“Public safety committee” bans tear gas, rubber bullets on “protestors”: ‘Demonstrators are not enemy combatants.’

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – The Public Safety Commission in Philadelphia has unanimously voted to ban the Philadelphia Police Department from using any type of less lethal munitions against protesters at demonstrations throughout the city. 

For their argument to ban less lethal munitions, they brought in people that they deemed to be experts on police reform.  These experts, along with some type of local investigators, were hired by the city to review the processes the agency used in clearing out the protesters from blocking major highways in Philadelphia during the summer protests and riots.

The commission used their input, and noted that the use of tear gas was banned in warfare by the Geneve Convention after World War II and by the United Nations in 1993.  Now, what was banned is drastically different than the chemical agent used today in law enforcement but let us see where their argument goes.

They cite that extended exposure to chemical agents that police use can lead to glaucoma, blindness, burns to the lungs and respiratory failure.  However, the commission fails to note that if the people that knowingly place themselves in this position were not committing crimes in the first place, they would never experience these affects. 

Councilmember Helen Gym said:

“We chose a public process of listening, of truth telling, of accountability, driven by the voices and experiences of the people we serve.  In banning the police use of less lethal munitions in response to demonstrations, we are answering the calls of our constituents. 

“This is a moment where repairing the trust between our residents, public officials, and police is essential.  Residential neighborhoods are not warzones.  Demonstrators are not enemy combatants.  This is the 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.”

Lawyers did cite a study from Amnesty International, which looked over 40 different police responses to protests and riots stemming from Black Lives Matter.  In the study, there was no suggestion that the use of chemical agents, (less-lethal munitions), were used punitively. 

Despite this, Rachel Lopez, a lawyer who works with international human rights, and the ACLU, plan to file a complaint with the United Nations over Philadelphia’s use of chemical agents during the protests and riots over the summer. 

She said:

“At the end of the month, we will be filing a complaint with the United Nations urging them to investigate this police brutality.  Because of the nature of tear gas, it often has indiscriminate effects, meaning it can easily hit bystanders due to changes in wind direction and cause stampedes, just as it did on I-676.  Tear gas is so dangerous that it is considered a chemical weapon under international law and banned.

“The PPD policies as written are woefully inadequate to address these abuses.  While Philadelphia Police Directive 10.2 specifies that pepper spray should not be deployed in situations where people are peacefully exercising their Constitutional rights of free speech or assembly, it does not include a similar prohibition for tear gas or rubber bullets.”

Lynda Garcia, the Director of Policing Campaign at the Leadership Conference, urged the commission to pass the ban. 

She said:

“By implementing policies to ensure that all people’s constitutional rights are respected, including the recommendations offered here, we can begin to create a new era of public safety that respects the dignity and humanity of all people.  Importantly, a new paradigm of public safety should not just change policing policies and practices. 

“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.”

The passage of this ban effectively handcuffs police and their response in incidents in which people close down highways and interstates as is the case in this situation.  People were seen, on video, kneeling on interstates preventing people from driving through.

Other videos showed these ‘peaceful’ protesters lining up along the roadway and running on the interstate itself.  These situations are not only dangerous to the protestors, but they also essentially shut down traffic in these areas for hours.

Now, with the passage of this ban, how can any police officer restore order and the traffic flow?  They cannot, it is not possible. 

So, when the next protest or riot happens, police will be forced to stand by, begging for the protesters and rioters to clear the roadway, while not being able to do anything to remove them.  While ambulances, buses, and people trying to go to and from work, are forced to wait for hours until the protesters finally decide to move.

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Philadelphia officer charged after pepper spraying three protesters to clear a freeway

July 22, 2020

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner, issued a statement Wednesday morning detailing charges filed by his office against a police officer. These charges were for actions of the officer, captured on video, during a Black Lives Matter protest on Interstate 676 back in early June.

According to ABC 6, Krasner said:

“Richard Paul Nicoletti, 35, ‘assaulted three protesters’ with OC spray, or pepper spray, while they were kneeling on the highway.

“Nicoletti turned himself in to authorities Wednesday morning, sources told Action News.”

The DA stated that Officer Nicoletti has been charged with one count of possession of an instrument of crime, and three counts each of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and official oppression.

It remains to be determined if a charge of an instrument of crime charge will stick if the officer can prove that he was following orders.

FOP President John McNesby released a statement saying that the FOP “will provide an appropriate defense for Officer Nicoletti as this process moves forward.”

ABC 6 reported:

“Nicoletti was among the state and local authorities who responded to a large group of protesters who had walked onto I-676 and stopped traffic.

At approximately 5:00 p.m., the SWAT unit, including Nicoletti, wearing the full SWAT uniform and gas masks, arrived in the westbound lanes of 676 near the 20th Street overpass, investigators said.”

Video of the incident shows what Krasner detailed. However, no footage has been released showing what led up to the officer’s decision to deploy the spray on the protesters. 

District Attorney Larry Krasner wrote in an emailed news release:

“The complaint alleges that Officer Nicoletti broke the laws he was sworn to uphold and that his actions interfered with Philadelphians’ and Americans’ peaceful exercise of their sacred constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.

“The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will not make excuses for crimes committed by law enforcement that demean the democratic freedoms so many Americans have fought and died to preserve.”

But Nicoletti’s attorney tells another side of that story. 

