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In 2011, the Obama administration sued the City of Seattle over repeated examples of police violence , undue use of force, and an unusually high number of officer involved deaths. After a nine month investigation, it was determined that Seattle police had “engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional use of excess force.” The result was a consent decree that allowed the federal government to monitor police techniques in Seattle and, in language found in many attempts at police reform, insisted that the Seattle police use “de-escalation techniques, when appropriate and feasible, in order to reduce the need for force.”

On Friday night, the Trump White House sued the City of Seattle, on the basis of that language, to insist that the city cannot ban tear gas and 40mm “blunt impact projectiles” like the one that broke a protester’s skull and caused severe injury when deployed indiscriminately against a nonviolent crowd in Portland last week. In court, the federal government asked for a restraining order preventing the ban on these weapons from going into effect on the basis that taking away “less lethal” implements could mean that police use lethal force instead. They won. And all of this seems to suggest that Portland is not the only city in the Pacific Northwest about to be visited by unknown men in camo.

A nearly identical consent decree was made with Portland after the the Obama administration sued that city over undue use of force in 2012. After more than a year of investigation, it was determined that Portland police had applied unconstitutional use of force, especially in the way that the city dealt with people experiencing mental illness. Governor Kate Brown signed a ban on tear gas into law on July 1 … though that doesn’t seem to have stopped either the federal government or the Portland police from the further deployment of this chemical weapon.

Seattle’s ban on tear gas, “blast balls,” and impact weapons would have gone into effect on Saturday after weeks of discussion and planning. The fact that the DOJ intervened to prevent this action certainly suggests that Trump is at least keeping open the possibility of deploying federal forces into that city. And now, thanks to this ruling, gassing crowds and firing a weapon that regularly causes severe injury is officially a “de-escalation technique.”


It’s worth noting that the case was heard by the same judge who heard the 2012 case, District Court Judge James Robart. Despite being a George W. Bush appointee, Robart sided with the Obama administration in that ruling and caused Republican heartburn with a simple statement during the case: “Black lives matter.”

That Robart granted the temporary restraining order doesn’t mean that there won’t be a different outcome if the merits of the argument over whether tear gas is “de-escalation” move forward.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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