Tear Gas Ban Opposed By Mayor Before Albany Common Council Tonight
The Albany Common Council is expected to vote tonight on the use of tear gas by city police. It comes amid days of protest in the city.
Local Law C banning the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on civilians was proposed by 9th Ward Common Councilor Judy Doesschate.
"This legislation came about as a result of the use of tear gas last summer, for the first time in 32 years, in the city of Albany. It wasn't used once, but it was used twice. I heard about a number of issues with regard to the use of the tear gas, where people didn't know that it was going to be happening. And it was being used predominantly on people of color, in a neighborhood occupied predominantly by people of color. On people who were protesting police treatment of people of color. People who were advocating for significant police reform, not more abuse. "
Doesschate is referring to demonstrations in 2020 when tear gas was deployed during civil unrest that broke out in Albany’s South End stemming from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody.
Approved in March by the Public Safety Committee, Local Law C allows the use of tear gas and rubber bullets in a hostage situation. A proposed amendment would allow police to use tear gas in a situation determined to be a riot. Last Wednesday when protestors gathered outside Albany's South Station, Police Chief Eric Hawkins described the gathering:
"It was a riot."
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, appearing with Hawkins Friday afternoon, compared the South Station skirmish to the U.S. Capitol siege, a statement she apologized for a day later.
Alice Green is the Executive Director of The Center for Law and Justice.
"If they thought that was or they determined that was a riot, then it raises some concerns about how will someone determine what a riot is. And we've taken the concern and asked the rest of the community when we see young people getting together, and if there are 11 of them, and you know that there's loud talking whatever, fooling around, is that a riot? The community does not want the police department to use tear gas because it poses a number of problems for their health."
A complete ban on tear gas will create a situation where should City Hall be attacked by armed insurrectionists, similar to what we saw at the US Capitol on January 6, the Albany Police Department will face the choice of doing nothing or using lethal force. ~ Statement Issued By Albany City Hall on Friday evening.
On Friday, City Hall also issued a statement, which says in part, "While our research has failed to find a single City or State in the country has adopted the restrictions contemplated in the legislation currently being considered by the Council, we strongly support legislation that would restrict and control the use of tear gas and other non-lethal force including:
- Restricting use to when a riot is declared, as defined by New York State law
- Requiring a Police Chief or Deputy Chief to order its use
- Requiring two notifications to the public in the immediate vicinity tear gas is about to be used"
"Those sorts of less lethal options are absolutely necessary. They should be used under extremely narrow circumstances. But there should be strict training as it pertains to de-escalation. And we saw that with this, this was pepper spray, it wasn't tear gas, but it was pepper spray was a less lethal form of force. And when the threat subsided, then the appropriate decision to de-escalate was made."
Mayor Sheehan said Friday she supports restricted use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
"So I applaud the Common Council's desire to address the use of non-lethal force tear gas, rubber bullets, there has been a lot of concern about the use of those non -lethal methods. And I believe that we have to ensure that our community trusts the APD, and that APD is not using tear gas in, you know, not in situations indiscriminately."
Sheehan, a Democrat running for a third term, is expected to veto Local Law C if it includes an outright tear gas ban, quoting from Friday's written statement:
"A complete ban on tear gas will create a situation where should City Hall be attacked by armed insurrectionists, similar to what we saw at the US Capitol on January 6, the Albany Police Department will face the choice of doing nothing or using lethal force."
Doesschate says her measure will help heal any police-community rift.
"Taking this action and showing a true commitment to real police reform is likely to reduce the number of demonstrations. I'm hoping that the police and the administration will be continuing to engage members of the public and continuing to work to implement the recommendations that are contained in the Police Collaborative Report. And I think that if that happens, and people feel that is happening in earnest, that it will significantly de-escalate the situation. And I think put not only the community on better footing, but also an entire police department on better footing."
The Common Council meets at 7 p.m.