AOC leads congressional fight to ban police use of tear gas: 'Chemical weapon?'

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Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announced a proposal Wednesday to ban tear gas in the wake of police using the chemical crowd control agent on demonstrators protesting George Floyd's death and police brutality.

Reps. Mark Takano, D-Calif., Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., and Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., plan to introduce the Prohibiting Law Enforcement Use of Chemical Weapons Act in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

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"Tear gas is chemical weapon banned in war," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "It is a deep shame that US leaders chose to tear gas our own people last week. It should never, ever happen again."

Dispensing tear gas has come under fire in recent weeks as police have resorted to using various crowd control techniques to break up riots as well as peaceful demonstrations that have taken hold in cities across the nation in the wake of Floyd's killing.

Law enforcement used chemical agents to disperse crowds protesting in a park near the White House on June 1 before President Trump walked to a nearby church that had fire damage for a photo op holding a Bible. The White House disputed the term "tear gas" but journalists documented crowds forcibly dispersed and found evidence of the canisters shot at the protesters.

The legislation bans federal law enforcement officers from using chemical weapons in the course of policing in the United States and tells local and state police departments they must also ban all chemical weapons in order to get federal grant funding. Law enforcement agencies would have to dispose of their canisters of tear gas within one year.

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The lawmakers point to the 1925 Geneva Protocol that banned the use of tear gas and other chemical weapons in warfare and questioned why they are being unleashed on peaceful protesters and reporters. Tear gas has negative health effects and could contribute to the spread of COVID-19, lawmakers said.

“Almost 100 years after chemical weapons were banned in warfare, I am horrified that police continue to use those weapons against the communities they are sworn to serve,” García said in a statement. “Despite its lethal potential, police deployed tear gas to aggressively scatter recent protests in Chicago and across the country."

Takano said there's "no justifiable reason" for tear gas to be used by law enforcement against Americans.

"There has been a disproportionate response by law enforcement to the peaceful protests occurring nationwide, often involving excessive force and the use of tear gas," Takano said in a statement. "We even saw its indiscriminate use against peaceful protesters outside of the White House to clear the way for President Trump’s photo op."

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Black Lives Matter activists sued Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr for allegedly violating their constitutional rights for violently dispersing the crowd outside the White House to make way for Trump's photo. The White House has "no regrets" and denies that tear gas and rubber bullets were used.

Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most progressive lawmakers in the House, also wants to defund the police, ban rubber bullets and pepper spray and end qualified immunity for police officers.

“To stop us from protesting the death of a black man who was suffocated by police, law enforcement is using a weapon that restricts our lungs -- during a respiratory pandemic,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “It is a horror on top of a horror on top of a horror -- and it must end."