Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler ordered the Police Bureau on Thursday to stop using CS gas (more commonly known as “tear gas”) in crowd control measures.
Portland has been an epicenter of violent protests since May when George Floyd was tragically killed in Minneapolis. The city recently passed its 100th consecutive day of anti-police demonstrations, which have often involved violent acts by protesters against police officers, citizens, and property.
In June, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law a bill that banned the use of tear gas, but with a significant exception: The bill allowed the use of tear gas in the event that police declare a riot and announce to the crowd that tear gas will be deployed prior to its use, to allow protesters an opportunity to disband.
Mayor Wheeler’s new directive bans the use of tear gas entirely.
“It’s time for everyone to reduce the violence in our community,” Wheeler stated in a video to announce his directive.
“…effective immediately and until further notice, I am directing the Portland Police to end the use of CS gas for crowd control.”
The Mayor even admitted ‘During the last hundred days Portland, Multnomah County and State Police have all relied on CS gas where there is a threat to life safety.’ Now he is taking this tool away from the city’s officers.
CS gas, as described in a 2000 report from the BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal out of the UK, “is one of the most commonly used tear gases in the world.” According to the report, it’s been in common usage by law enforcement since the 1950s.
While some outlets voice concerns about the effects of CS gas on the respiratory system in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, BMJ and the CDC agree that long-term effects are unlikely if a person exposed to tear gas removes themselves from the area immediately to breathe fresh air.
In the wake of violent demonstrations that have occurred in large cities nationwide over the summer, police departments have come under heavy criticism for the tactics they employ to disburse unruly groups.
In August, for example, the Milwaukee Police Department was asked by the Fire and Police Commission to justify their use of tear gas during protests. Chief Alonso Morales cited that in each instance in which tear gas was deployed by his department, protesters were engaging in violent behavior by throwing projectiles at officers, “such as rocks, bottles, pieces of concrete and fireworks.”
Portland Chief of Police Chuck Lovell recently documented the violence Portland has seen at the hands of protesters in a New York Times article he wrote. He listed the looting and destruction of businesses in the downtown area, the attempted destruction of the Multnomah County Detention Center, the shooting of fireworks and mortars, and the intentional arson of the North Precinct station with people locked inside.
Chief Lovell described his department as a “progressive agency” that is “committed to reform”, and appealed to his readers and his city to end the violence. “This violence is doing nothing to further the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Mayor Wheeler is planning on running for re-election this November, despite criticism from conservatives who say he has allowed lawlessness to overrun the streets of Portland, and from liberals who say he has not done enough to protect citizens from law enforcement officials.