NEW ORLEANS — Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson on Thursday said he stands by the decision for SWAT officers to use tear gas against protesters last week on the Crescent City Connection last week.
“We were just responding to a group of individuals who were adamant on having a confrontation,” he told the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee.
That explanation didn't sit well with Councilman Jason Williams, who said he worried about thousands of people trying to scramble off the bridge, high above city streets.
“My immediate fear was that someone was going to either run the wrong direction because they couldn't see (because of the tear gas) or get knocked over the bridge,” Williams said.
Protesters were also hit with rubber balls, an unauthorized action which is now under investigation. Ferguson has said the officers who fired those rounds could face disciplinary action.
Protesters who marched onto the CCC last Wednesday night said they wanted to cross the bridge and come back. NOPD commanders wouldn’t allow that, which led Councilwoman Kristin Palmer to ask why.
“To me, there's something that happened where all of a sudden the NOPD stopped believing they were peaceful protesters. And if we had assumed they were still peaceful and let them cross the bridge and turn around and come back, this wouldn't have happened,” Palmer told Ferguson. “Do you see what I'm saying?”
“I hear what you're saying. I don't know what you want me to say to that,” Ferguson said. “It could've been -- they just put everyone in a bad position by going up there, period.”
Councilman Jay Banks, who has called for prohibiting the use of tear gas, asked if there's anything else that could be used to stop an unruly crowd.
“There is no other alternative to deal with them other than this ... gas or the rubber bullets or the baton? I just want to be clear,” Banks said.
“Yes, sir,” Ferguson responded. “Or our hands. That is it.”
Asked if he would give an order for the SWAT Team to stop carrying tear gas, Ferguson had one answer.
“I have not considered that,” he said.