A bartender found an unexploded blast ball in the gutter on Capitol Hill last year.
A bartender found an unexploded blast ball in the gutter on Capitol Hill last year. Ansel Herz

After several journalists were injured by blast balls—tear-gas emitting grenades thrown by police—during the last two May Day demonstrations, the Community Police Commission is calling on the SPD to stop using the devices during protests.

"In our collective view," the commission said today in an official letter (PDF), "in light of serious injuries to bystanders and observers, these weapons should not be used again before their risks and appropriate use have been more openly reviewed."

One blast ball blew a hole in the face of 33-year-old Sam Levine, a programmer who was filming this year's May Day protests. Levine began bleeding and was rushed to the hospital. Another blast ball injured photographer Alex Garland. Seattle Weekly reporter Casey Jaywork's foot was singed by the heat from a blast ball explosion. The left hand of KOMO's Joel Moreno had to be placed in a cast; his thumb was reportedly damaged. One of the impacts left me with a small, circular welt on my backside. Last year, a blast ball burned a Seattle Times reporter's foot—an injury the department later tried to blame on protesters. She too had to be rushed to the hospital.

"The doctor said it could have hit a bunch of nerves or glands or my neck or eyes," Levine told me after this year's May Day. "So really I'm lucky given what happened... a surgeon extracted some rubbery stuff from my face and sewed me up."

Levine managed to film the experience, and the "horrifying" video attracted media attention from overseas.

The Community Police Commission noted that it first raised concerns about blast balls more than one year ago, after police used force on Black Lives Matter protesters throughout the winter of 2014/2015. The department is also facing a lawsuit filed by two street medics badly burned by the devices last year.

The SPD's response to concerns about how it treats protesters has been to empanel the Center for Policing Equity, a Los Angeles-based group of experts, to compile a review of its crowd management practices. The group held an invite-only forum with a hand-picked group of activists in January. But the commissioners believe the group has not done enough to solicit feedback from the public on the issue. At the same time, the commissioners say they believe the SPD has generally respected the free speech rights of protesters.

The department had no immediate comment on the commission's letter.