SPD’s response to protesters over the past week has shown, this is not the only reform necessary to protect people engaging in constitutionally protected activity,” a statement on the recommendation reads. “However, SPD must take this immediate step to rectify the problematic use of tear gas.”
The mayor and Best said Friday afternoon that the bodies overseeing the department will be part of a review of SPD’s crowd control policies shaped in 2017 under federal consent decree oversight. While it will also include evaluating the use of pepper spray, flash bangs, and “deadly force” actions like chokeholds, none of those are part of the tear gas directive.
Best’s statement on the suspension might mark a double-edged sword for protesters. Best said Friday the use of tear gas by SPD was a rarity not seen since the WTO riots and a response to the department running low on pepper spray and flash bangs. “We have our resources back in place and that authorization has been restored,” she said.
Residents near the East Precinct are also working to organize a response to the use of tear gas in the mixed-use neighborhood as the chemical agent seeped into businesses and apartment buildings in the area.
The pull-back on tear gas can be added to a roster of advances won by demonstrators and activist groups as protests continue. Wednesday, leaders including activist and lawyer Nikkita Oliver began talks with Mayor Durkan on efforts to reform policing in Seattle and “#defundSPD” demands to radically reduce the police department’s budget, increase spending on social programs, and pledge to drop charges against the 90+ people arrested so far during the demonstrations Durkan and Chief Best agreed to drop the city’s nightly curfew after criticism that it inhibited fair and legal protest and he City Attorney announced Seattle’s bid to end or reduce the federal consent decree oversight of its police force in place for years after findings of biased policing would also be put on ice
Thursday, there was more progress as Durkan announced she had asked officials to review Seattle Police crowd control policy in light of what she called “the pink umbrella incident” — the moment Monday night that set off a riot on Capitol Hill when police reacted to a pink umbrella thrust over the barrier outside the East Precinct at 11th and Pine with a barrage of pepper spray and blast grenades that led to a night filled with clouds of tear gas throughout Pike/Pine and a major clash with protesters.
After nights of complaints about officers covering their badge numbers, Chief Best also announced a new policy covering so-called “mourning bands” used by police to express respect for fallen officers. The new guidelines require all officers to “have their badge numbers prominently displayed.”
Friday’s protests and actions have begun with a focus on the Central District at 23rd and Jackson:
$5/MONTH? SUBSCRIBE AND SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS: Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment.