Reacting angrily to the protest that broke up Tuesday night’s Oakland City Council meeting, city officials said Wednesday that they were working to establish new policies designed to prevent further such disruptions during regular meetings.
“It was my decision to close the meeting down, after I saw that there was no way that Occupy Oakland was going to leave the council chambers and allow us to conduct the business that we’re supposed to do, as elected officials,” City Council President Larry Reid said Wednesday.
Reid shut down the meeting, which lasted from about 6 to 8 p.m., before the first agenda-scheduled business began. What started with a plea for information by family members of Alan Blueford, an 18-year-old Skyline High School student who was shot to death by an Oakland police officer last May, quickly turned into a noisy demonstration centering on police-involved shootings.
In addition to signs that mentioned Occupy, people carried signs affiliated with the Uhuru Movement, and others said there were protesters at City Hall from the Black Panther Party.
“This is the first time that I’ve had to adjourn a meeting like this, and that’s the last time that will be done while I’m president of the council,” Reid said.
At a press conference at Oakland police headquarters Wednesday morning, Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana said officials are examining ways the city can “redesign how council meetings are held, to anticipate large crowds who intend on interrupting that meeting.”
Reid, along with Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, Santana, Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, and Councilwoman Patricia Kernighan, said they started talks Wednesday to try to establish new rules on how to prevent future occurrences of what Reid called “unfair disruption.”
The councilmembers declined to provide specifics about how the new policies would be crafted.
“We are going to put a plan in place that will allow us to conduct the business of the city without being interrupted, and that allows everybody to exercise freedom of speech no mater how sensitive the issue—without the screaming,” Reid explained. “Being disruptive and not allowing council members to speak, and shutting the meeting down, the cussing—that’s not acceptable.”
Several councilmembers said at Tuesday’s meeting that the Blueford family deserves answers, and should have the police report they were requesting from Jordan and other city officials. But city officials also said Wednesday that they believed quick and early action to close the meeting was necessary in the aftermath of last fall’s Occupy Oakland actions and encampment in the city.
“The rowdiness of the crowd and all the yelling and screaming would never have happened before Occupy,” Reid said. “It was never like this before. We’ve had heated and sometimes disruptive discourse, but never like this. It denies the rights to the public to let them speak.”
In the council chambers, Blueford’s parents demanded answers, both from Jordan and from the council, as to why they haven’t received a copy of the police report with details about their son’s May 6 killing.
“Why did this guy kill my son?” asked Adam Blueford, Alan’s father, referring to Oakland police officer Miguel Masso, who authorities have confirmed is the one who shot and killed Blueford. Adam stood before the microphone, less than five feet from the council, and addressed elected officials by name—including Reid. “We just want to know what happened.”
The Bluefords, along with their supporters, lined up about 30 deep to speak during the council’s public comments period, scheduled before the agenda portion of each regular meeting. They shared emotional stories about the Skyline High School senior and demanded the full police report detailing the incident in which he was shot to death on the 9200 block of Birch Street.
But about an hour into the public comments, protesters began shouting. Reid then announced that Jordan was on his way with the family’s police report. Meanwhile, the crowd chanted “Alan Blueford justice!” and “Where’s Howard Jordan?”
More than a half hour later, with no announcement from Jordan, and following several attempts to get back to regular business, the meeting was adjourned—so quietly that most people did not hear the announcement. At least one person stood on a table and yelled at councilmembers, while the crowd continued protesting.
“I’m glad people are here to support us,” Adam Blueford said about the demonstration, which by 8 p.m. had spilled out on to the steps of City Hall. “This is new for us. We’re just a grieving family. We don’t know what else to do.”
While angry protesters spoke out about the officer-involved shooting, a cadre of city officials filed in to a back room to figure out how to deal with what just went on.
Reid said he had 40 other speaker cards from people who wanted to be heard on other agenda items. One item was slated to take up a dispute over whether or not to cut down some city trees that blocked a view from a home in the Oakland Hills. Another referred to a report expected to be delivered later in the evening by the police chief on citywide crime-reduction strategies.
Latonda Simmons, Oakland’s city clerk, said Tuesday night was the first time that she can remember, in 10 years, that a meeting was shut down before it was even started. “The sentiment of the public was clear,” she said as she left City Hall.
Kernighan said she once shut down a meeting of the Public Safety Commission due to Occupy Oakland protests. She said that is part of the reason why she wants to help come up with a solution on how to deal with demonstrations like Tuesday night’s in the future.
“We’re in various conversations on how to shut down this kind of activity if it ever happens again,” Kernighan said. “That is interfering with the rest of the public’s right to speak about other business that needs to be taken care of.”
But some city councilmembers also criticized the decision to adjourn the meeting without a clear explanation. District 1 Councilwoman Jane Brunner, who spoke after the meeting adjourned, said she doesn’t remember a council meeting ever being shut down due to a protest.
“What I found difficult tonight, was here we have this grieving family, and all they want is the police report,” Brunner said as she walked to her car. “The chief or the city manager never made a public explanation about why they haven’t gotten the report, about what the process is to get it or when they’ll get it.”
At-large councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said the police responded to Jordan’s decision not to speak. “There’s a couple major issues here,” she said. “Tonight underscores that fact that we have a lot of work to do repairing the relationship between the department and the community. And this family lost their 18-year-old. They’re dealing with a human tragedy—it’s right for them to want to know what happened.”
De La Fuente echoed Kaplan’s concerns. “There’s no reason why anyone should wait so long for a police report,” he said while the crowd waited for Jordan, who never arrived. “There’s no excuse—it’s that simple.”
Jordan, joining the press conference Wednesday morning, explained that he was at City Hall Tuesday night, but he did not come out to address the family and demonstrators. Things “went wrong,” he said.
Jordan said he was eager to deliver a redacted police report to the family, and said that at one point Tuesday evening he asked the Bluefords to meet with him and the city administrator in a private room to talk about the case. But the Bluefords declined, he said.
Jordan had intended to bring the family the police report, he said. But after consulting with police investigators and the district attorney’s office, “we could not release the report,” he said.
“It was a miscommunication on my part, with the council president, who made that announcement,” Jordan told about a dozen reporters Wednesday.
Jordan explained that Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and police are conducting as many as four investigations into the shooting—at least one is a criminal investigation and one is an internal affairs investigation. The Bluefords have also filed a lawsuit with the city, which is delaying the case, Jordan said.
Jordan and elected officials said they were meeting regularly with the Blueford family, to give them as many details as they could on their son’s death.
“We’re still working with the DA’s office to determine when the case will be closed. It’s still under investigation,” Jordan said. “We tried to meet with family members last night when I showed up at City Hall. They did not want to do that.”
Reid, whom the family called on to help them Tuesday night, said that he is meeting with them because he cares about them. “I care about any one who loses a child to violence on the streets of Oakland,” he said. “This family is hurting and they want answers.”