Berkeley police approved to use pepper spray at violent protests ahead of Ben Shapiro visit

The Berkeley City Council gave police permission Tuesday to use pepper spray to drive away protesters from attacking officers during violent protests that have plagued the city in 2017.

The 6-3 vote by the council came ahead of another planned speech Thursday at the University of California, Berkeley.

Former Breitbart editor and conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro was slated to be on the campus Thursday and again later this month with other conservative figures.

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Former White House adviser Steve Bannon, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and conservative commentator Ann Coulter also were slated to speak on the campus later this month.

Yiannopoulos was at the campus in February but it was canceled after protests turned violent. Protesters smashed windows of businesses and marred walls with graffiti.

The city banned pepper spray in 1997 as a crowd-control weapon, though most law enforcement agencies permit officers to use it to disburse violent crowds, Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood said.

Greenwood sought such permission at an emergency council meeting, saying it was preferable to batons and tear gas, which the city is allowed to use but disburses far wider than pepper spray.

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The council rejected its use for crowd control Tuesday, but agreed to modify its ban and expand police powers to use it. The council warned officers not to use the pepper spray as a crowd-control technique but to use it instead for individuals who are committing violent acts upon others or officers.

Currently, Berkeley officers carry a can of pepper spray but have said they would need a bigger canister if necessary.

Dozens of people lined up at City Hall to oppose arming Berkeley police with the larger canister of pepper spray, saying it was too easy for officers to use and has the potential to be used on peaceful protesters.

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Some cities nationwide have banned pepper spray after several high-profile incidents of police using it on peaceful protesters. One of the most noteworthy incidents was when students at the University of California, Davis, were pepper sprayed during a peaceful demonstration in 2011. The incident led to a $1 million legal settlement for the protesters.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that the college paid $175,000 to consultants to “clean up its image” online.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.