House Democrats set to introduce proposed ban on chemical weapons

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A trio of House Democrats are expected to introduce new legislation that would propose a ban on all levels of law enforcement using chemical weapons such as tear gas in police operations.

The bill, dubbed “Prohibiting Law Enforcement Use of Chemical Weapons Act,” is being spearheaded by Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Mark Takano (Calif.) and Jesús Garcia (Ill.).

Tear gas has been banned from war by the Geneva Protocol, but law enforcement in the U.S. is still permitted to use chemical agents as a crowd-control tactic. Reports of police using tear gas have become more commonplace in recent weeks as protests decrying police brutality and the death of George Floyd have swept across the nation.

“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.”

The draft of the bill doesn’t explicitly mention tear gas, but rather uses the term “chemical weapons,” which it defines vaguely as “[a] toxic chemical and its precursors.” Pepper spray, referred to as “oleoresin capsicum spray” in the bill, would be exempt from the ban.

Under the bill, all law enforcement agencies would need to surrender their tear gas and certain federal grants that departments often receive would be contingent on if the ban was followed. The Justice Department’s Inspector General would also conduct yearly audits on police departments to confirm compliance.

This isn’t the first House legislation regarding law enforcement to be announced since Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25. Last week, Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) introduced a bill that would end qualified immunity for police officers. Qualified immunity shields government officials, including police officers, from legal action that alleges they violated someone’s rights unless a “clearly established” right has been infringed upon.

Several cities including Denver, Portland and Seattle have pushed to temporarily suspend use of chemical agents by police amid recent protests.

–Updated 1:06 p.m. 

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Chuy Garcia George Floyd killing George Floyd protests House Democrats Justin Amash Law enforcement Mark Takano police brutality tear gas U.S. House Of Representatives
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