Proposal to ban tear gas and rubber bullets to reach Albany Common Council vote Thursday

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s been more than a year since Albany Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up two crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters in May and June 2020. It was the first time chemical weapons and kinetic energy projectiles were used by Albany Police against civilians in 32 years, according to a joint statement in April released by Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Common Council President Corey Ellis, and City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar.

“That was the most troubling incident of use, because it also happened that as people were being disbursed, moving down Henry Johnson, that’s in an area surrounded by densely populated residential areas,” says Albany Common Councilman Richard Conti.

Conti was one of five representatives to introduce a local law back in March that proposes banning police from using tear gas and rubber bullets against civilians. The proposal has been tabled several times, before finally making it to the agenda for a likely vote Thursday night. Conti says his and his colleagues’ argument remains the use in 2020 shows disproportionate affects to communities of color.

“Besides from Black Lives Matter protests, they’ve never brought out any of these things. Cops have a lot of different options for non-lethal force, so-called, so I mean they don’t need them. Plain and simple. What do you need them for? If you haven’t needed it for over 30-something years, I don’t perceive you needing that,” says local BLM activist Lexis Figuereo.

Ryan Lorey was on scene shooting video for Fulton County Area News on both May 30 and June 1, 2020 and was injured during both protests.

“Couldn’t see who was near you or what was happening near you, so it was a very frightening time and obviously the pain. The tear gas, pain from tear gas, it was much worse than the rubber bullets,” Lorey recalls to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

However despite his injuries, Lorey says he fully supports a separate amendment proposed by Councilman Kelly Kimbrough to present a limited scope for police to use these weapons, rather than an all out ban.

“I don’t have any resentment for being shot with rubber bullets. I don’t have any resentment for the tear gas situation. Those were dangerous areas and the situations needed to be addressed and I feel they were addressed appropriately,” says Lorey.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan was unavailable for comment, but says her stance remains the same, that police need to be able to use these weapons in certain situations. The Common Council announced September 2 all meetings would revert back to a virtual format. The meeting will be streamed live on Facebook with an early start at 6 p.m.

Conti also says this is only one small issue inside the larger set of problems and solutions suggested by the Albany Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.

“The council really should be exercising oversight in terms of the implementation,” he adds.

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