By Holly Matkin and Christopher Berg
Philadelphia, PA – The Philadelphia city council voted Thursday to ban police use of less-lethal weapons including tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.
The bill will move forward to Mayor Jim Kenney to sign into law.
The City Council pointed out that the ban makes Philadelphia the largest U.S. city pass a ban on crowd control weapons, according to WPVI.
The ban was voted on as the city has been rocked by nightly riots after police fatally shot an armed suspect.
The violent uprisings erupted in the wake of the Oct. 26 officer-involved shooting of 27-year-old aspiring rapper Walter Wallace, who was fatally shot by two Philadelphia police officers after he charged towards them with a knife, video footage showed.
Wallace, a father of nine with another child due to be born on Wednesday, was experiencing a “mental crisis” at the time, his family’s attorney told WPVI.
“We always go places,” one of his children said during a press conference prior to Tuesday night’s rioting, according to FOX News. “He always teach [sic] me how to be a man. And these white racist cops got my own dad. And Black Lives still matter.”
During the rioting the past several nights, the city has experienced widespread looting and vandalism, at least 17 ATMs were blown up and looted, at least 2 people were fatally shot, and 57 law enforcement officers have been wounded, according to WTXF.
Despite the widespread violence, the city pressed on to ban crowd control weapons.
“We chose a public process of listening, of truth telling, of accountability, driven by the voices and experiences of the people we serve,” City Councilmember Helen Gym declared in the council’s press release. “In banning the police use of less lethal munitions in response to demonstrations, we are answering the calls of our constituents.”
Gym touted the proposal as a way to repair “trust between our residents, public officials, and police.”
“Residential neighborhoods are not warzones. Demonstrators are not enemy combatants,” she said. “This is a first step in working with our communities to build a new model for public safety that is driven by their needs and their vision for the future.”
Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Vice President Roosevelt Poplar said that prohibiting law enforcement from using less-lethal tools in their efforts to de-escalate dangerous situations will accomplish the exact opposite of what the city council has intended, WPVI reported.
“So, basically, you’re taking away non-lethal munitions and you’re leaving them with only one tool, and that’s a deadly weapon tool, which is a gun,” Poplar pointed out.
The push to bar officers from using tear gas and other less-lethal tools increased after Philadelphia police utilized them to help disperse rioters who were blocking an interstate in the wake of the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“The response from police during these protests pushed a further wedge between police and the citizens they serve,” West Philadelphia resident Monica Allison told the committee, according to the press release. “It is my hope, and the hope of the residents of West Philadelphia, that police are held accountable for actions that further damage the very fabric of this city, and this legislation is one step in the right direction.”
The Leadership Conference Education Fund Policing Campaign Director Lynda Garcia said that the ban would help to “ensure that all people’s constitutional rights are respected,” according to the press release.
“Local leaders must engage and work with communities to develop solutions to social and public health challenges and to shrink the footprint of the criminal legal system — including police — in Black and Brown people’s lives,” Garcia declared.