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Professor Rachel López Testifies in Support of Bill Banning Police Use of Less Lethal Weapons at Protests

Professor Rachel Lopez

October 27, 2020

On October 20, Rachel López, associate professor of law and director of the Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Clinic, testified before the Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Public Safety in support of a bill that, if passed, will regulate police use of less lethal devices, such as tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, in certain situations, including protests and demonstrations.

The bill, which was prompted by the events that took place during this summer’s protests against police violence and racial injustice, was proposed by Councilmembers Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks, Curtis Jones Jr., Jamie Gauthier, Isaiah Thomas, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Kenyatta Johnson and Derek S. Green.

As part of her testimony, López described the experience of several clients she’s representing who participated in the protest on Highway 676, in which police officers used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters. López testified that her clients described “being unable to breathe, feeling like they would die… and seeing blood and hearing screams everywhere.”

López also noted that rubber bullets should never be shot at the head, according to U.N. guidance. She noted that at least two elderly individuals, who are more susceptible to serious injury, were shot with rubber bullets during the May 31 events at 52nd Street in West Philadelphia.

After the Committee on Public Safety heard testimony from multiple experts, including López, they motioned to report the bill with a favorable recommendation, referring it to the City Council.

López and Lauren Katz Smith, assistant clinical professor, along with collaborators from Kline’s Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Clinic and the ACLU of Pennsylvania will be submitting a complaint to the United Nations regarding the police actions during these protests.