LA bans laser pointers at protests, citing police eye injuries
The ban comes after some officers and members of the public have suffered temporary or permanent eye damage
By Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles on Tuesday outlawed the possession of laser pointers and laser-style devices during public demonstrations, rallies, protests or picket lines, citing two dozen cases in which police officers and residents suffered eye injuries.
Laser pointers have popped up at protests across the country, and have led to federal charges against a few protesters in Portland, Ore., outside the federal building there. Officers and some members of the public who have been targeted suffered temporary — and in a few cases, permanent — eye damage.
The move approved by the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti adds laser pointers and laser devices to a list of prohibited items under a Los Angeles Municipal Code during protests. Other prohibited items include thick metal or wooden poles, baseball bats, slingshots, guns, glass bottles, bricks, pepper spray or mace and aerosol sprays. It is a misdemeanor to possess those items in a protest setting.
The announcement by the LAPD comes as it declared a tactical alert citywide in preparation for potential unrest with Tuesday's elections.
"The LAPD works exceptionally hard to protect and facilitate the 1st Amendment rights of all to peacefully protest and assemble," LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher told the council's Public Safety Committee last week. "However, we have experienced numerous instances of individuals among these groups intentionally using laser devices and pointers to attempt to blind and cause harm to officers by pointing them purposely at their eyes.''
There have been 24 incidents in which eye damage was reported after a person was hit with a laser beam during the last year across L.A., said LAPD Lt. Chris Zine. In all but four of the cases, the targets were police officers.
In July, LAPD Officer Kyle Rice lost his vision in his right eye, as well as his his ability to balance, and was left with migraine-like headaches after he was targeted with a laser pointer after responding to a radio call of a disturbance in Little Tokyo. A person not involved in the dispute between an homeless person and a business owner is accused of pointing the laser at Rice's eye. An arrest was made in the incident.
In Portland, federal prosecutors charged two people with civil disorder, accusing them of shining green lasers at officers after an unlawful assembly was declared last month.
Following reports from other LAPD officers that they were targeted during police brutality protests, Chief Michel Moore, in an internal memorandum, warned officers to "adjust their vision" away from the beams. The department has since sought to use eyewear and screens that can block the damaging beams.
After the approval of the new ban, the LAPD immediately sent out an announcement on Twitter.
"The LAPD asks all members of the public to not bring any of the listed prohibited items to any event specified under 55.07 LAMC as these items have no legal purpose while individuals are attending or participating in these events," the department said in a statement. "The 1st Amendment is essential to our democracy and by prohibiting the above-listed items we can all ensure the public's safety as they exercise their constitutional rights."
At a recent meeting of the Los Angeles City Council's Public Safety Committee, activists questioned the focus on the lasers when protesters have reported suffering numerous eye injuries at the hands of the LAPD's projectile launchers in recent months.
Since the protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police this summer, there have been escalating tensions over the items carried by protesters.
In August, the LAPD surrounded a group of protesters at the 3rd Street tunnel and ordered them to drop cardboard shields, saying they were prohibited items. The protesters were threatened with arrest and dropped the shields, which they said they were carrying to protect them from LAPD projectile rounds.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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