All three of Seattle’s police oversight agencies — the Community Police Commission, Office of Police Accountability, and Office of Inspector General — are jointly recommending that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) stop using CS gas, commonly known as tear gas.
SPD has no department-wide policies on the use of tear gas. Police officers should not be deploying use of force tools for which they do not have policies and training. That is not how our system of police accountability works, nor should it.
Tear gas is a serious and indiscriminate use of force. Indeed, the Chemical Weapons Convention has explicitly banned the use of tear gas. Furthermore, infectious disease experts have warned police departments around the country against using tear gas, which causes people to cough and can make the body more susceptible to infection, only helping to spread the coronavirus during this pandemic.
As Dr. Jeffrey Duchin of Public Health of Seattle and King County said in a tweet last night, “Seattle & King Co opposes the use of tear gas and other respiratory irritants based on the potential to increase COVID-19 spread.”
To be clear, as SPD’s response to protesters over the past week has shown, this is not the only reform necessary to protect people engaging in constitutionally protected activity. However, SPD must take this immediate step to rectify the problematic use of tear gas.
Our three agencies know this movement is about fundamental shifts in the criminal legal system and is more than just about fixing policies. One recommendation alone will not change the system, and it is clear that this is only one step on a long road ahead of us all. Our agencies stand in solidarity with the people of Seattle who with their voices, minds, bodies, and actions are decrying the long history of institutional racism in policing that led inexorably to the death of George Floyd and which exists here in Seattle.
- CPC Co-chairs Rev. Harriett Walden, Rev. Aaron Williams, Prachi Dave