Oakland to Consider "Tools of Violence" Ban

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    NEWSLETTERS

    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.

    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."