Multnomah County asks feds to halt tear gas use near schools
The Multnomah County Commission hopes to extinguish federal agents' use of chemical weapons near schools and other vulnerable populations.
In a Monday, March 15, letter to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the five-member elected board pointed to the frequent use of tear gas in Southwest Portland, where camo-clad agents guarding the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility often do battle with protesters.
The K-8 Cottonwood School is directly across the street from ICE, while Reach Community Development operates the 209-unit Gray's Landing affordable housing complex, partially reserved for veterans, two blocks away, spurring concerns from County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who represents the area.
"We have heard from residents jolted awake by tear gas drifting into their homes through open windows, and parents deeply worried about how to clean their homes and yards of residual chemicals to make it safe for their own children to play," according to the letter, which was signed by all five members of the board. "It is unacceptable for people to be exposed to toxic chemicals in their own homes and neighborhoods."
Activists have recovered spent gas canisters in the schoolyard on multiple occasions, the letter says, raising fears of lingering toxic impacts for teachers and students when the school reopens, as well as other families living in the neighborhood.
The letter also cites the Geneva Conventions ban on tear gas, imploring Mayorkas to communicate directly with Cottonwood School and pay for remediation of any contamination to the soil or surrounding buildings.
"We respectfully request that you use your authority to enact reasonable measures to prohibit the use of chemical weapons generally, and ban them outright in proximity to schools, residential neighborhoods, and other locations near vulnerable populations," the letter reads.
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, and state legislators Sen. Ginny Burdick and Rep. Lisa Reynolds have sent similar to petitions to Mayorkas, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Local police have not deployed tear gas since Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler restricted its use in September.
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