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Albany Common Council Tables Tear Gas, Rubber Bullet Ban

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A local law banning the use of tear gas and rubber bullets in the city of Albany is off for now.Common Councilors had backed away from a vote in mid-April on Local Law C, agreeing it needed more discussion and unspecified "modifications."

The measure was discussed and debated during Monday night's virtual council meeting. Some two hours in, 3rd Ward Councilwoman Joyce Love made a motion.

"I'm asking to table this resolution."

And Local Law C was tabled, by a vote of 9 to 6.

Approved in March by the Public Safety Committee, the law proposed by 9th Ward Common Councilor Judy Doesschate would have allowed the use of tear gas and rubber bullets in a hostage situation. A proposed amendment would have allowed police to use tear gas in a situation determined to be a riot. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a Democrat running for a third term, and Police Chief Eric Hawkins had opposed an outright tear gas ban.

Residents and activists spoke out during public comments. Alice Green, executive director of the Center For Law and Justice in Albany, said tear gas causes immediate and long lasting harm and has actually been banned as a weapon of war. Green pointed out that the mayor's office and the police chief have repeatedly stated how stressed the Albany Police Department is due to understaffing.

" As noted by several council members, people under stress exercise bad judgment. The mayor under stress, likened all of these peaceful protesters to the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. Any proposed amendment to Local Law C, that gives discretion to use tear gas to a stressed police department should not be considered. "

Commenters also posted on the council's Facebook page, including former Councilor Dom Calsolaro, who lives in the South End neighborhood where tear gas was deployed a year during protests after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.

" You've been sitting on this and now we, the people that are the residents of Albany, the voters in Albany deserve to take a vote one way or another."

Calsolaro, who spent 12 years on the panel, says it is imperative the council take action.

"I know it's an election year. I know some of the members are having primaries, and it's a controversial issue among some, but I've been following this for quite a while, and the public has spoken out, you know. Dozens and dozens of people spoke in favor of the ban. And whether you support it or not, you have to you know, go on the record. I mean, you ran for office, for an elected position, you ran that you would make decisions. So why aren't you trying to make a decision?"

Councilwoman Love says she experienced teargas firsthand last June 1st.

"I do think tear gas need to be phased out. I really do. I got hit that tear gas that night. And again, my sight has not came back yet. And it'll be a year. Next month. I'm still dealing with my breathing because I have crystals in my lungs from the tear gas. I am still suffering from this. But again, I don't want to see them open fire to poor neighborhoods, and this is what's going to happen."

Activist Jamaica Miles with All of Us says defusing a tense situation does not require weapons.

"Joyce Love spoke about how she still is traumatized and facing physical repercussions because of the tear gas. Yet she is saying, 'oh, but let's just keep that in our back pocket.' If you're looking at the comments, I also made note of the fact that it is possible to de-escalate a situation without weapons, whether they are chemical or otherwise. And if the Albany police department would like to pay All Of Us for training, we welcome the opportunity to submit a proposal because I personally have de-escalated situations in Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Saratoga with no use of force or weapons."

Common Council President Corey Ellis tells WAMC Local Law C still needs to be resolved.

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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