Oakland council considers tear gas ban, reallocating $25M from police budget

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 1: Protesters run away as police shoot tear gas and flash grenades to disperse the crowd on Broadway near the Oakland Police Department during the fourth day of protests over George Floyd's death by the Minneapolis police in Oaklan

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday is poised to consider banning tear gas used on protesters during the coronavirus pandemic, adopting a "zero-tolerance policy" for racist practices and holding law enforcement more accountable for misconduct.

The motions come as cities nationwide are grappling with similar issues of criminal justice reform in the wake of years of systemic abuse and racial inequities. The catalyzing moment came May 25 when a white officer sat on George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, killing him. Floyd, a black man, had been accused of using a fake $20 bill at a store in Minneapolis. 

In addition, Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas proposed reallocating at least $25 million from the Oakland police budget to such things as mental health services, housing and youth programs. Bas would like to spend $1.5 million on a mental health services pilot; about $3.5 million for homeless services; $2.5 million to create school-site based violence prevention and crisis intervention teams; and $5 million to hire community ambassadors to provide event safety, conflict resolution, mediation, and public education instead of traditional police officers. 

She and councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Sheng Thao also are formally proposing that the council forbid police from deploying tear gas on protesters during COVID-19, which they did on at least two separate occasions in the last month. Last week, attorneys Walter Riley and Dan Siegel announced a federal lawsuit against the city and police for deploying the chemical agent. 

"We are extremely concerned that using tear gas for crowd control during the COVID-19 pandemic increases the spread of the coronavirus (a respiratory illness), placing countless people at risk," the councilwomen wrote. "Tear gas has been banned for use in warfare, but is legal for police to use in the U.S. Yet experts agree, and the Oakland Police Department’s own crowd control and crowd management policy states, that it should be a weapon of last resort for crowd control and for addressing violent behavior of specific individuals because it affects everyone in the area including peaceful protestors."

The city of Berkeley last week banned the use of tear gas permanently.

People in Oakland protest the death of George Floyd.

Also on the agenda, Vice Mayor Larry Reid, and councilmembers Noel Gallo, Lynette McElhaney and Loren Taylor are proposing a zero-tolerance policy for racist practices among Oakland police officers and any employee of city government. The resolution calls anyone who is found to have engaged in a racist act to be disqualified for employment. 

McElhaney also wants the council to support federal efforts introduced by Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris to hold police accountable for misconduct in court, improving transparency in data collection and reform police training practices. 

The Oakland council is still willing to spend money on police efforts that continue protecting residents. 

The council will also be voting on spending another $19,000 on the police department's contract with Shotspotter, a system that detects where gunshots are being fired throughout the city. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez