APD pepper sprays protesters as council discusses tear gas ban

Protesters were pepper sprayed, shoved and struck by police outside the South Station on Wednesday evening after it appeared an officer tried to grab a megaphone and pushed it back into a protester’s face.

That protester says her teeth went through her lip. Taunts were exchanged and a window broken. A 14 -year-old girl was sprayed during the fracas. 

At the same time members of the Albany Common Council engaged in discussion of a controversial amendment to a proposed tear gas ban that would allow the use of the chemical and rubber bullets during the “unlawful gathering” of 11 or more people in the city.

The discussion took place during a caucus work session, the legislation could come to a vote during a full council meeting on Monday at 6:30 PM. 

The amendment, introduced by Council President Pro Tempore Kelly Kimbrough, a former APD officer, followed a Public Safety Committee meeting earlier this month where the community spoke out in force for an all out ban.

Tear gas use by the APD became a flash point last spring in the wake of the murder of George Floyd as APD members responded to protests with liberal use of the substance that shocked protesters and swept through residential neighborhoods. Localities across the country have attempted to ban the use of tear gas, citing its negative health impacts, but police unions have been largely successful in blocking them, or inserting amendments that effectively neuter the bans. 

Since last May the city undertook a contentious review of its police department as mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and committed to focusing on de-escalation and demilitarization with the police.

However, representatives of the APD essentially declined to offer alternatives to the use of tear gas and Kimbrough intimated at Wednesday’s meeting that without tear gas things would get violent. A number of council members said it could lead to “hand-to-hand combat” between police and protesters. 

The ban’s sponsor, Councilwoman Judy Doesschate, rejected Kimbrough’s amendments saying they flew in the spirit of the work done by the city since the protests last year to reform the APD. 

A wrinkle was added, however, when Kimbrough revealed that mayor Kathy Sheehan’s office intimated to the council that she would veto any ban of tear gas. That statement shocked some members who favor the ban. Kimbrough said he hoped his amendments might make the bill palatable to Sheehan. 

Councilmembers Catherine Fahey and Ginnie Farrell both indicated they were frustrated that there wasn’t more discussion around the bill in committee before it was brought before the entire council.

Councilmember Tom Hoey said that Kimbrough’s amendments were evidence that the council is not listening to its constituents, who have made their voices heard in support of a ban. Hoey countered Kimbrough’s repeated characterization of tear gas as “a tool” in the APD’s arsenal, declaring, “This is not a tool. This is a weapon.”

Councilmember Joe Igoe spoke of spending a year in Ireland and appeared to compare the experience of enslaved peoples in America to that of Catholics facing Protestant oppression. 

As members spoke commenters in the chat room began posting video to the events unfolding in front of South Station. “They maced the crowd and there were kids in the crowd. No precise way to use chemicals on crowds. We have to do better,” wrote All of Us Activist Shawn Young in the council meeting chat. 

The council is set to meet on Monday. At this point it is unclear if the legislation with Kimbrough’s amendment will come to a vote. 

Protesters were still gathering outside the South Station as of publication. 

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