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Charlotte City Council Supports Motion For One-Year Ban On Buying Tear Gas


Charlotte City Council voted 9-2 on Monday to support a motion by at-large council member Braxton Winston to prohibit the police department from buying tear gas for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

Winston made the motion after protestors alleged that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police trapped them on West Fourth Street on Tuesday night and then gassed them. The city has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to review the incident.

Before the vote, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney warned that not having tear gas would make it difficult for his officers to manage unruly crowds. Putney said his officers would have to resort to "brute physical force" and use shields and batons to disperse crowds. He said that would be like Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 1960s when police beat civil rights protestors — a practice that Putney said was "inhumane."

Winston criticized that.

"Our police chief has said that without chemical agents police will be forced to use batons to break skin and bones," he said during the meeting. "The people of Charlotte have said that is not a sufficient answer. Your comments will live in the past in the annals of history with Bull Connor's German shepherds and fire hoses.

"If you cannot figure out how to deal with human beings without the tactics of violence and fear then the human beings that make up this city will be here step by step to show you how to deal with us as the sentient beings that we are."

The two Republican council members, Ed Driggs and Tariq Bokhari, voted no.

Over the weekend, council member Malcolm Graham said he was likely to vote against the motion. He said he wanted more time to study the issue. And at-large council member Julie Eiselt said she was concerned that Winston's proposal wasn't rushed and that he needed to work with council to find a compromise.

And Winston said in a Facebook message Saturday that he didn't yet have six votes for the prohibition.

But the North Carolina Democratic Party approved a resolution calling for elected leaders to prohibit the use of tear gas. Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden said earlier Monday that his deputies would no longer use tear gas.

And on Monday evening, one of the largest crowds yet during the protests gathered outside of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center in uptown. They protested George Floyd's death in Minneapolis and called on council to approve Winston's motion.

Last year, the city said it spent $100,000 on munitions, which includes tear gas. It's unclear how much is in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Council member Dimple Ajmera asked Deputy Chief Johnny Jennings - who will succeed Putney as chief -  whether CMPD has already bought tear gas to prepare for the Republican National Convention.

Jennings declined to say and referred the question to City Manager Marcus Jones. Jones declined to say and told council members they gave him the authority to buy police supplies for the RNC without council approval.

Jones said council will be told what the city bought after the event.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.