Police in Berkeley, California can now pepper-spray violent demonstrators for the first time in 20 years.
Berkeley’s City Council on Tuesday voted 6-3 to allow authorities to use the chemical to fight attacks on officers and others during demonstrations there.
Tuesday’s vote follows several chaotic protests that have struck Berkeley this year, with another event planned for Thursday carrying the potential for more unrest.
Former Breitbart News editor Ben Shapiro is scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley this Thursday, raising the possibility of clashes between his critics and supporters.
Some Twitter users on Wednesday criticized the Berkeley City Council’s decision, which does not let officers there use pepper spray as an overall crowd-control method.
The Berkeley City Council’s motion said pepper spray “shall not be used as a crowd control technique to disperse a crowd or move a crowd.”
“Police may use pepper spray upon specific individuals within a crowd who are committing acts of violence upon police or others,” the measure added.
Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood on Tuesday said Berkeley is facing a “large, armed coordinated group” at recent political events.
“Our officers do not have the tools to address this threat,” he said. “It is a request made of urgency.”
Greenwood sought permission for the change during an emergency city council meeting Tuesday, calling it preferable to the batons and tear gas police are currently permitted to use.
The police chief added Berkley banned pepper spray as a crowd-control weapon in 1997 despite other agencies elsewhere permitting their officers to use it on violent crowds.
Four political demonstrations in Berkeley have turned violent since February, and Thursday’s event with Shapiro may lead to further disturbances.
Shapiro is the first of several controversial conservative figures who will speak at Berkeley this summer.
A conservative group says it plans on bringing former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to the University of California, Berkeley next month.
Bannon is Breitbart’s chairman, and he will reportedly speak alongside former editor Milo Yiannopoulos and conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
Yiannopoulos had a speech cancelled in Berkeley last February cancelled for safety reasons when protests against him turned violent.
Demonstrators smashed the windows of businesses in Berkeley and marred walls there with graffiti.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.