Council has rejected a proposal to ban items from public gatherings that could become weapons if a peaceful protest became violent.
The proposal would have banned otherwise legal items from protests including sticks/poles larger than three inches in diameter, any length of metal pipe, all baseball bats, any aerosol spray (including tear gas, mace, pepper spray, smoke canisters or bear repellent), slingshots, catapults, chains longer than 20 inches, all blades, martial arts weapons, containers of noxious liquid, all glass bottles, open flames, shields, bricks or laser pointers.
“There are items that people can have ordinarily in the course and scope of their lives that are fine to have but within the context of showing up in a protest, you have to ask how is that contributing to the expressive conduct,” said Interim Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks. “If we want to promote peaceful protest, and we want to encourage constitutional activity, which is the goal — that is a longtime goal of this organization to facilitate that — the circumstances have evolved such though that there are people who will come up with the intent of creating the chaos, creating the fear of injury, looking to escalate the circumstances. And they’ll use these kinds of things to do exactly that.”
After refining the motion to allow items used to support freedom of expression and establishing a sunset clause, Councilmembers Phil Brock, Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre voted in favor of the new rules.
“I think with those amendments and those changes, this ordinance will protect residents who are demonstrating peacefully, and also support the First Amendment and give our law enforcement staff the tools to deal with individuals that are coming to a demonstration with other intention,” said de la Torre.
However, Councilmembers Gleam Davis, Kristin McCowan, Kevin McKeown and Mayor Sue Himmelrich voted against the motion saying existing laws already provide police with the ability to intervene if objects become weapons and citing concerns over enforcement.
Councilwoman Davis said police have the ability to intervene in situations where items have become weapons without specific rules that preemptively ban the ownership of those items because officers don’t have to wait for an assault to occur before stepping in if they see a dangerous situation.
“I mean if the ordinance banned swords, if we saw someone wade into a protest with a sword even if they hadn’t cut anyone yet, I’m assuming that police would go up to that person and say, ‘Whoa, you’ve got a sword.’ I mean, I’m sort of stunned in that we don’t think we could do anything absent this ordinance.”
Members of the public called into the meeting criticizing the proposal in specific and saying that the general approach was misguided as it connected peaceful protest with criminal intent. Some speakers said the rules would contribute to unfair policing that targets minorities while others said the proposal was inappropriate given the lack of a public investigation into the police response to the protests and riots last year.
Craig Miller has been a vocal critic of the city’s response and said while he understands the motivation behind the proposal, he thinks the city’s focus is misplaced.
“So I don’t think what Phil or anyone else was aiming to put into this emergency ordinance is necessarily wrong and I don’t turn a blind eye to the real threat that exists,” he said. “I just want to match the real threat with real credible action that will make a real difference. And that’s in the reality and the correct learnings of what we all experienced on 5/31.”
He said the first concrete legislative actions that come out of last year’s incident should address the police actions that were far more of a threat to residents than stick sizes and signage rules.
“It’s just, we have a whole set of issues to deal with,” he said. “They’re pressing, and we should take a balanced approach, not a singular and somewhat tangential approach.”