OAKLAND – A proposal to ban hammers, wrenches, shields, sling shots, paint projectiles and other potentially destructive items at protests will be considered by the Oakland City Council at its meeting on Tuesday night.
The ordinance prohibiting so-called “tools of violence and vandalism” during a demonstration is being proposed by Councilman Noel Gallo, who said in a letter to his colleagues that it’s designed to counter violence that occurred during recent protests against the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Gallo said the damage to businesses in downtown Oakland and the adjacent Chinatown district included broken windows, graffiti and arson. In addition, a waiter at the restaurant Flora was hit in the face with a hammer, he said.
Gallo said the ordinance is needed because “the Oakland Police Department needs additional tools to help protect life and property in our city.”
Referring to the violence that occurred in the recent protests, Gallo said, “This behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop. There have been demonstrations all over the country in response to the verdict in the George Zimmerman case yet no other city has experienced the level of violence and destruction that we have experienced here in Oakland.”
Gallo said on Friday, “I want to give our Police Department the tools it needs to stop violence before it happens instead of waiting until afterward, when it’s too late.”
He said, “We have to be proactive” and he believes that police will be able to recognize “who’s about to do something different” than peacefully protest.
The ordinance is based in part on a proposed ordinance drafted by Oakland City Attorney and Councilwoman Pat Kernighan in May 2012 that was aimed at countering tactics by some people who participated in Occupy Oakland protests.
But that proposal was dropped after Occupy Oakland protesters disrupted a Public Safety Committee hearing and said the proposal was a violation of their right to free speech.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Michael Risher said on Friday that Gallo’s ordinance is more narrowly drafted than the 2012 proposal and appears to be constitutional but he still has concerns about it.
Risher said, “I appreciate that the City Council wants to make demonstrations safe, but they should look at both sides of the equation and realize that there are more protesters who are injured by the police during protests than there are officers who are injured by protesters.”
He said the ordinance’s definition of banned shields as metal sheets more than 24 inches wide that are “designed to provide impact protection for the holder” appears to be reasonable.
But Risher said the fact that some protesters appear to feel that they need to carry shields to protect themselves from Oakland police during protests “is emblematic of a much bigger problem,” which is the department’s reputation for overreacting to demonstrators.
Risher said the City Council shouldn’t use the ordinance “as a reason not to address police violence at demonstrations and other incidents.”
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