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Seattle council bans police use of crowd control weapons

Gene Johnson
Associated Press

Seattle — The Seattle City Council has voted unanimously to bar police from using tear gas, pepper spray and several other crowd control devices after officers repeatedly used them on mostly peaceful demonstrators protesting racism and police brutality.

The 9-0 vote Monday came amid frustration with the Seattle Police Department, which used tear gas to disperse protesters in the city’s densest neighborhood, Capitol Hill, just days after Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Carmen Best promised not to. The council heard repeated complaints from residents forced out of their homes by the gas even though they weren’t protesting; one resident said his wife doused their child’s eyes with breast milk.

Protesters have taken over several blocks near downtown Seattle after officers withdrew from a police station in the area following violent confrontations.

A federal judge on Friday issued a temporary order banning Seattle police from using tear gas, pepper spray, foam-tipped projectiles or other force against protesters, finding that the department had used less-lethal weapons “disproportionately and without provocation,” chilling free speech in the process.

Socialist Council Member Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the legislation, said the police department had demonstrated it could not be trusted with the weapons.

“Many of us have witnessed it; many of us have experienced it,” Sawant said. “They falsely claimed that the protesters were violent rioters and that they had no alternative. … They even attempted to maintain those lies in the face of videos showing the police were the source — and the sole source — of the violence.”

The council also unanimously passed a separate measure banning the use of chokeholds by police.

The police department and mayor’s office did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Seattle police have since pulled back from the neighborhood where the most recent clashes with protesters occurred, near the department’s East Precinct, ceding several city blocks to demonstrators. A festival-like atmosphere has emerged in the area, now called the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” with participants painting a Black Lives Matter mural on the street, planting a community garden and handing out free food. The situation has nevertheless drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who claimed violent people had taken over.

The measure approved by the council bans Seattle police from owning, renting, storing or using such weapons, including chemical irritants, water cannons, acoustic devices or other weapons that can cause pain or discomfort on multiple people. Council President Lorena Gonzalez said further discussion would be needed to figure out how to dispose of those weapons already in the department’s possession without transferring them to other cities that might use them.