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New Orleans City Council Votes To Limit Police Use Of Tear Gas, Asks NOPD To Limit No-Knock Warrants

Tear gas deployed by New Orleans Police Department officers floats into a crowd of protesters on the Crescent City Connection in New Orleans. June 3, 2020.
Travis Lux
Tear gas deployed by New Orleans Police Department officers floats into a crowd of protesters on the Crescent City Connection in New Orleans. June 3, 2020.

The New Orleans City Council voted Thursday to strongly limit the use of tear gas by law enforcement officers within the city.

The ordinance prohibits the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) “or any other law enforcement officer” operating within city limits from using chemical agents like tear gas on citizens except in certain extreme circumstances like hostage situations.

The measure is meant to prevent NOPD from using tear gas as a crowd control tool, which is how it was used by local officers June 3 during protests in reaction to police killing George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

“It’s a great first step because we should be protected with our right to protest,” said Sade Dumas, executive director of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC).

“We should be able to exercise that without the fear of being attacked by a weapon of war,” she said.

The ACLU of Louisiana also praised the move.

“While much more work must be done to ensure protestors are never met with reckless, militarized force,” executive director Alanah Odoms Hebert said in a statement, “we’re pleased the New Orleans City Council has listened to the community and taken this long-overdue step forward.”

NOPD was widely criticized for its use of tear gas that night in early June after a large crowd of protesters attempted to cross the Crescent City Connection over the Mississippi River. The protesters were blocked by a line of NOPD officers in riot gear, and some officers shot rubber balls at protesters to disperse the crowd.

About a week later, the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee called an emergency meeting to interrogate Superintendent Shaun Ferguson about his department’s use of tear gas on the protesters.

At that time, Ferguson told the committee members that NOPD did not have a policy on the books regarding its use of tear gas, but Ferguson told the same committee on Sept. 10 that NOPD was in the final stages of creating one. Ferguson said he supports the council’s ordinance to limit tear gas use.

Moving forward, Dumas said she’d like the City Council and NOPD pass a similar measure that would limit the use of other non-lethal weapons like rubber bullets.

Council encourages NOPD to limit the use of no-knock warrants

City Council members also voted Thursday to pass a resolution that asks NOPD to create guidelines for limiting the use of no-knock warrants by officers “within 60 days.”

No-knock warrants allow police to forcibly enter buildings without identifying themselves.

Councilmember Helena Moreno, who sponsored the resolution, noted that cities and states across the country are moving to ban the practice “because it is dangerous, it is proven to put civilians and officers in harm’s way, and it has cost lives.”

“In fact, it was this tactic that led to the murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky,” she said.

Taylor was killed in March by Louisville police officers who forcibly entered her home looking for her partner.

Taylor’s killing, coupled with the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, fueled protests across the country and calls for police reform. Louisville officials have since banned the use of no-knock warrants.

Dumas of OPPRC also praised the no-knock resolution, again calling it a “good first step.”

“These practices are unethical, they don’t keep us safe, and also they are really costly with settlements,” she said, referring to Louisville’s recent $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family.

Dumas said she'd like the council to next create an ordinance that would require rather than encourage NOPD to ban no-knock warrants. Unlike ordinances, resolutions are not legally binding.

Councilmember Moreno said she had originally hoped to sponsor an ordinance, but was informed that an existing piece of state law would not allow that, so she opted to author a resolution and work with NOPD Superintendent Ferguson on a policy directly.

Moreno said Ferguson supports the effort.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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