The Seattle City Council voted unanimously to ban police from using chokeholds, tear gas, pepper spray and several other crowd control devices after officers repeatedly used them on mostly peaceful demonstrators protesting racism and police brutality. The council also adopted legislation requiring officers to display badge numbers.
The 9-0 vote Monday came amid frustration with the Seattle Police Department, which used tear gas to disperse protesters in the city’s densest neighborhood, Capitol Hill, just days after Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best promised not to.
The council heard complaints from residents forced out of their homes by the gas even though they weren’t protesting.
One week ago, Seattle Police Officer Guild President, Mike Solan, said criminal agitators had taken over recent peaceful demonstrations, throwing blunt objects, bottles, rocks, cinderblocks, metal objects, and incendiary devices at police officers. He added that officers had been injured as a result.
In regards to tear gas that was deployed in the early morning hours of June 8 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Solan said in part, "that is a less lethal tool that is effective in restoring public order."
On Monday, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said, "It has been historically known through the evidence and other research that the use of CS gas, otherwise known as tear gas, can often be a less lethal way of dispersing a crowd without having to go hands on, without using our riot batons. So it has been determined to be less dangerous to do that. That said, it has been very clear to us that people are not wanting us to use the CS."
Chief Best says she has reached out to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, looking for ways to achieve effective crowd management as the department works to determine how it will respond in the future. Best said she will look to other major cities, including internationally, for their expertise in an effort to collaborate with those cities.
Legislation sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant not only bans the use of chokeholds, classifying them as an unlawful "use of force," it also opens the city up to lawsuits that could pay up to $100,000 in damages.
The Seattle Office of Police Accountability previously said it is reviewing and processing thousands of complaints regarding police misconduct during the George Floyd protests in Seattle. It released a list of 10 incidents it received the most complaints about, including the use of pepper spray on peaceful protesters, the use of flashbangs, and covering badge numbers.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best previously said several policy changes are in the works to hold police accountable.
The Africatown Community Landtrust is a group working in the Central District to see that the black community thrives in the Greater Seattle region. K. Wyking Garrett, the President and CEO of Africatown Community Landtrust, says he agrees with Seattle City Council's decision to restrict how police control crowds.
"It is very unfortunate that people expressing their First Amendment rights have been met with extreme violence and escalation by the police presence," Wyking Garrett said.
Chief Best also said the CHOP -- or "Capitol Hill Organized Protest" -- near the East Precinct, where protesters have set up tents and are refusing to leave, is not a cop-free zone, despite what some protesters have said.
However, Seattle police officers are using extra caution in the blocked-off section of the city. Chief Best said 911 response times for the East Precinct area have tripled in some cases, and that is one of the reasons why she remains focused on getting more officers back into the police station.