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Albany Common Council Goes Back To The Drawing Board With Tear Gas Ban

The Albany Common Council meeting virtually, April 19, 2021.
Zoom Screenshot
The Albany Common Council meeting virtually, April 19, 2021.

The Albany Common Council has put a law that would ban police from using tear gas and rubber bullets on hold.

Common Councilors backed away from a vote Monday night on Local Law C, agreeing it needs more discussion and unspecified "modifications."

Ninth Ward Common Councilor Judy Doesschate originally introduced the measure. A show of hands sealed its fate, for now.

"It's an exercise in futility if I put it up for a vote, and then there's a motion to table, which would be in order, and um, so, two-thirds, eight people who would vote that way, I'm not gonna take us through that exercise."

Fifteenth Ward Councilor Tom Hoey says there's a lot of work to be done on the measure, including further discussion about a controversial proposed amendment that would allow police to use tear gas in a situation determined to be a riot.

"What we feel is that the city needs to develop better de-escalation techniques. And that's what's being said, we should have more soft police out in the crowd, working with the crowd, talking to them, listening to them, and trying to de-escalate. And that's the key word that once you bring out this equipment, the gas, the armored vehicles, which were brought out, now you're escalating it and people are feel threatened, and they're going to react in that way. So we don't have water cannons. And that's something I hope we don't, I did talk to some people about it and just try to get background on it. It's not a pleasant situation. Use of dogs is not a good situation. We gotta defend people's first amendment rights.”

Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a second-term Democrat, said Friday she supports restricted use of tear gas and rubber bullets, but doesn’t back an outright ban.

City resident Galen Heins weighed in during public comments.

"I think the broader question we should be asking is are we at war with our community? I think everyone here agrees that the use of tear gas is reprehensible. It attacks innocent people as it drifts through the city. It collectively punishes crowds that are always overwhelmingly peaceful."

Hoey says it's important to know what the people of Albany want.

"People need to get out and voice what they feel. You know, one of the ideas, I was talking to one of the council members last night, when this be great if we could do a referendum on it. Let the city decide how they want to, if they want to allow tear gas or not. We're just, you know, we represent an area, but do we have the full input? People are so occupied with COVID and with other things, trying to make a living, you know, during this this crisis time, this might be the type of thing that we should have on the ballot. Do you approve of tear gas or not? So that's something during the next upcoming meetings, I will bring up."

Sixth Ward Common Councilor Richard Conti says implementing a referendum would require an amendment to the city charter. Councilors say Local Law C needs more comprehensive study and discussion.

The virtual meeting garnered more than 1,300 viewer comments on Facebook. It comes amid a new round of protests against Albany Police that have stretched for days outside South Station. Tear gas was used for the first time in decades to break up demonstrations last summer.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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