Police defend use of non-lethal weapons for crowd control

Police in Connecticut will continue using non-lethal weapons for crowd control, despite last week's death of a Boston college student fatally struck by a pepper spray-filled projectile during a rowdy Red Sox celebration. Since the incident, Boston police have temporarily stopped using the pellet guns and the Seattle Police Department in Washington has also called for a suspension of the weapons. West Hartford Police Chief James J. Strillacci said Thursday that banning non-lethal weapons is a step in the wrong direction. With the proper training, the weapons are designed to control unruly crowds and prevent injuries, he said.

"It sounds like a knee-jerk reaction to me," said Strillacci, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. "It's better than shooting somebody. If used properly, these devices can cause little injury to the person."



Police wield deadly power

Is a burned car or smashed storefront worth Victoria Snelgrove's life? What would you do, if you found her dead on the ground?

That's the question Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young asked in "Ohio," a song about the killing 34 years ago of four young people by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State University. Last week it was another innocent, 21-year-old Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove, who was dead on the ground. Why? If you're Boston Mayor Tom Menino, you could blame unruly crowds that flowed out of bars and into Kenmore Square after the Red Sox beat the Yankees. Or you could target the bar owners who served too much and too late in the evening. You could blame the hooligans and punks who got the crowd worked up, setting fire to a car and trashing street lights and storefronts. But roll back the tape and be honest. Boston police had their fingers on the triggers of these new high-tech gadgets they bought for the Democratic National Convention in July. Not the crowd, not the hooligans, not the bar owners. Police didn't get to use these new weapons in July, because the anticipated bedlam and huge crowds didn't show up for the Democrats. But last week police turned these lethal weapons on innocent revelers, hitting three in the head and killing one, Victoria Snelgrove, with a pepperball in the eye.

No one would dispute that being a cop trying to control a huge crowd of pumped up -- and in many cases, booze-fueled -- sports fans is stressful, unpredictable and dangerous. But is a burned car or smashed storefront worth Victoria Snelgrove's life?



Group Seeks Ban on 'Less-Lethal' Weapons

Civil rights advocates angry over the death of a student hit by a pepper-spray pellet are seeking at least a temporary ban on the Boston Police Department's use of so-called "less-lethal" weapons to control crowds.

The police commissioner last week created an independent commission to investigate the Oct. 21 death of Victoria Snelgrove and review weapons like the one believed to have caused the 21-year-old's death. Snelgrove was shot in the eye during a massive celebration outside Fenway Park after the Red Sox won the American League pennant. But critics who held a news conference Thursday said Boston police should stop using pepper-ball pellets, bean bag projectiles and rubber bullets until they expand training, ensure accountability and get the weapons independently tested. The belief that such weapons are less dangerous than conventional firearms has led police to use them "as a substitute for negotiation and communication in crowd control," said Gan Golan, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student and member of a nonprofit group called Save Our Civil Liberties. "This has seriously increased the potential for harm to the public, not decreased it," Golan said.

About 1,000 Boston residents so far have signed a petition that is to be presented to city officials on Nov. 15, advocates said. A companion petition has been signed by about 40 faculty from local colleges and universities.


Aftermath News
Top Stories - November 1/7st, 2004

Red Sox Fan Victoria Snelgrove Killed by Policeman's 'Non-Lethal' Weapon


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