Sacramento taps the brakes on controversial ban on protest items

Will a ban on pepper spray keep people safe or put them at risk?

Sacramento City Council considers a proposal to ban pepper spray and a list of other items from protests. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, council members heard from voices on both sides.
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Sacramento City Council considers a proposal to ban pepper spray and a list of other items from protests. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, council members heard from voices on both sides.

Sacramento City Council members tapped the brakes Tuesday on a controversial proposal to ban pepper spray and a list of other items from protests.

After about 20 people spoke against the ordinance at the council’s Law and Legislation Committee, Councilman Jay Schenirer, who chairs the committee, directed the police to work with him to come up with a plan for community outreach before bringing the proposal back to the committee for reconsideration.

Council members Jeff Harris, Eric Guerra and Steve Hansen said they were not yet convinced the ordinance was necessary.

“I think I need to hear more from our police department about what this does to enhance their toolkit to protect public safety,” Harris said. “There may not be need for this. ... You do have a pretty big toolkit to protect public safety so I’d like to hear more about that, perhaps before we go to council.”

Several of the people who spoke against the ordinance said they need to be able to carry pepper spray and other items with them for self-defense from counter-protesters or others looking to cause trouble.

“This ordinance does not keep me safe,” said Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento. “I keep pepper spray for my own safety. I’ve had grown men come to our protest just to confront me then leave. I am not safe with this ordinance.”

Since Faison joined Black Lives Matter, she has received multiple threats, she said.

The organization hosted a series of large protests after Stephon Clark’s death, which gained national attention and added to the national conversation about police treatment of African-Americans.

Those protests cost the city roughly $800,000, partly because protesters used improvised weapons to damage city property, according to a staff report from Deputy Chief of Police Dave Peletta, who proposed the ordinance.

“We bring this now because last year in 2018 the police department either monitored or staffed over 214 protests,” Peletta said. “Some notable protests have resulted in violence, injuries and damaged property, including in Sacramento.”

People would always be given the opportunity to comply before they were cited or arrested under the ordinance, Peletta said.

District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert is expected to soon announce whether the two officers who fatally shot Clark will be charged.

The ordinance suggests the two officers will likely not be charged, several speakers said.

“It basically tells us that she’s already made up her mind and that you’re expecting some kind of catastrophic response to what she’s determined, which is probably to not provide justice yet again,” Tee Whitney said. “And that leaves all of us with a pit in our stomach, but this ordinance adds insult to injury.”

Betty Williams, president of the NAACP Sacramento branch, also took issue with the timing.

“I personally think the timing was designed for our community to be contained and discouraged as we prepare for the statement of result of the Stephon Clark (investigation),” Williams said.

Williams urged officials to reconsider several of the items proposed to be banned in the ordinance.

“If I’m a registered gun owner and I’m not allowed to have a legal gun, but a bystander, such as a skinhead, could be able to walk past me as a registered gun owner, he would be allowed to shoot me because he is not a part of the march,” Williams said. “Are you trying to get us killed or hurt?”

The American Sikh Public Affairs Association also opposed the ordinance because it would prohibit people from wearing kirpans, which are generally held with a strap underneath clothing. A kirpan is a small dagger that’s usually worn as a religious symbol.

“If you tell the violent bigots of the world that I am unarmed, that I don’t have mace, you are making me less safe when I leave a protest to go back to my car,” attorney Amar Shergill said, on behalf of the association. “

City staff originally placed the proposal on the agenda for a council meeting Jan. 22. City Manager Howard Chan deemed it an “urgent matter” so it was not set to go the committee first, a staff report said. An hour before that meeting was set to start, Chan announced the item was pulled from the agenda to allow officials to gather more public input.

“It was the wrong strategy to use,” Hansen said, referring to the item being placed on the agenda originally. “It caused a lot of distrust.”

Schenirer said he did not know when the ordinance would come back to the committee for reconsideration. After it does, the committee could send it to the full council to consider for approval.

Here’s the full list of proposed banned items:

Any length of lumber or wood that is more than a quarter-inch thick or more than 2 inches wide. Both ends must be blunt.

Any length of metal or plastic pipe, hollow or solid, unless it is used to hold a sign. Pipes used to hold signs must be less than three-quarters inches thick, no more than one-eighth of an inch in wall thickness, and not filled with any material. Both ends must be blunt.

All baseball or softball bats of any size, except those made of cloth, cardboard, soft plastic, foam or paper.

Pepper spray, mace, tear gas, aerosol spray or bear repellant.

Any projectile launcher, such as catapults or wrist rockets.

Weapons including firearms, knives, swords, sabers, axes, hatchets, ice picks, razor blades, martial arts weapons, box cutters, pellet or BB guns, tasers or stun guns.

Toy guns, unless they are florescent or transparent.

Chains longer than 20 inches or more than a quarter inch in diameter.

Balloons, bottles, water guns, or water cannons filled with any flammable, biohazard or other noxious matter.

Glass bottles, empty or filled.

Open flame torches and lanterns.

Shields made of metal, wood or hard plastic.

Bricks, rocks, pieces of asphalt, concrete, pellets of ball bearings.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.