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Death Prompts Boston Petition to Ban 'Less-Lethal' Weapons

November 04, 2004
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Death Prompts Boston Petition to Ban 'Less-Lethal' Weapons

By Mark Jewell, The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) - 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.

Police have said they used pepper-pellet guns the night Snelgrove was killed in hopes of preventing serious injury after a small number within the crowd began lighting fires and throwing bottles.

At least two other celebrants were hit in the face by the pellets, although the manufacturer advises that the guns should never be aimed at the head or neck.

In response to the petition drive, police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole said in a statement Thursday that police "value their input and share many of their concerns."

She also noted that Boston police have halted at least temporarily their use of the style of compressed-air pellet gun fired at Snelgrove. The department, which bought the model for the Democratic National Convention, has gone back to using a previous model.

An internal police investigation separate from O'Toole's panel is examining whether police used excessive force and whether they were properly trained to use the guns.

After Snelgrove's death, the Seattle Police Department suspended use of the equipment until it could determine what happened in Boston. But other police departments around the country said they have found the so-called "less-than-lethal" weapons to be effective and would keep them in use.

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