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Council deadlocks over resolution that would allow tougher policing of protests

on February 8, 2012

During another contentious meeting Tuesday night, the City Council deadlocked over a resolution aimed at increasing the policing of protests. The resolution would have made protests that block streets without a permit illegal, and allowed the city administrator to use “whatever lawful tools” required to prevent protesters from hindering everyday business operations.

Although the resolution specifically mentioned the Port of Oakland as the primary area of concern, it could be used to stop protests anywhere in the city.

Large numbers of Occupy Oakland protesters gathered in the council’s chambers, shouting down councilmembers as they attempted to discuss the resolution. Many members said that it targeted Occupy Oakland, violated participants’ First Amendment rights to protest, and allowed the city to micromanage the group’s affairs.  Some also pointed out that it would make labor strikes subject to the same kind of police force, which would take away the port workers’ negotiating power.

Elle Queue, an Occupy Oakland medic, said the resolution took away the constitutional rights of Americans. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” she read aloud. “Yet over 400 people were wrongfully arrested a week ago.”

Critics also pointed out that the resolution simply codified the power the city attorney already has. “It confers no additional authority on the City Administrator which she doesn’t already have,” said Jeff Levine, Vice President of Oakland’s chapter of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, who spoke during the public comment session. “It is unnecessary and anti-labor.”

Port officials and business leaders who supported the resolution warned that the protests would be harmful to business. They said that they had not lost customers in the past, but shared concerns that the possibility of protests looming around the corner would discourage clients.

Paul Junge, from the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said the government had previously curtailed rights of free speech when safety was an issue. “It is unremarkable that the city should enforce the laws – it is not remarkable at all that speech be limited,” he said.

Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) suggested that the resolution be amended to exclude protests by labor groups, but the idea was shot down when City Attorney Barbara Parker said that the resolution addressed time, place and manner restrictions, and it would be problematic to single out specific types of protest groups. There was also general outcry from the public upon this suggestion. A number of individuals shouted, “What about truckers?” when the council considered excluding labor groups, referring to the fact that truckers are not unionized workers, and would not be covered by the extension of protesting rights to labor groups.

Councilmember Libby Schaaf (District 4), who supported the resolution, said that its purpose is not to take away labor rights. “Striking is covered under contracts, striking is lawful,” she said. She suggested that an amendment be made to the original wording of the resolution, adding the words “…provided that this resolution does not apply to lawful activities, including, but not limited to labor strikes.”

Paul Junge says it would not be a remarkable incident for the city to enforce its law and curtail free speech.

The resolution still failed to pass. Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan (at-large) and Nancy Nadel (District 3) voted no, while Councilmembers Larry Reid (District 7) and Pat Kernighan (District 2) abstained. The 4-4 deadlock could have been resolved by the mayor, had she been present at the meeting.

The constant disruptions by the crowd forced the council into recess around 8:30 pm. Upon returning, Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6) addressed the Occupy Oakland protesters in the audience, saying that they believed in freedom of speech but only for themselves. “This movement is an ever-moving target with no political goal, no political right,” she said. “There are many people who have tried to speak, but each time you shut them down. If your movement is so perfect, then why don’t you let anyone speak?”

Responding to Occupy Oakland protesters who had compared Occupy to the civil rights movements of the past, Brooks said, “The difference is that all of those movements had a goal!”

Kernighan told the crowd “I’m pretty disgusted with the complete lack of respect.” She said that her abstention had nothing to do with what the protesters had said, but the issue at hand. “Occupy Oakland has become a self-indulgent bunch of antics in the street where you intentionally provoke the police,” she said, as her voice was drowned out by the crowd booing.

The council also voted on two proposals that would begin work on an Army Base Community Benefits (ABCB) policy framework to allow Oakland residents to benefit most from the development at the Oakland Army Base. The Army Base project, which has estimated infrastructure and land preparation costs of $500 million and commercial facility costs of an additional $300 million would create at least 2,500 to 3,000 permanent operations jobs.

The council’s intent was to review a report produced by the Jobs Working Group, in conjunction with several groups like Revive Oakland and Oakland Works on this project, and allow Oakland residents to gain the most jobs. The reported suggested that at least 50 percent of contracting needs be met by local contractors, and 50 percent of workers be hired from Oakland. West Oakland residents would be given additional priority. Meanwhile, 100 percent of new apprentices must be Oakland hires.

Large numbers of port workers and Oakland residents expressed their approval of the proposals in the report, and they were passed unanimously by the council.

Brunner, who had worked on this proposal, thanked the city for its support. Brooks thanked Brunner, Nadel and labor unions for their work, adding that “I have always said this army base project ought to do more than just have some buildings completed at the end of it. We need to build capacity.”


  1. Published Works « Syeda Amna Hassan on June 8, 2012 at 4:39 am

    […] Council deadlocks over resolution that would allow tougher policing of protests […]

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