Oakland City Council Considers Ban on ‘Tools of Violence and Vandalism’ at Protests

OAKLAND (BCN) 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.

Cleanup in downtown Oakland July 15 after angry protests over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting (Francesca Segre/KQED)
Cleanup in downtown Oakland July 15 after angry protests over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting (Francesca Segre/KQED)

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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  • eclecticdeb

    Risher is miscategorizing the problem. It’s NOT the PROTESTERS that are the issue, it is the THUGS that seem to think destruction of property and personal injury to innocent people is a viable response to something they disagree with.

    • uglytshirt

      To bad they will never identify themselves as such. These clowns think they’re revolutionaries because they broke some windows and scrawled with spray paint (while making sure to hide their faces of course), and ten bucks a head says most of them have to commute to their riots. The right to peaceably assemble does not apply to the willful destruction of property or striking someone in the face with a hammer (!)

  • Sam Brown

    Last I checked, vandalism and hitting people with hammers was already illegal. Giving the police the option to treat a construction tool as a criminal object is going to help how, exactly?

    Gallo’s claims that this is justified because the police can tell when someone’s about to commit a crime? Put that before the council: An ordinance giving police the authority to arrest people for looking shifty.

    That’s totally constitutional, right?

  • Oso Xiong McBear

    If the cops don’t bring ‘em, the crowd won’t either.

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