Los Angeles seeks to ban tiki torches, pepper spray, shields at protests

Tiki torches, pepper spray, gas masks and homemade shields could soon be banned from demonstrations in Los Angeles.

Following the spate of violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., and Berkley, lawmakers in Los Angeles are contemplating imposing new restrictions on what people can carry at public demonstrations and meetings in the city.

In addition to tiki torches – which were used in Charlottesville – pepper spray, gas masks and shields, city lawmakers seek to prohibit water cannons, Tasers, bricks, hammers, cans of spray paint and drones. Glass and plastic bottles filled with liquids that are alcoholic or not consumable would also be banned.

The city council said it was trying to be proactive to prevent violent incidents, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Councilman Mitch Englander, who is a reserve police officer, said the city’s attorneys are drafting the new law and would work closely with the police department to finalize the list of banned items.

“We don’t have to go far to look at what’s happened,” he said during a committee meeting last week. “We’re looking at best practices.”

Los Angeles currently prohibits protesters from carrying wooden planks more than 2 inches wide and a quarter-inch thick.

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The Los Angeles City Council is trying to ban tiki torches – which were used in the demonstrations in Charlottesville -- during protests.  (AP)

Critics of the proposed law challenged the legal basis for prohibiting items at protests that otherwise are lawful to possess on the street.

“If it is lawful to have that in your possession while you’re standing on the sidewalk, then what is the difference?” Carol Sobel, a civil rights attorney who has repeatedly sued the city, said.

Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, raised concerns about banning drones that are often used to document turnout.

“If the city is going to pass a blanket rule that says you can’t use drones over city streets, that’s one thing,” Bibring said. “But to target protests, in particular, raises First Amendment concerns.”

The city restricts the possession of some kinds of weapons, including knives and arrows in public, as well as prohibits people from carrying glass bottles onto public property where permitted community events are being held, with exceptions for medicine, baby formula, food preparation and beverages sold on site.