The state Legislature is set to come back to Albany next week to vote on a package of police reform bills.
One piece of legislation that is being considered is banning the use of tear gas.
“Using tear gas is like crushing a fruit fly with a sledgehammer,” Senator Brad Hoylman said. “It is way out of order in terms of the magnitude of harm that it can cause individuals who are exercising their First Amendment, peacefully protesting.”
Senator Hoylman and Senator Alessandra Biaggi are sponsoring this bill that would prohibit the use of tear gas in any situation. Hoylman says it has been widely misused on peaceful New Yorkers over the past few days, who have been out protesting the murder of George Floyd and police violence.
In 1925 the Geneva Protocol first banned the use of tear gas during war, but the U.S. has continued to use it for domestic purposes.
The CDC director has also come out recently saying that the use of tear gas, which will cause those in the vicinity to cough, could help spread COVID-19.
“Rather than use tear gas, police should use de-escalation tactics to calm situations and encourage nonviolent protests,” Hoylman explained. “This movement is a matter of conscience and I would urge local law enforcement to take that into consideration, before they charge a crowd before they use pepper spray or tear gas, before they attack individuals who are just trying to do the right thing here.”
Albany Police Officer Union President Gregory McGee disagrees with reports that tear gas is being used on peaceful protesters, saying it is an important tool against rioters and those trying to incite violence.
“When you start throwing Molotov cocktails then it becomes a matter of defending ourselves,” McGee explained. “The tear gas is a great deterrent, it disperses the crowd. It’s outside.”
McGee says officers must also have a way to protect themselves when things start to get out of hand.
“We’re huge ‘exercise your First Amendment rights,’” McGee said. “Once you start becoming violent though, if we have to deploy tear gas? If you still stay around even after we deploy that, you’re there for violence.”
Banning the use of tear gas, along with the entire package of police reform bills, will be discussed among lawmakers over the coming days.