Activists aghast at Oakland law criminalizing possession of some household items at protests
The Oakland City Council moved closer on Tuesday to both expand authorities’ surveillance capabilities and and authorize a ban on common household tools and paints it deemed “tools of violence and vandalism” at public demonstrations, raising concerns from local activists and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“I appreciate that the City Council wants to make demonstrations safe,” ACLU attorney Michael Risher told KGO-TV. “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.”
The Oakland Tribune reported that the council voted 5-0 around 1:20 a.m. to approve the ban, which covers the mere possession of “impact-resistant shields, aerosol spray cans, pressurized paint sprayers, sling shots, hammers, large wrenches for opening fire hydrants, fireworks, paint projectiles or fire accelerants” at protests regardless of whether they are used or about to be used by protestors. The item will be taken for final reading on Sept. 17.
Risher told KGO that the proposal is a more narrow version of one taken up by the council in 2012, which was discarded after vocal opposition by members of Occupy Oakland. But council member Noel Gallo re-introduced it to the council following reports of violence in the city amid demonstrations against George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“These individuals come whenever they want to to trash my city,” Gallo said to KGO. “They laugh about it, then they leave and they want to sue me. It’s not gonna work that way.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the council also voted 5-0 to accept a $2.2 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security allowing for the construction of a surveillance building, the Domain Awareness Center, allowing local authorities to monitor the city and Port of Oakland 24 hours a day through a network of security cameras, gunshot detectors and license plate readers.
“The Domain Awareness Center is the guard tower which will watch over every person in the city of Oakland,” one resident, 20-year-old Mark Raymond, told the Chronicle. “This program is an attempt to criminalize and imprison all people who live and pass through Oakland.”
The facility, which is expected to open in July 2014, would be funded by $10 million in federal grants and be staffed by police and port officials continually. Opponents chanted “Shame” at the council following the approval of the first grant.
“What they did is approve a vast surveillance center without understanding the implications,” ACLU attorney Linda Lye told the Chronicle. “The privacy polices would be drafted only after the center is built. At that point, what opportunity will there be for to determine if the safeguards are sufficient?”
Watch KGO’s report on the council’s move to ban “tools of violence,” aired Tuesday, below.