Berkeley letting cops use pepper spray on violent protesters
The Berkeley Police Department has been authorised to use pepper spray as a crowd control weapon for the first time in 20 years as officers prepare for protests on Thursday night.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the Berkeley City Council approved the move in a 6-3 vote Tuesday, just two days before the University of California, Berkeley is scheduled to host popular conservative speaker Ben Shapiro, an event co-sponsored by organizations such as Young Americans for Freedom and the College Republicans, and just over a week ahead of another controversial event featuring Milo Yiannopoulos.
The decision, requested by Police Chief Andrew Greenwood, overturns a 1997 ban on the use of the chemical agent for crowd-control, and allows police to utilize the tool on protesters “who are committing acts of violence upon police or others.”
Despite the relaxation of restrictions, however, officers are still not allowed to spray protesters engaged in nonviolent behavior or disperse crowds.
Meanwhile, the city also announced a temporary prohibition on weapons at various parks during Shapiro’s speech, a precaution that failed to prevent an outbreak of Antifa violence at a previous demonstration in August.
“To ensure the peaceful expression of free speech, the City of Berkeley will temporarily prohibit sticks, pipes, poles and anything else that can be used for a ‘riot’ on Thursday, September 14 at three city parks,” the city said in a statement.
“In addition, there will also be temporary rules prohibiting various weapons on streets and sidewalks within a defined area,” it added, warning that “anyone violating these rules will be subject to citation and arrest.”
In an attempt to further prevent a wave of violent riots that spread through Berkeley in response to a scheduled talk by Yiannopoulos earlier this year, the city also banned clothing accessories that may cover a protester’s face and established a formidable security perimeter around Shapiro’s venue.
“Wearing of a mask, scarf, bandana, or any other accessory or item that covers or partially covers the face and shields the wearer's face from view, or partially from view, is prohibited in Civic Center Park, Willard Park, and Ohlone Park on September 14, except for coverings worn due to religious beliefs, practices or observances,” the city decreed.
According to The Associated Press, Greenwood pledged to make "very strong, rapid arrests" of anyone who is wearing a mask or is in possession of weapons.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin—who had previously called on UC-Berkeley to cancel its upcoming “free speech week” due to the threat of violent protests—endorsed the proposal to allow officers to use pepper spray, but sought to downplay the threat posed by Antifa groups.
“We have seen extremists on the left and right in our city,” Arreguin said. “We need to make sure violence is not allowed.”
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