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Albany Common Council Votes Down Tear Gas Ban

 Screenshot of Thursday evening's Common Council Zoom session.
Screenshot of Thursday evening's Common Council Zoom session.

A local law banning the use of tear gas and rubber bullets in the city of Albany has fallen short once again.

Local Law C, which would ban the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on civilians, was proposed earlier in the year by 9th Ward Common Councilor Judy Doesschate, after police used tear gas during civil unrest in the summer of 2020. Approved in March by the Public Safety Committee, Doesschate's proposed law 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 opposed an outright tear gas ban.

During Thursday night's virtual meeting, Doesschate likened Sheehan and Hawkins' position on tear gas to recent actions by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“There's a parallel there. And the New York Times reported their excuse, you know, what the Taliban’s excuse was, the women were causing a riot. That is the terminology that still exists in the alternative legislation. That is the terminology that the administration wants to use. That's when deciding whether or not to use tear gas. It is arbitrary and capricious. The use of the term riot in reference to the penal law, allows the police to make decisions the courts of law are not willing to make in convicting people in our city, or the use of tear gas.”

Requests for comment from city hall and police officials were not returned in time for broadcast.

The Albany Common Council has had numerous sessions debating Local Law C. Thursday night, seven councilors voted yes to banning tear gas and rubber bullets, four voted no, and four, including outgoing 6th Ward Councilor Richard Conti and Joyce Love from the 3rd Ward, voted present.

“The law did not pass.”

In May the resolution was tabled by a vote of 9 to 6 after Love, who says she experienced teargas firsthand when Albany police deployed it June 1st, 2020, expressed concerns that if tear gas was banned, police might open fire on poor neighborhoods. Following a deluge of comments calling for a people's vote on social media, Conti said implementing a referendum would require an amendment to the city charter.

Common Council President Corey Ellis tells WAMC an alternative to Local Law C is in the formative stages.

Councilors also discussed Mayor Sheehan's announcement that Albany will use the first portion of its more than $80 million in federal COVID-19 aid to dole out raises to city employees. Doesschate questioned the lack of council involvement.

"I'm trying to figure out why this is not coming to the Common Council for approval. We're used to seeing when a union contract gets settled. Or there's money coming in, you know, for community development. We're used to seeing a resolution with us authorizing that pursuant to the city charter. Does this require Common Council approval or not?"

Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City Brett Williams responded:

“The city charter provides for council oversight and approval of transfers of budgeted funds. The American Recovery Plan Act funds are not budgeted yet. And I don't think they'll be put into a budget until 2022 until the 2022 budget. So those funds wouldn't be subject to council approval.”

Sheehan said Wednesday employees will receive “Premium Pay,” part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which targets workers who “faced heightened risks due to the character of their work.”

Common Council chambers are in the process of being wired for future streaming and possible hybrid sessions to encourage safety and more public participation. Councilors acknowledged livestreamed meetings held during the pandemic attracted a larger audience including city residents who otherwise may not have participated. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law earlier this month allowing virtual meetings to continue during the pandemic.

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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