Fortunato Perri said:

“Richard Nicoletti is being charged with crimes for simply following orders. His unit was ordered by commanders to clear the highway with the approved use of tear gas and pepper spray.

“The city’s leadership was given the opportunity to apologize for approving the orders and use of force but Nicoletti finds himself fired and charged with crimes.”

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said that what she saw on the videos was disgusting, and has also apologized publicly for authorizing the use of pepper spray for the purpose of crowd control and disbursement. 

During that apology speech, Outlaw said:

“To that end, effective immediately, I’m declaring a categorical moratorium on the use of tear gas for the dispersal or control of crowds, which includes any persons who are peacefully assembling or passively resisting.”

Outlaw also said “the only time officers should consider deploying tear gas” is when confronted with an armed and dangerous individual.

We previously detailed that apology, shown again below. 

On June 1st, hundreds of protesters swarmed Interstate 676, a major highway in Philadelphia, causing all traffic to stop. 

Video footage at the scene shows cars backed up on an exit ramp, almost to the highway itself, a bridge covered in protesters.  The entire area was blocked by people yelling, chanting, and holding up signs. 

The State Police and the Philadelphia Police Department responded to the scene, ordered to clear up the roadway.

Upon their arrival, according to initial police reports, officers were met with people throwing rocks at them, along with their yelling and screaming. 

Officers were struck in the head with rocks and one marked State Police car was surrounded. 

Conflicting reports have been circulating regarding the vehicle: initial reports were that the trooper was stuck in the car, unable to move or get out as protesters began rocking it and spray-painting the windshield.  Other reports suggest that the trooper had abandoned his vehicle before the damage occurred.

Deputy Police Commissioner Dennis Wilson had command of the scene that day.  In early reports, Wilson stated that he witnessed violent acts being committed by the protesters and he heard officers reporting such on their radios. 

In addition, he heard the Trooper call for help as he was stuck in his vehicle in the middle of the crowd. 

Based on this information, Wilson authorized the use of a chemical agent and rubber bullets, less lethal implements of force, on the protesters in order to gain control and disperse the crowd. 

Protesters immediately began to flee up an embankment and out of the way of the police response.  SWAT officers were seen on a news helicopter video walking up the interstate in formation. 

Another SWAT officer is shown walking up to protesters, kneeling in the middle of the interstate and spraying them with chemical agents in order to get them to move as they refused. 

On June 1st, the Mayor, Jim Kenney, and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, both supported the use of less lethal force on the unruly crowd. 

Outlaw released a statement regarding the incident, stating:

“[Protesters had] surrounded a State Trooper, who was alone and seated in his vehicle, and began rocking the vehicle, with the trooper having no safe means of egress.”

Outlaw also stated:

“Members of the crowd began throwing rocks at the officers from the north and south sides, and from the bridges above the officers. The crowd also began rushing toward the officers.” 

With this and witness information, the use of less lethal force was authorized.

At least one leader isn’t afraid to let her police be the police.

Or so we thought.

This week on Thursday, Outlaw held a news conference with Mayor Kelley.  During the conference, Outlaw and Kenney both apologized for the use of forced used on protesters.

Outlaw stated that she now believes that the use of force was “unjustified” after watching the NY Times news video footage of the scene. 

Outlaw said:

“The second I find out as the leader of this department and organization that there’s contradictory information to what I personally came out and said … it’s important for me to come out and clarify what now I’ve seen.”

To further the apology session, Deputy Police Commissioner Wilson took his turn at the podium to speak on his decisions that day. 

Wilson stated:

“I didn’t call the commissioner. I gave the approval. And it was me and me alone.  For violating the rules of engagement and the commissioner’s trust, I’m going to take a voluntary demotion.”

Yeah. He said that.

Wilson’s demotion took effect immediately and he moved down one rank. Outlaw also alluded to the possibility of the SWAT officer seen spraying the protesters being terminated.

While parts of the nation may be in full support of the Commissioner’s actions and apologies, officers and the head of the union question if she made the right call.  It is no secret that the rank and file have little respect for the leadership within the agency. 

This is something that is not new with Outlaw, who came from being the Chief of Police at the Portland Police Bureau.

During a protest in Portland after a fatal police shooting, protesters blocked the roadways in the city.  One person, driving a Lexus, struck one of those who was blocking the roadway. It’s unknown if the strike was intentional or not.  After the crash occurred, protesters were seen chasing after the vehicle, striking it with batons, with Portland Police Officers standing by and watching. 

The officers did not engage in the incident and the driver left the scene, later filing a police report in which he lists $3,000 worth of damage done to his vehicle. 

When Chief Outlaw was questioned about this incident, she stated:

“The complexity of each demonstration/protest is different and requires thoughtful decision-making.  We will continue to review the most appropriate course of action and proper balance in our responses for these dynamic events.”

She had also ordered her officers to stand down so as to not “escalate tension” between them and the community.

Both of these incidents pertain to protesters blocking major roadways. Both had very different outcomes.

Based on her wishy-washy actions, it appears that Outlaw is still unsure of herself as a leader. In Portland, she under-acted and her officers essentially stood on the sidelines watching crime literally pass them by.

Then she goes to Philadelphia, and decides she would actually allow her officers to do what they were trained to do and get an unruly crowd under control and open traffic back up. But then after it’s all said and done, for whatever reason, she apologizes for it.

It makes no sense.

Maybe if we complain about it, she’ll apologize.

 

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