Non-profit Don’t Shoot Portland has filed a proposed class action lawsuit to stop the City of Portland from using chemical agents to suppress the right to free speech for those protesting white supremacy and police violence.
According to the 17-page complaint, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has responded to more than seven days of protests with “indiscriminate, unchecked, and unconstitutional violence” against protestors. The PPB’s tactics include the repeated use of tear gas, including against those whoposed no threat of violenceand were engaged simply in the expression of free speech, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit points out that the use of tear gas at this time is especially troublesome given COVID-19 is a respiratory illness spread primarily through droplets dispersed through coughing and sneezing.
“The use of tear gas is particularly dangerous at the present time because it is specifically designed to irritate the respiratory system and to cause people to expel mucus and aspirated saliva,” the complaint says. “In the midst of a global pandemic, the deadly novel COVID-19 virus is known to spread principally through aspirated saliva and mucus.”
The PPB’s use of tear gas violates proposed class members’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the suit alleges, arguing that Portland’s police are likely to continue utilizing thechemical irritantagainst protestors absent court intervention.
According to the lawsuit, the tear gas launched by the PPB at protestors causes skin, eye and respiratory irritation within seconds of exposure, with affected individuals experiencing excessive tearing, blurred vision, eye redness, runny nose, nasal burning and swelling, difficulty swallowing, chest tightness, coughing, choking, rashes and a host of other reactions.
Relaying that people of color aremore likelyto develop and experience COVID-19 complications at a greater rate than their white counterparts, the lawsuit highlights recent reports, including a statement from Oregon Health and Science University President Danny Jacobs, M.D., F.A.C.S., acknowledging that the use of tear gas to control crowds at protests nationwide has “raised great concernamong medical professionals” attempting to manage the global pandemic.
Given that the use of tear gas is, by its nature, indiscriminate, the plaintiffs allege Portland knew of the potential to accelerate the spread of COVID-19 when it decided to “procure the tear gas, arm police with the tear gas, and authorize police to use tear gas in its downtown core on protestors.”
“The City knew that the gas would harm people who were not engaged in any unlawful activity and where PPB had no probable cause that individuals had committed any crimes,” the complaint charges, alleging Portland’s decision to indiscriminately use tear gas was made “in retaliation for the protestors’ protected speech condemning the police at the symbolic embodiment of the protest subject matter and to chill the expression of further similar speech.”
The plaintiffs, who in addition to Don’t Shoot Portland include two city residents, say they were part of largely peaceful crowds protesting police violence in Portland in late May and early June when the PPB began using tear gas against those not engaged in any unlawful conduct.
The lawsuit proposes to cover a class of all individuals who currently or will in the future engage in protest activities in the wake of the death of George Floyd opposing police violence and white supremacy.
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