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FAQ – Ban on Seattle Police Use of Tear Gas, Pepper Spray, Blast Ball & Other “Crowd Control Weapons”

What is the “Crowd Control” Weapons Ban?

During the Justice for George Floyd movement, the police departments in cities including Seattle unleashed tear gar, blast balls, rubber bullets, and other so-called “crowd control” weapons. This was carried out with the approval of the Democratic establishment in the various cities. Our socialist Council office, alongside hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists, pushed for a legislation to ban Seattle police from owning or using such weapons on peaceful protests. 

We won a unanimous vote on a first-in-the-nation ban because of our movement, despite attempts by Democrats to gravely weaken the bill.  The ordinance bans tear gas, pepper spray, blast balls, flash bangs, rubber bullets, sound cannons, microwave cannons, and any future crowd control weapons designed to inflict pain. 

What happened to the Ban our movement won in the summer? Why is the City Council voting on it again?

Soon after our movement won this ordinance, Mayor Durkan, Seattle Police Chief Best, with the assistance of the City Attorney’s Office, shamefully tried to derail the ban and stop it from being implemented. Rather than fight to uphold the law, they went to Judge Robart, in his role overseeing the Consent Decree, to effectively get a Temporary Restraining Order (injunction) against the ban. Trump’s Department of Justice made the same request, and hearing the same request from both sides, the judge put the bill temporarily on hold. It is on hold to this day.

Councilmembers now claim that watering down the legislation is essential to lifting the federal court’s restrictions so that the legislation can go into effect. But we want elected representatives to fight for the strongest possible ban on police weapons that harm peaceful movements, not make offers to the court to weaken or repeal the ban!

Democratic City Councilmembers are saying the bill needs to be watered down for the court to lift the injunction and allow it to go into effect. Is this true?

Councilmembers will claim that watering down the legislation is essential to lifting the federal court’s restrictions so that the legislation can go into effect. And it is true that while the ban has not been struck down, it cannot be enforced until the legal restrictions are lifted. But there is no evidence to indicate that the court is demanding the legislation be watered down. In fact, the City establishment has made no attempt yet to have the court’s restrictions lifted, and instead shamefully joined Trump’s Department of Justice to request the restrictions against the ban. Rather than legally blocking or watering down the legislation, the City should fight to lift the legal restrictions.

The bottomline, however, is that the courts and the police under capitalism primarily serve the interests of the repressive state, not ordinary people. So even if there was evidence that the court was demanding the legislation be watered down, we want elected representatives to fight for the strongest possible ban on police weapons, not make offers to the court to weaken or repeal the ban!

All this shows clearly that we cannot simply sit back and expect that the City Council establishment will do the correct thing and defend the strongest possible ordinance. We need working people, the Black Lives Matter movement, and community members to speak up in a loud and unified voice that we oppose the watering down or repeal of the ban on these harmful weapons.

What weapons are Democratic Councilmembers talking trying to reauthorize for police to use against peaceful protestors?

The Councilmembers have not revealed every loophole they may intend to insert in the legislation. They have already said that they will try to allow pepper spray, flashbangs, and rubber bullets, and they are also considering tear gas. They claim that the use of these weapons will be limited, but the devil is in the details. 

We saw during the BLM movement, the police declaring peaceful protests a riot to justify using chemical weapons and explosives on thousands of peaceful protesters day after day for weeks. We have no doubt they will do so again if given the option and facing a similar mass movement from BLM, or any progressive or workers’ movement for that matter. The history of struggle shows this time and time again.

Councilmembers have also argued that if the police do not have access to tear gas and rubber bullets, they will be forced to use real bullets, and even more deadly force against protests. Is this true? 

The reality is that police use all the force against progressive movements that they can get away with. In contrast, they treat violent far right actions with kid gloves, as we saw recently in DC. Having access to the “crowd control” weapons has not prevented worse violence from Seattle police – since 2011, 28 Black and Brown community members have been killed by Seattle police, with not one of the officers being brought to justice.

It is extremely unfortunate – and even egregious – for self-professed progressive elected officials to accept the argument that police need to be given access to weapons like tear gas and blast balls, because if you don’t let them, they will use bullets! We have to reject this idea and instead fight for the strongest possible ban on “crowd control” weapons, and also for an elected community oversight board with full powers over the police, including hiring and firing, policies and procedures. 

The capitalist class and police have a long history of using repression against left movements, the working class, socialists, and oppressed communities. But we have had a long and heroic tradition of struggle, and society is far better off because of it, even though we clearly still have a long way to go. The only way to prevent violence from the police or the far right is to build mass movements of working people and the oppressed around crucial demands that can unite ordinary people. In Seattle, that would mean immediately fighting to extend the eviction moratorium for renters and small businesses to at least the end of 2021, for renters to have guaranteed access to legal counsel when facing eviction, for comprehensive COVID relief including Green jobs funded by taxing big business, and elected civilian oversight over police.

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