OAKLAND -- City leaders are reconsidering a proposal that would make it illegal to carry makeshift weapons, such as hammers, at protests after a downtown restaurant worker was struck in the face by a hammer-wielding vandal during a protest Monday.
Councilman Noel Gallo, who heads the council's Public Safety Committee, said he will try Thursday to schedule a debate on the plan that council members quickly dropped last year in the face of rowdy Occupy Oakland protesters.
The plan, initially proposed by Council President Pat Kernighan and City Attorney Barbara Parker, would make it a misdemeanor to bring items to protests that could be used as weapons or for vandalism, such as clubs, wrenches, paint projectiles and firecrackers. The goal was to help police weed out agitators from groups of protesters before the protests got violent.
Interim police Chief Sean Whent said Thursday the law might help officers as they deal with a fresh round of violent protests in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager.
"Every tool in the tool basket has value," he said. "The more opportunities we have to take enforcement action against people, the better it is."
Whent, who met with downtown merchants Wednesday, also said police will "dedicate all available resources" to prevent additional vandalism during a protest planned for Saturday. All days off for police have been canceled this weekend.
Drew Cribley, who was hit in the face with a hammer outside the restaurant Flora on Monday while trying to protect it from a vandal, said he would support the anti-weapon law. "I think the only people who should have hammers in Oakland right now are the ones boarding up the buildings," he wrote in an email.Alexeis Filipello, who owns Bar Dogwood, also said the council needed to reconsider the law. "I've seen so many people with huge hammers. It's shocking," said Filipello, whose business was vandalized during a Saturday protest and needed protection from its own customers Monday to prevent more damage.
The law was proposed during the waning days of last year's Occupy protests, during which agitators often armed with hammers and spray cans would separate themselves from demonstrators late at night and scuffle with police and damage property.
At the time, there were concerns about whether the proposal would violate the rights of protesters and questions about how much it would help an undermanned police department because vandals could just keep the items in their bags.
However, the council didn't abandon the proposal until Occupiers marched on Kernighan's home and essentially took over the first and only debate on it last May at a Public Safety Committee meeting. Several cursed at Kernighan, and others hinted at violence if the measure were approved.
The meeting ended without a vote after Occupiers threatened to harm a resident who spoke in favor of the proposal.
Kernighan said the law might have helped police deal with the recent protests, but at the time, council members "made a judgment call that the need for it did not outweigh the fact that it seemed to be galvanizing the Occupy movement."
Former Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente didn't know if the law would help police but said the council's lack of resolve hurt the city. "The message the City Council sends to these people is you can do anything in Oakland and the City Council will back down if you stand up to them," he said.
Gallo said he talked to Kernighan on Wednesday about reviving the measure and wants it on the Public Safety Committee's agenda this month. "I'm ready and willing to bring forth any action that will help us protect our businesses and our neighborhoods," he said.
free public forum
The divisive verdict in the George Zimmerman trial provides an opportunity to examine a number of social issues surrounding the case. Join the Oakland Tribune and the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education for a free, public forum that will touch on the Zimmerman trial, Trayvon Martin's death and how media images impact perception. The event will be held 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Oakland's Nile Hall, 668 13th St., inside Preservation Park.
Arnold Perkins: Former director, Alameda County Public Health Department (retired)
Dori Maynard: President, The Maynard Institute
Davon Moore: Youth mentor, The Mentoring Center
Malkia Amala Cyril: Executive director, The Center for Media Justice
Martin G. Reynolds: Moderator and senior editor, Bay Area News Group
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