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Congress looks to take tear gas away from cops after weeks of unrest

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Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

After protests and rioting across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd, a new bill in Congress aims to relegate the use of tear gas to the pages of history.

The Prohibiting Law Enforcement Use of Chemical Weapons Act sponsored by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bans the use of tear gas and other chemical weapons by law enforcement in the same way they are banned from use in warfare under the Geneva Convention.

Although the text of the bill makes no specific mention to teargas or any other form of chemical, Ocasio-Cortez claimed police use of the substance during the George Floyd protests was inappropriate considering the COVID-19 and the nature of the Minneapolis man’s death.

“To stop us from protesting the death of a Black man who was suffocated by police, law enforcement is using a weapon that restricts our lungs — during a respiratory pandemic,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “It is a horror on top of a horror on top of a horror – and it must end. Banning tear gas is one of many steps we must take in this moment to fundamentally restructure the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to protect and serve.”

Also sponsoring the bill are California Congressman Mark Takano and Illinois Congressman Chuy Garcia.

The bill comes at a moment where local governments are taking action for police reform, including in New York.

Tuesday night, legislators in Albany passed a motion to repeal 50-A, an action that would make police misconduct complaints filed either with individual departments or the Civilian Complaint Review Board available to the public. In New York City Council, lawmakers introduced a bill to make it illegal for NYPD officer to cover their badge numbers with mourning bands, tape, or any other material.

Tear gas is a chemical weapon that is banned in war, there is no justifiable reason for it to be used by law enforcement against the American people,” Takano said. “There has been a disproportionate response by law enforcement to the peaceful protests occurring nationwide, often involving excessive force and the use of tear gas. We even saw its indiscriminate use against peaceful protesters outside of the White House to clear the way for Presidents Trump’s photo op. Despite medical professionals warning us about the harmful effects of tear gas, which are only made worse during a respiratory pandemic, law enforcement continues to use it. We need to get tear gas out of the hands of law enforcement and ban its use in the United States – this bill will do that.”

Both the city and state are working bills into their respective chambers to ban any and all chokeholds during arrests.

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