Just a few weeks after two San Francisco Chronicle columnists proposed cutting off the First Amendment in Oakland at sundown, Mayor Libby Schaaf has followed their advice and implemented a selective ban on nighttime protest marches in the city.
The new policy was first enforced last Thursday evening when an evening march planned as part of the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls was forced off the streets by the Oakland Police Department. Following an outcry on social media, the East Bay Express reported that the strong-arm tactics by OPD were part of a new policy put in place by the mayor in response to the major property damage suffered by Auto Row during a protest on May 1st:
In an interview today, Mayor Libby Schaaf acknowledged that she ordered the prohibition on nighttime street marches in Oakland. However, she argued that it was a not new city law, but rather a reinterpretation of an existing one….
Under the mayor's new tactic, OPD will block demonstrators from marching in the streets after dark, and marchers will only be allowed on sidewalks.
The East Bay Express also spoke with civil rights attorney Rachel Lederman, who helped write Oakland's current crowd control policy. Lederman pointed out that the new policy is both inconsistent with that policy and blatantly unconstitutional:
“A local government can impose a reasonable time, manner, and place restriction on speech,” said Lederman, “but the Oakland crowd control policy specifically states that OPD will facilitate marches in the street regardless of whether a permit has be obtained as long as it’s feasible to do so.”
Lederman also said it is unconstitutional for the city to prohibit nighttime street marches. “The reasonableness is determined by what’s actually happening there,” said Lederman. “You can’t ban street marches at night because on some past occasions some people broke windows. That’s completely unconstitutional.”
Schaaf's policy was quickly challenged by activists intent on preserving the First Amendment in Oakland. On Saturday, about 150 protesters—led by many of the same activists who had planned Thursday's #BlackLivesMatter protest—met at Frank Ogawa plaza in the evening and planned to step off into the street at sunset.
“We are not going to get on the sidewalks, and we are not going to leave until we decide we are ready to leave,” an organizer announced, as others distributed earplugs, baggies with vinegar-soaked hankies, and spray bottles of Maalox, to be used in the event that OPD deployed tear gas.
[jump] The group marched in the street to the Oakland Police Department's Public Administration Building at 8th and Broadway, then turned onto Washington Street and continued marching toward Jack London Square until they were stopped by a police line at 3rd Street. After a long standoff, during which time OPD deployed CS gas, according to EBX reporter Darwin BondGraham, many protesters sat down on the street and the police declared an unlawful assembly.
47 protesters were cuffed, cited, and released—among them several National Lawyer's Guild legal observers and Oakland Planning Commissioner Jahmese Myres. Five other protesters were arrested and transported to Santa Rita jail.
Following the arrests Saturday night, an additional protest was called by Interfaith leaders for Sunday night. About 200 protesters met at Frank Ogawa Plaza to again challenge the protest curfew. The group marched under heavy police chaperon on Broadway until it met a line of motorcycle cops at 6th Street and then returned to the intersection of 14th and Broadway.
The protester's songs and chants were frequently drowned out by an officer on an OPD sound system droning, “This is the Oakland Police Department. We are here to facilitate your First Amendment right to protest. We encourage you to express yourself in a manner respectful of other people, their property, and the City of Oakland.”
The night soon devolved into Orwellian farce when scores of police in riot-gear cleared the intersection at 14th and Broadway of protesters and then surrounded small groups of protesters on each of the four corners. Protesters demanded to be able to cross the street, in the crosswalks, with the light, befuddling police as to their actual purpose. Four violent arrests ensued, with police slamming some protesters to the ground while they stood on the sidewalk.
Oakland activists are planning to continue challenging the mayor's protest curfew. Another march is planned for Friday evening.