.Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf Institutes Ban On Nighttime Street Protests

Police forced a peaceful march that was organized by Black women off the streets of Oakland last evening in an unusual show of force that heralds the first enforcement of a nighttime prohibition on street demonstrations. Last night’s protest was part of a national day of action called #SayHerName focusing on police violence against women and transgender people.

The rally began just before sunset in Frank Ogawa Plaza where about 200–300 people had gathered. After several speeches and recitations of poetry, the protesters announced their intention to march to the Oakland Police Administration Building seven blocks away. Demonstrators had not yet stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway when OPD addressed the crowd through an amplified sound system, stating that the march was “unpermitted.” As demonstrators walked into the street, police immediately ordered them back onto the sidewalk, citing California Vehicle Code Section 2800, which makes it an arrestable offense to not comply with orders of a police officer.

“The fact is we were threatened with arrest for marching,” said Cat Brooks, one of the facilitators of the protest. “This was a Black women’s and children’s rally saying to the police, please stop killing us, and our woman mayor organized the harshest response we’ve seen yet.”

[jump] “There clearly is a shift in tactics by the police,” said attorney Anne Weills, who was in last night’s march.

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. 

“There have been no changes to any city policy or enactment of any new ordinances in any way to prohibit peaceful protests,” Schaaf told the Express. “We are making better use of our existing policies to prevent vandalism and violence. Our intent is to ensure that freedom of expression is not compromised by illegal activity and that demonstrators, bystanders, and property are kept safe.”

However, one of the authors of Oakland’s law governing OPD’s response to protests said the new ban is illegal. “My general impression is the police took an unduly aggressive approach that not only violated their own crowd control policy, but also the First Amendment,” said civil rights attorney Rachel Lederman. Lederman helped draft Oakland’s existing crowd control policy. She said that OPD is not supposed to stop a march simply because it does not have a permit or because it enters the street.

“This was an unreasonable interference with the demonstration given that there had been no serious crimes committed,” said Lederman.

Unlike the night of May 1, when numerous windows were broken and cars on Auto Row on Broadway were burned, no vandalism occurred during the march last night. No persons were wearing masks. In fact, there were a number of children taking part in the march, and at least one woman was pushing a baby in a stroller. Cat Brooks said she announced over a loudspeaker at the outset of the march that the protest would be entirely nonviolent.

But as the demonstrators walked down Broadway, lines of OPD officers surrounded them. OPD’s sound system, mounted in a vehicle, continued to warn the protesters that they faced citation and arrest. The march was eventually kettled by approximately 100 officers on the block between 7th and 8th Streets, about one block away from the police administration building. Threatened with citations and possibly even mass arrest, the demonstrators complied with the police order and moved onto the sidewalk. The police then allowed the demonstrators to walk to the Police Administration Building one block away.

“I don’t know if it’s illegal, but the use of that machine that caused sound to be so loud was not good, and some people called me afterward because they still have ringing in their ears,” said Weills about the sound system used by OPD to issue warnings to the demonstrators.

“I think because of Auto Row and what happened there, Mayor Schaaf has decided to get tough,” said Weils. “But for her to do this with this particular march, it’s just so indiscriminate.”

On social media during and after the march, people speculated that the city is implementing some new ban or curfew on demonstrations, perhaps by implementing an ordinance. City officials said there is no new ordinance, and no rules or policies have been changed.

“That demonstration was never declared unlawful and never ordered to disperse,” said Schaaf. “My understanding is that protesters were told that once it became dark they needed to get off the roadways.”

Mayor Schaaf said that Oakland’s crowd control policy allows for time, place, and manner restrictions on political speech, and that her administration’s intent is to maintain a peaceful environment in which everyone feels safe to come out and express themselves.

“Our intent is that by using better crowd management, not control, but management, that we can get demonstrators into safe spaces after sunset, once it’s dark, and this will better protect everyone’s safety, freedom of speech, and assembly,” the mayor added.

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.

But Lederman said the new ban is clearly unlawful. “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.”


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