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Philadelphia Joins Other Cities in Banning Police Use of Non-Lethal Force Against Protestors

by Dale Chappell

Just days after the shooting death of Walter Wallace Jr. by Philadelphia Police officers, the city council voted 14-3 to ban the use of “less lethal” munitions by police against demonstrators exercising their First Amendment right to protest.

The ban doesn’t outright forbid use of non-lethal weapons by officers, but would bar their use against “any individual engaging in First Amendment activities,” the new rule says. It would be up to the Philadelphia Police Department to develop a policy of what these protected actions would look like.

The ban prohibits the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray against protestors. Prior to the last few months, the last time tear gas was used against protestors in the city was during the Republican National Convention in 2000. Since then, officers have tear gassed demonstrators trapped on Highway I-676 in June 2020, and used pepper spray on those protesting the fatal shooting of Wallace. Wallace died October 27, a day after police in West Philly fired on him when he would not drop a knife he was carrying while experiencing a mental health crisis. Protesters were furious police resorted to bullets to diffuse the situation.

Philadelphia joins other major cities in banning non-lethal weapons against protestors, including Seattle which recently voted unanimously to ban not only non-lethal weapons but also chokeholds by police.

Councilmember Helen Gym said she sponsored the legislation after hearing complaints from residents that police used tear gas and rubber bullets against them during protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May.

“Residential neighborhoods are not warzones,” she said. “Demonstrators are not enemy combatants. This is a first step in working without communities to build a new model for public safety.”

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson criticized the opposing councilmembers who argued that police need weapons to control protestors. “As Black people in particular, we have always been on the front lines protesting peacefully, and in time when we have decided to continue to take a stand we have been met with very, very aggressive response,” he said.



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