Philadelphia mayor and police department apologize for using tear gas on protesters and BAN the chemical irritant after cops were seen blasting demonstrators trapped on a highway
- Mayor Jim Kenney said he regretted approving use of tear gas at June 1 protest
- Video showed dozens being blasted after being trapped on Interstate 676
- The mayor initially issued statement supporting police officers’ response
The mayor of Philadelphia and the city’s police department have apologized to the public and announced they will ban the use of tear gas after cops were seen spraying dozens of peaceful protesters trapped on a highway during a demonstration earlier this month.
Mayor Jim Kenney spoke out against the city’s response to the June 1 protest after video footage emerged showing law enforcement use gas, bean bags and pepper spray to disperse crowds on the Interstate 676.
‘Members of the department made decisions on use-of-force that were completely unacceptable,’ he said in a news conference on Thursday.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw also admitted that initial statements supporting officers’ actions were ‘inaccurate.’
‘I have now personally viewed video evidence that largely contradicts the material portions of those statements,’ she said.
Video footage emerged showing law enforcement use gas, bean bags and pepper spray to disperse crowds on the Interstate 676 on June 1
Protesters became trapped by SWAT team officers on both sides, many unable to retreat to an on-ramp, clambering to get up a steep embankment then over a concrete wall and fence
Mayor Jim Kenney said he ‘never believed tear gas was an effective tool’, on Thursday
Outlaw issued an immediate moratorium on the use of tear gas in most situations including to disperse crowds of non-violent people.
At least one high ranking commander took a voluntary demotion and a member of the city’s SWAT team who was filmed spraying protesters with pepper spray will be notified Friday that he is suspended with the intent to dismiss him, she said.
The apologies and personnel decisions came as The New York Times released a reconstructed video of the highway confrontation.
Footage showed cops firing tear gas at dozens of protesters after they became trapped by SWAT team officers on both sides, many unable to retreat to an on-ramp, clambering to get up a steep embankment then over a concrete wall and fence.
Mayor Kenney said he regretted giving the okay the day before the highway incident to use tear gas to disperse people in a much more violent protest in West Philadelphia, where stores had been broken into and a line of police cars was vandalized.
‘In that moment of decision on Sunday, May 31, I ignored what my instincts told me,’ he said, stressing his regret.
Police officers throw and shoot tear gas into a group of protesters after a march through Center City on June 1
Police Commissioner Outlaw on Thursday issued an immediate moratorium on the use of tear gas in most situations including to disperse crowds of non-violent people
‘I have never believed tear gas was an effective tool. When I’ve seen other cities use it in protests. It always seemed to me to make situations worse. And it has.’
The footage has been held up by advocates of police reform as examples of what they say has been a militarized police response to protests against police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Deputy Commissioner of Special Operations Dennis Wilson said he had not notified or sought approval from Outlaw to deploy tear gas or other ‘less than lethal’ weapons during the interaction with protesters on the interstate.
He said he was voluntarily taking a demotion effective immediately in response.
Both Outlaw and Kenney declined to speculate about whether previous reports given as part of a justification for the use of tear gas that a state trooper had been trapped in his car as protesters vandalized and rocked it back and forth, or that protesters were throwing projectiles at officers were true, saying the investigation is ongoing.
Outlaw also admitted that initial statements supporting officers’ actions were ‘inaccurate.’
The Times’ video showed dashboard camera footage from the Pennsylvania State Police of an empty vehicle being vandalized.
A previous statement from a state police spokesman confirmed that a state trooper had been on the highway to respond to the protesters and that a car was vandalized.
A message from The Associated Press asking to clarify whether the trooper had left his car prior to the vandalism was left with state police.
District Attorney Larry Krasner filed aggravated assault charges earlier this month against officer Joseph Bologna who was filmed beating a protester with a retractable baton.
The protester needed 10 staples and 10 stitches to close the wound and was arrested for assaulting an officer, though Krasner declined that charge against the protester.