Oakland councilmembers ask for immediate halt to police use of tear gas

Three Oakland city councilmembers on Wednesday requested the immediate halt of tear gas being used for crowd control during the George Floyd protests in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Using information from a UCSF infectious disease expert who spoke to KTVU, Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas, Rebecca Kaplan and Sheng Thao, sent a letter to the mayor, police chief and city administrator citing their concerns. 

They said they fear that using the tear gas, which police deployed on protesters on Friday, as well as before the 8 p.m. curfew on Monday, will increase the spread of the virus and place "countless people at risk."


UCSF Dr. Peter Chin-Hong aid that tear gas makes people cough a lot and that people at protests are shouting and possibly projecting the virus droplets at farther lengths. 

Data also shows that African Americans are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in Oakland and Alameda County, the letter states. In addition, "many black Americans disproportionately have pre-existing conditions like asthma that could make tear gas lethal."

The councilmembers said they also heard directly from protesters who were impacted by the gas.

Infectious disease specialists call for an end to tear gas during COVID-19 pandemic

At a news conference on Monday, Mayor Libby Schaaf said she didn't take the gas of tear gas lightly, though she didn't say she would ask the department to stop using it either.

She encouraged anyone who wanted to complain about the use of police force to filed a complaint with the Community Police Review Agency if they believed their rights were violated.

Deputy Police Chief Leronne Armstrong said officers deployed the gas in response to some protesters who were throwing rocks and bottles and "preparing Molotov cocktails." One protester who got gassed, Samuel Getachew, 17, disputed the police account, saying he saw no such threat.

Oakland police deploy tear gas, arrest 100 people following youth march

Two years ago, the ACLU wrote a blog post noting that tear gas has been outlawed as a method of warfare on the battlefield by almost every country in the world, but that ban does not apply to domestic U.S. law enforcement officers. 

On Tuesday, protesters broke curfew and stayed out past 10 p.m. peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd and demanding racial equality.

The city put out a statement said no one was arrested during that protest and no tear gas was deployed. 

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