The Seattle mayor has banned the police use of tear gas as protests continue in the city and nationally over the killing of George Floyd.
Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a news conference Friday afternoon that the ban would continue for 30 days. The move came hours after three civilian police watchdog groups urged city leaders to do so to build public trust and until the department adopts policies and training for the use of the chemical agent. Local health officials had also expressed concerns over the use of tear gas and other respiratory irritants based on the potential to increase COVID-19 spread.
“After hearing concerns about the use of CS gas for crowd control purposes earlier this week … we decided we were going to suspend its use for 30 days,” Police Chief Carmen Best said.
During that time, the Community Police Commission, the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General for Public Safety will review and update crowd control policies, including the use of pepper spray and deadly force techniques such as neck and choke holds, Best said. She and the mayor added that the ban could be extended if groups need more time for policy review.
SWAT team members who are specially trained can continue to use tear gas in the meantime in what she called “life safety” situations and only under her authority, Best said.
Protests Wednesday and Thursday were among the largest Seattle has seen in years. But authorities reported only minor problems following days of unrest in which police used tear gas and pepper spray and some people smashed windows and burned police vehicles.
Best said that rocks and bottles were thrown at officers during protests Thursday night but officers showed restraint. One officer was taken to a hospital for treatment after being hit by an object, she added.
“I think the last two days have shown that you can have very large demonstrations in two parts of the city and that they can be conducted in peace and without any confrontations with police,” Durkan said.
Earlier this week, Durkan and Best ended a city-wide curfew ahead of schedule to address concerns raised by protesters.
The Seattle area’s largest labour group also said this week it will expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild later this month unless the union admits that racism is a problem in law enforcement and agrees to address that problem in negotiating its next contract with the city.
The Martin Luther King Jr. County Labor Council passed a resolution Thursday as protests continue in Seattle and nationally over the killing of Floyd last week in Minneapolis. The resolution attributes policing problems to systemic racism. It called on the Seattle police union to acknowledge that or be thrown out of the umbrella group of more than 150 unions and 100,000 workers that wields tremendous power in greater Seattle politics.
The labour council’s resolution Thursday specifically mentioned contracts between police and the city. It said the police union must participate in an effort “dedicated to promoting safety within our community and within law enforcement by addressing racism within SPOG and ensuring that contracts do not evade legitimate accountability.”
Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan declined to comment Thursday to The Seattle Times. In tweets Thursday, the police union thanked people for increasingly peaceful protests and said officers and protesters are part of the same community “and there are people with loved ones, frustrations and hope for the future on both sides of the line.”
Early Friday, Solan posted a video on Twitter set to dramatic music that shows “Kill cops” graffiti and a statement that says Floyd’s death is in opposition to everything the guild stands for.
Later in the video, Solan is heard telling KIRO radio of an officer who broke their ankle during the protests and that “there’s a faction of anarchists who are tragically stealing the peaceful protesters’ message against police officers.”
“I am fearful that this will spin out of control,” is the last thing he says on the video. It ends with the message, “We’re with you Seattle.”
Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer pressed his knee on his neck for almost nine minutes, not lifting it after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air. That officer and three colleagues were fired and now face criminal charges in the death.