We need more and not less freedom of speech in this country. That’s why the Sacramento City Council should permanently shelve any ill-considered proposals to restrict speech at council meetings.
You can be sympathetic to those who have been verbally abused for years. But the council chambers is where the public can go to be heard. Once you begin to formulate policy to restrict free speech rights, restricting them more only becomes easier.
So, yes, the reasons behind the now-shelved proposal (it was pulled from the agenda Tuesday) to ban “abusive or threatening” behavior are understandable. They always are. Free speech sometimes, though, is uncomfortable, but necessary.
Certain advocates who frequent council meetings have been berating council members for years. Sometimes this civil disobedience has crossed the line and has had the cumulative effect of wearing down some, if not all, council members.
Some frequent protesters are abusive. They should never threaten or attempt to intimidate physically or emotionally. But some have, repeatedly, and the council members have come close to snapping as a result.
As Ryan Lillis wrote in The Bee: “Under the proposal, people kicked out of two or more meetings in a six-month period would be banned from council sessions for 30 days. Those booted from three or more meetings in a year would receive a 90-day ban. People ‘removed for verbal or physical threats to the safety of any other person at the council meeting’ would also get a 90-day suspension.”
Sacramento is not the only city where council members are berated. The practice is especially common in California cities that confront big homeless issues, or have had to deal with cops killing African Americans in horrendous tragedies. Sacramento has wrestled with both. We’re not a small town anymore. These manifestations of civil unrest are proof of growth and complexity.
You can’t create 1976 rules to combat 2018 social problems.
Some council members gripe that they are only part-timers and don’t get paid enough for this kind of abuse. OK, well, every council member on the job – save for Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is full time – has fought pretty hard to stay on the council. The positions must have some value to them. And a few years ago, when former Mayor Kevin Johnson tried to enhance the power of the mayor and the council, he was strongly opposed by councilman Steve Hansen.
It was a lost opportunity that got sidetracked by K.J. hysteria. Sacramento is big enough to have a full-time council and a mayor who calls the shots over a city manager who is not elected.
It’s time for Sacramento to grow up. Put on your grown-up pants and realize that when you run for office in this town, you’re not just going to deal with potholes. Accept it and be politicians.
If people cross the line at meetings, become abusive and threatening, use the laws that exist now, and arrest them. Prosecute them. Free speech comes with responsibility and the advocates can’t have it both ways. If some go too far, they might go to jail.
Council members, be smarter, tougher.
But you know what? Let’s flip it, too, and put some of that onus on advocates to broaden their perspective.
Protesters, be smarter, more effective.
Some despise Black Lives Matter Sacramento, but they play an important role addressing the important issue of police brutality. Wednesday, the organization and and other community groups challenged the proposed ban, serving a “cease and desist” complaint to Steinberg and the council, citing the open meeting law. Good move. I’m on their side, for this, and more.
But I think they need to broaden their reach.
Why only picket the Sacramento County district attorney? Why not picket Sacramento Police Department headquarters regularly? City cops killed Stephon Clark in March. City cops killed Joseph Mann in 2016. Why not put more heat on Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn?
No, Hahn was not on the chief when Mann was gunned down. And he was brand new when Clark was killed. But D.A. Anne Marie Schubert and the city council have taken the brunt of the heat from BLM. Why not picket and protest to hold Hahn accountable for what he is going to do now?
Why not demand to hear what Hahn is doing to change the culture in Sac PD?
And here is another thought: How does the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors get off the hook? BLM would do well to begin to demand answers on the 2017 killing of Mikel McIntyre by county sheriff’s deputies. They fired more than 20 shots at him near the Zinfandel Drive over pass on Highway 50 – a shootout at the OK corral on one of the regions’ busiest commuter arteries.
Why isn’t BLM demanding to know why the supervisors don’t do more – or at least raise their voices – to ask why the county coroner takes so long to do autopsies? Why don’t they demand to hear from the coroner if that office is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the sheriffs? Why don’t they demand to see the video of McIntyre’s slaying? Why don’t they ask publicly if the supervisors can mandate a policy to release videos of shootings involving county law enforcement to be released to the public in a timely manner?
Why doesn’t BLM put heat on Supervisor Susan Peters, the current board president and a strong ally of Sheriff Scott Jones and Schubert?
The county has a much bigger homeless budget than the city. Why don’t homeless advocates take their show over to the supervisors chambers?
In theory, free speech is beautiful. In practice, it can be ugly. Sacramento is an example of that. But the right of expression needs to be expressed, and then accepted, with more thought in Sacramento. That is what happens in big cities.