Tear gas and rubber bullets would be limited with proposed Boston ordinance

The Boston City Council is considering adopting an ordinance to ban rubber bullets, tear gas, and other chemical agents except in limited circumstances, Boston.com has reported. The move comes in the wake of mass protests around the world following the death of George Floyd, a black man in who died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck. 

Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Andrea Campbell, the two lead sponsors of the proposed ordinance, say tear gas and rubber bullets should only be used to control crowds when demonstrations have grown violent or destructive. The two claim that Boston police used the tactics against peaceful protestors in recent weeks, but Boston Police and Massachusetts State Police spokesmen say they were only used when crowds had grown into an "aggressive and combative mob."

Under the proposed ordinance, the use of rubber bullets and tear gas could only be used with the authority of a deputy superintendent or higher who personally witnessed acts of violence or property damage. The crowds must also be given two warnings by loudspeaker at least two minutes apart. Use of tools could only come two minutes after the final warning ordering the crowd to disperse.

Tear gas and rubber bullets are considered "less lethal" weapons. They can cause permanent injury or death, however, as a result of "misplaced or ricocheting shots, indiscriminate use, pre-existing medical conditions, inadequate user training, repetitive applications, intentional misuse, and panic and chaos caused by panicked crowds, raising significant doubts that these weapons can be used in a manner that is simultaneously safe and effective,” according to Arroyo and Campbell's filing.

In 2004, following the Red Sox wining the American League pennant, Emerson College student and East Bridgewater native Victoria Snelgrove was killed when she was hit in the eye with a pepper pellet. The pellet was fired by a Boston police officer into a crowd on Lansdowne Street.

Following the introduction of the ordnance, Arroyo tweeted that "This restriction will protect the residents of Boston from the indiscriminate, dangerous, and even fatal impacts of such devices, especially during lawful protests and/or demonstrations."

The use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other chemical irritants can cause blurred vision, coughing, rashes, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, and disorientation, according to Arroyo. They were banned for use in warfare in the Geneva Protocol of 1925. Campbell said it was intended to provide a "narrow, narrow space" for police to use these tools.

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