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Tension at City Hall as Council Discusses Tear Gas Ban

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Several Cambridge city councilors said they were frustrated with the delayed response from the city’s legal department regarding a total tear gas ban at a Monday meeting.

The Council discussed draft ordinance language surrounding the prohibition of tear gas use by the Cambridge Police Department. Though CPD has not used tear gas since 1972, its use is not explicitly banned.

Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr. said at the meeting he is currently pursuing a tear gas ban via the implementation of an official department policy.

“We found some tear gas in our inventory and destroyed it,” Bard said. “We have no tear gas on hand, we don't authorize the use of it, and I have no problem with totally supporting a ban on using tear gas.”

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At the meeting, ordinance sponsor Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler questioned the legal opinion issued by the City Solicitor’s office that obstructed the forward motion of the policy, which was passed by the council last November. According to Sobrinho-Wheeler, the opinion stated the council itself does not have the authority to ban the use of weapons in city departments.

“The law department had four months to research this, then initially decided to support it as recently as two weeks ago,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said. “I'm just trying to understand what happened in the last few days that led the legal department to come to a different conclusion.”

Many other councilors said they shared Sobrino-Wheeler’s grievance, which comes a week after Councilor Dennis J. Carlone similarly said he was dissatisfied by the legal department’s delay in reviewing two amendments regarding campaign finance regulations at an Ordinance Committee meeting.

City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa said she thought the councilors’ comments were “personalized,” and that the four months between November and early March were “not actually that long” compared to reviews of previous council orders. She also said she had met with Sobrino-Wheeler and was the “point-person” for the city council, and defended her role as a liaison between the council and the legal department.

“It does appear that there are times recently when things that the council wants to be done, that there is a sense of urgency,” Glowa said. “But if everything is urgent, then not everything can be done at the same time.”

The council also received its regular weekly update on the city’s Covid-19 pandemic response from Cambridge Chief Public Health Officer Claude Jacob.

On March 8, the city began administering the one dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, with additional shipments expected in early April, according to Jacob. He added that the case positivity rate in the city has decreased to 0.39 percent, down from the last report given to the council on Feb. 20.

Last week, the city entered “Phase Three, Step Two” of the Cambridge phased reopening plan, which increased capacity limits across the city to 50 percent. Jacob, however, said that indoor dining at restaurants is one of the principal causes of Covid-19 transmission in Cambridge.

“With regard to indoor dining, what we'd like to see is the change in our dining out culture where the pandemic is under control,” Jacob said. “For people who want to dine indoors, the safest behavior would be to eat quickly without talking and wear a mask at all times.”

The council also adopted a policy order mandating the city to explore the creation of a mobile Covid-19 vaccine clinic. Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon, who co-sponsored this policy order, cited the lower vaccination rates for residents of color compared to white residents as a reason for establishing these clinics.

“I have spent the last four to five weeks helping to get vaccine appointments and rides for residents who don't have cars, don't have computers, and it's incredibly painful,” she said. “We really need to be intentional about remedying this inequity and the vaccine distribution, and this is a way that could help.”

—Staff writer Ryan S. Kim can be reached at ryan.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer David R. Shaw can be reached at david.shaw@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidrwshaw.

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