On paper, Tuesday night’s city council meeting was scheduled to be a quiet evening spent tying up loose legislative ends. But the meeting that took place was anything but quiet. With yells and chants, protesters from local activist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) brought the meeting to a halt during the open forum segment in an effort to call attention to the recent shooting death of Derrick Jones.
Jones died November 8 after fleeing two Oakland police officers who chased him and then opened fire. Oakland Police Department officials have stated that the officers saw Jones reach for something in his waistband that could have been a weapon. Information later released by the police department revealed that the metallic object Jones carried was a scale used for weighing marijuana. Protests took place outside Jones’ East Oakland barbershop in the days following the shooting.
The conflict at Tuesday’s city council meeting arose when City Clerk Latonda Simmons did not call the BAMN members to the podium during the open forum—a 15-minute period at the beginning of the council meeting when residents may address the council about any issue. Council meeting rules cap the number of speakers allowed during the open forum at 15, and Simmons called forward 15 members of a group of Fruitvale business owners to address the council about their need for more police officers. These requests came on the heels of the police department’s announcement that some beats in Oakland are going unstaffed due to low numbers of sworn officers.
People wishing to speak during the open forum at a city council meeting must submit a speaker card to the city clerk before the time of the forum. Simmons said that 30 speakers submitted cards, including 15 speakers from BAMN. As the Fruitvale merchants spoke, protesters seeking to take the microphone interrupted with shouts from the back of the room. BAMN organizer Yvette Felarca shouted that her group was receiving “back of the bus treatment.”
Council president Jane Brunner, who enforces the rules of the city council at meetings, asked the protesters to stop shouting. “That’s not how we do this in city council,” Brunner said, adding that the protesters could address the city council if they wanted to wait until the end of the meeting. For a moment, Brunner seemed poised to ask the Oakland police officers present to control the crowd. As confusion over the names of the last three speakers created a pause between speakers, attorney and BAMN organizer Ronald Cruz approached the open microphone and began to speak; Brunner asked that the mic be cut. Shouts broke out from the back of the room, and protesters marched forward to the podium chanting “Justice for Derrick Jones!”
Brunner said the council would take a recess until the protesters ceased, and the councilmembers stood up and walked to one corner to confer. One protester began to shout, “Let Daddy speak,” referring to Derrick Jones’ father, Frank Jones. After a few minutes, Brunner returned to her microphone to say that the remaining three minutes of the open forum would be ceded to Frank Jones, who spoke emotionally about the death of his son, expressing his feelings of betrayal by the City of Oakland, his former employer. The Oakland Tribune reported in November that Frank Jones had worked for the City of Oakland for 34 years before retiring, but did not say in what capacity.
Derrick Jones’ brother-in-law, Ammar Saheli, spoke next, asking the council to push the Alameda County District Attorney to press charges against the officers who shot Jones. “Look at this through the same lens as if this was your son,” Saheli said.
Brunner asked the council if they would like to put the matter on an agenda for an upcoming meeting to deal with the family’s concerns in a more in-depth manner. The council eventually selected the December 14 meeting of the Public Safety Committee to address the issue, and moved the 5:30 pm meeting from a first floor hearing room to the larger council chambers.
Oakland residents and BAMN activists spoke again during the public comment period before the council addressed an agenda item regarding public safety. BAMN member Liana Mulholland repeated a warning expressed by many of the speakers—that if the District Attorney does not bring charges against the officers, BAMN will organize protests on the scale of those that took place after Oscar Grant III was shot by a transit police officer at the Fruitvale BART station in January 2009. “We know now what it’s going to take to get justice,” Mulholland said.
Cruz, who said he is defending Derrick Jones’ brother Michael Jones on criminal charges that were brought after an event protesting the shooting, said the group wants the council to pressure the District Attorney. “We’re here to demand that they condemn the murder of Derrick Jones,” Cruz said in an interview. “We want the DA to file criminal charges, and to make no special exceptions when police officers kill.”
After the second round of public comment from the protesters, council members moved on to agenda items requiring a vote. Councilmember Desley Brooks, who represents District 6, where the shooting took place, missed the first votes in order to confer with staff about how to further address the matter of Jones’ death.
With little fanfare, the council voted in favor of an amendment to the recently passed ordinance defining the permitting process for large-scale medical marijuana growers in the city. The council set the application fee for each business at $5,000, and set the annual regulatory fee at $60,000 per business. The original ordinance set the regulatory fee on a graduated scale based on the number of customers a given facility served.
Councilmembers then engaged in a discussion of a newly implemented state law that charges California cities $3 per parking ticket issued to help fund state trial courts. The state already charges $10 per parking ticket, bringing the total charge to $13. City staff advised the council to pass the fee onto motorists by increasing all parking tickets by $3, a step the council was reluctant to take.
“After the parking revolt of a year and a half, a year ago, none of us wants to raise parking” ticket prices, Pat Kernighan of District 2 said. Kernighan referred to the council’s attempts to raise parking meter rates and extend parking meter hours in 2009, actions that met contempt from residents and were eventually overturned. Saying that the annual cost to the city would be $900,000 if it did not pass the cost onto motorists, Kernighan said the state was putting the council in a difficult position. “The choices here are really bad,” the councilmember said.
Councilmember at-large Rebecca Kaplan said that the council should wait until after the holiday shopping season to implement the additional fee. District 4 Councilmember Jean Quan said that delaying the implementation of the additional $3 fee until January 3, 2011 as suggested would cost the city $60,000. Saying she supported the delay, Brunner said, “It’s a Christmas present.”