By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – An emergency proposal by the Sacramento City Council this week that would restrict what protestors can take to a public demonstrations was met with so much opposition by civil liberties and community groups that the ordinance was yanked at the last minute from the council’s agenda.
Community members still waited nearly three hours to comment on it Tuesday, but the city council abruptly closed down the meeting when some in the audience insisted on being heard. “We want to be heard. You continue to oppress us” were the shouts from the crowd of about two dozen seemingly angry constituents.
About 20 city police officers cordoned off the council area and threatened repeatedly to arrest the crowd. In the end, only one minor scuffle was reported when an officer shoved an elderly disable man to the ground, even though he appeared to be complying the officer requests.
The proposed ordinance – now being sent back for legal review – would have banned items such as firearms, knives, sticks, pepper spray, mace, stun guns, bricks, rocks, pieces of asphalt, concrete, pellets, ball bearings, poles, bats, chains, torches, lanterns, balloons, bottles and more than a dozen other items considered to be weapons or capable of delivering weapons.
According to the city, ordinance is needed to “help” demonstrators be safe – it’s for their own good. The ordinance proposal states in part:
“In recent years, there have been numerous protests, demonstrations and rallies in cities throughout the country, including Sacramento, which have resulted in violence, destruction of property, and injuries to civilians and law enforcement. Specific to the City of Sacramento, individuals have used items such as bottles, rocks, bats, pepper spray, knives, and sticks, to cause injury and damage.
“Unfortunately, events in which protestors and counter-protestors utilize improvised weapons to harm one another are becoming commonplace, and they have been shown to occur at random and without forewarning. Therefore, as a matter of public safety, it is crucial that law enforcement be permitted to protect citizens attempting to engage in lawful, free speech.”
However, as the National Lawyers Guild of Sacramento and others pointed out, there are already laws that criminalize the most dangerous of the crimes, including the carrying of firearms and knives.
Additionally, virtually all of the examples cited by the City happened not in Sacramento, and many not in California, said the NLG, also noting that the thousands allegedly spent for protests of the killings of Black citizens were for over-deployed, and overzealous police
“At first glance, many of the items noted in the proposed ordinance are already illegal. There are ample statutes to cover the violent use of them. Some others are used for self-defense and should not be specifically banned for those attending public events but otherwise legal to carry. Additionally, these items generally are banned at State Capitol events – and a violent melee there in 2016 that sent seven people to the hospital occurred despite those rules,” said Elizabeth Kim, president of the NLG local chapter.
“We are very concerned about a slippery slope here, where this is just a starting point to criminalize freedom of expression in this city, and eventually, as has happened in other municipalities, ban everything from backpacks to bottled water,” she added.
“We also believe the City analysis is deceptive in its justification for such an ordinance. Virtually all of the ‘violent’ demonstrations mentioned are not from City of Sacramento protests, which have been nonviolent. The State Capitol riot was under California Highway Patrol jurisdiction, not the City of Sacramento police, for instance,” Kim said.
Likewise, members of the community expressed concern with the proposal.
Tanya Faison, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, said she and other protestors often carry pepper spray to protect themselves from neo Nazi and other white supremacist groups.
“We don’t know that police are going to protect us, and this ordinance would take away our ability to protest ourselves,” Faison said Tuesday night.
Many in the community noted that a decision by the Sacramento County District Attorney of whether to charge the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed Black man in his grandparent’s yard last March may be announced within the next week or so. And that may be a reason for the “emergency” nature of the measure.
“As official legal observers at virtually every public demonstration for many years in Sacramento, our volunteers report that the only real violence they have witnessed has been overly aggressive police officers, who, for example, have been seen ramming bicycles into peaceful demonstrators, pointing guns in the faces of peaceful demonstrators and bystanders, and using excessive force during arrests. Yet we see no rush to pass an ordinance banning those actions,” said Kim.
And the Southern California ACLU, in 2017 opposing a similar ordinance in Los Angeles, noted:
“The primary effect of this ordinance above and beyond existing law is to criminalize the possession of signs that are not sufficiently ‘soft’ or commonly-possessed items such as soda bottles. We have grave concerns about the legality of an ordinance that criminalizes items at protests that are not regulated at other public gatherings and are central to the public’s ability to engage in protected First Amendment expression.”