Today, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12) introduced the Right to PROTEST Act, a bill criminalizing the use of riot control agents without explicit warning and a “reasonable” amount of time to disperse.
This announcement came one week after Charlotte City Council voted to approve a new city budget under a motion that no new money be spent on buying new chemical agents for the use of crowd dispersal or maintaining the current supply.
Like many other cities across the country, Charlotte has seen a wave of demonstrations in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police brutality. In multiple instances, CMPD has responded to peaceful protests with riot control weapons such as tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, flashbang grenades and pepper balls.
In a press release, Adams’ Deputy Chief of Staff Sam Spencer drew attention to an incident that occurred on June 2, which was caught on live-stream by Queen City Nerve’s Justin LaFrancois (beginning at the 1:40:00 mark of this video), during which CMPD cornered protesters between two parking garages with tear gas and opened fire on them from above with pepper balls.
Spencer further stated that there was a “growing concern” that tear gas was particularly dangerous on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. He cited a 2014 study by the U.S. Army which concluded that soldiers subject to tear-gassing were more vulnerable to respiratory diseases.
He also cited an open letter signed by more than 1,000 American medical professionals condemning the use of airborne chemical agents and respiratory irritants by police departments.
“Entire groups of protesters are being made to choke on gas, as well as being subjected to pepper balls and pepper spray, for the actions of a few protesters,” Adams stated in a press release on Monday. “Over the past month, protesters were often the victims of indiscriminate force. On many occasions, they couldn’t breathe.”
Adams condemned CMPD’s use of tear gas on June 3 after seeing the use of “kettling” tactics in the live-stream that went viral.
“The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, as well as police departments across the country, should immediately and permanently end the use of tear gas,” Adams stated then. “Weapons that are illegal in war should never be used on American soil, especially against our own people.”
The bill is co-sponsored by the Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez, Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, and U.S. Reps. Marcia Fudge and Filemon Vela.