PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Some local and federal lawmakers are pressing for answers on the issue of the use of chemical munitions by law enforcement agencies, with one Oregon state lawmaker seeking to restrict their use against crowds
The use of chemical munitions during protests by law enforcement agencies has proved controversial in Portland, with some in the scientific community calling for a ban of their use over fears of it being a health hazard and that the chemicals could bioaccumulate in the local ecology.
State Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas) has introduced legislation that would regulate and restrict law enforcement agencies’ use of tear gas or less-lethal weapons on large crowds of demonstrators statewide, if passed.
Bynum told KOIN 6 News that “the bill prohibits the use of indiscriminate force against groups who are not engaging in conduct warranting the use of force.”
Bynum explained the reasoning behind House Bill 2928 stemmed from seeing force used against people who should not have had force used against them during protests last summer, including innocent bystanders, journalists, vendors, non-violent protesters and medics, among others.
“Judges have found this use of force to be wrong and harmful. Thus, through this bill we’re setting a standard for the proper rules of engagement by law enforcement when confronting crowds. Some of the things we witnessed on the streets of Oregon would not be permissible by our own military to do,” Bynum said.
She added that she hopes the bill will lead to a greater focus on de-escalation and effective communication between law enforcement and protesters.
“Everyone has a constitutional right to free expression and association. Oregonians should be able to exercise those rights without the threat of unwarranted force used against them,” Bynum said.
Should Bynum’s bill become law, a local law enforcement agency would be compelled to inform federal law enforcement agencies of the requirements of the bill and attempt to enforce it.
However, federal agents couldn’t be compelled to comply, according to Jim Ferraris, the police chief in Woodburn who testified before the Oregon Legislature on behalf of associations of Oregon police chiefs and sheriffs, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden earlier this month again pressed feds for answers in regard to the use of chemical weapons after never receiving a response to his August inquiry from then-Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf, KOIN 6 News media partner Portland Tribune reported.
A new list of questions was sent to President Joe Biden’s DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, expressing “serious concern.”
“The extensive use of these chemicals during an unprecedented respiratory pandemic is particularly concerning,” the two-page letter dated Feb. 2 said. “Medical experts have attributed various health concerns to the acute exposure of tear gas and other chemical agents, and health experts continue their research to understand the long-term impacts of exposure.”
Portland saw more than 100 consecutive days of protest following the Minneapolis Police in-custody death of George Floyd in late May 2020. Since then, protests have occurred on occasion, intermittently.
On Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2020, multiple protests occurred in Portland which turned violent. Windows were smashed at the Democratic Party of Oregon headquarters in Southeast Portland, a scuffle between police and a crowd of 150 or so occurred at Revolution Hall, and later an unlawful assembly was declared by federal officers during a gathering at the ICE building in which it was reported that crowd control agents were used. Multiple arrests were made.
To read more about the concerns raised by one scientist who tracks use of chemical munitions in Portland after finding remnants outside an outfall pipe of the Willamette River and a schoolyard, read our companion article.