Members of the Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday in favor of allowing police officers to use pepper spray on violent demonstrators, overturning a 20-year ban on its use during protests.
Police Chief Andrew Greenwood requested the ban reversal with a 26-page memo to the City Council, citing four incidents that took place in recent months, during which large, coordinated groups of masked “black bloc” antifa protesters assaulted police officers and “people who were engaging in free speech activities,” according to his memo.
During Tuesday’s emergency council meeting, Greenwood noted that using pepper spray is preferable to using batons and tear gas, which the city allows the police force to use, but which disburses far wider than pepper spray.
“It is a request made of urgency,” he said, according to The Associated Press. On Thursday, conservative political commentator and former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro is scheduled to appear on campus; later this month, a conservative group plans to bring former White House advisor Steve Bannon to the university, along with former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
Yiannopoulos’ appearance on campus in February was ultimately canceled due to safety reasons after 1,500 people showed up to protest his scheduled speaking engagement at the university’s new Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Center.
At the time, the protest devolved into violence, as roughly 150 black-clad, anti-fascist radicals appeared on campus with clubs and shields, hurling Molotov cocktails into the crowd and at police, smashing windows and destroying campus property to discourage the university from allowing the event to take place.
Using February’s headline-making protest as an example, Greenwood said, “our officers do not have the tools to address this threat” of “large, armed, coordinated group[s]” at protest events.
The council’s ruling specifies the police force’s use of pepper spray only in dire situations, noting that it “shall not be used as a crowd control technique to disperse a crowd or move a crowd. Police may use pepper spray upon specific individuals within a crowd who are committing acts of violence upon police or others.”
According to the AP, dozens of people lined up at City Hall Tuesday to oppose the decision, saying that it would be too easy for officers to abuse the use of pepper spray, and possibly injure peaceful protesters.