St. Louis, MO – A new plan has been introduced to restrict St. Louis police officers’ use of pepper spray for crowd control in addition to other restrictions on law enforcement.
This plan comes just after the city of Berkeley reversed their ban on police use of pepper spray after the city was unable to control violent rioting in their city.
The new St. Louis plan was filed by 15th Ward Alderman Megan Green, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
She said that putting the restrictions on police officers would help protect the First Amendment rights of demonstrators.
The plan would also repeal the city of St. Louis’ existing ordinance on unlawful assemblies, which Green said is “too vague” and gives officers a large amount of discretion on when to declare a demonstration unlawful.
The issue of officers’ use of chemical agents and dispersal orders has been at the forefront in the past few weeks, since former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley was acquitted in the 2011 fatal shooting of the violent drug dealer Anthony Lamar Smith.
After the verdict was handed down, protesters marched through the city’s downtown streets for hours, chanting “No justice no peace!” They threw rocks at the mayor’s house, smashed a police cruiser’s windows, and threw objects at officers.
In that incident, numerous officers were injured, and 23 activists were arrested.
In her bill, Green said, “people and groups in the city have the right to participate in assemblies on the streets, sidewalks, and other public ways, and in the parks in the city, and to engage in assemblies near the object of their protest so they may be seen and heard, subject to reasonable restrictions designed to protect public safety, persons, and property, and to accommodate the interest of persons not participating in the assemblies to use the streets, sidewalks, and other public ways.”
She said that she drafted the language of the bill with the ACLU of Missouri, which has filed a lawsuit against the city over police response to demonstrations after Stockley’s verdict.
Executive director of the ACLU Sara Baker said, “the voices of the people must be heard.”
The bill would require officers “to the extent reasonably possible” arrest specific individuals who are responding with violence, rather than issuing a general order to disperse.
It states that officers can issue orders to disperse only if “a significant number or percentage of the assembly participants fail to adhere to certain restrictions, engage in violence or destroy property, or if the mayor declares a public safety emergency.”
The bill does not account for a smaller number of violent actors who use a large crowd as cover, leaving officers incapable of arresting them.
Police are also required to issue at least one order to disperse, and multiple orders if possible, using an amplification system that can be heard at least 40 feet away, which would give demonstrators time to disperse, and a safe way to do so.
The ACLU has heavily criticized the use of police sound amplification devices, claiming that they may cause “hearing loss and prolonged ear pain.”
At least one order would be required before chemical agents could be used, and they could not be used on crowds but only on individuals who have “caused or attempted to cause serious physical injury to another person.”
If this were implemented, there would be no practical way for officers to arrest violent actors who are taking cover in a large crowd.
Officers would also be required to have their name tags visible at all times, and the police department would be required to “promptly process and release anyone who was arrested during an event,” because people who commit crimes shouldn’t have to go to jail.
Green said that the plan is necessary to hold police accountable if demonstrators’ constitutional rights were violated. She said, “Once we get these laws in place, it would make it easier for a lawsuit to be waged against the city if they’re broken.”
She also said that additional criminal justice reforms would be needed even if her bill was passed.