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Councilmembers strike proposed ban on Richmond officers using non-lethal weapons

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Posted at 4:45 PM, Sep 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-29 18:13:33-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- An ordinance that would ban Richmond Police from using non-lethal weapons against protesters hit a roadblock during a virtual Public Safety Committee meeting on Tuesday.

Councilpersons Kim Gray and Reva Trammel voted to strike the proposal 2-1, which would prohibit officers in the city from using tear gas, flash bangs, and rubber bullets on demonstrators.

“I do not support an absolute ban on non-lethal forces,” said Gray. “I agree that it removes options of non-lethal force and you immediately get to lethal force if there’s nothing on the table."

The paper was drafted by Councilpersons Stephanie Lynch and Mike Jones.

"This isn’t about being anti-police. This is about the type of law enforcement that we desire as residents of Richmond,” Jones explained.

Lynch was the lone vote in support of her bill.

“The protesters that were part of this movement and have been demonstrating have done peacefully,” Lynch told CBS 6 following the meeting. “It’s pro-safety and public safety. Seven medical societies have banned the use of tear gas and rubber bullets."

It will take five councilmembers to override the motion to strike the legislation to keep it alive. City Council meets again on October 12.

RPD Chief Gerald Smith explained the department's draft plan for when and how they intend to use non-lethal weapons against crowds in the future.

“At minimum three dispersal orders will be given and following those dispersal orders a reasonable amount of time would be given to those who would like to leave,” Smith explained. “These types of agents will not be used on non-aggressive and non-violent crowds, at all.”

Officers would make a reasonable effort to provide water and first aid to anyone who was sprayed.

“To use these munitions go up to chief of police — means it rests on myself or my designee to use these,” Smith explained.

Smith also said the tools would not be used against pregnant women or children.

Councilperson Lynch then asked how would officers determine who is pregnant among a crowd of dozens during the night.

“It’s not safe for pregnant women and it certainly is not safe during a pandemic.” Lynch said. “If you are tear gassed you take your mask off and coughing aerosols in a very close range of other individuals."

Gray argued that there were more than 40 fires and millions of dollars in damage in the city following the protests. Some demonstrations turned violent with rioters smashing windows and setting a bus on fire.

However, Lynch and Jones believed the non-lethal weapons do more harm than good.

“People have lost eyes. People have been hospitalized and we have to find a better way to deal with what we call unrest in our society,” Jones stated.

All three public comment speakers voiced their opposition to the bill.

"Trying to paint it as firing on innocent protesters is a fairy tale, it’s not true,” one man told the committee.

"You have a responsibility to allow the police to ensure public safety which took an oath to do," another told the councilmembers.