This week, the mayor of Oakland has decided to use an old and unknown law to impose an anti-protest curfew to keep demonstrators off the streets at night.
This curfew does not apply to everyone in the city, only those who are involved in organized protests. Mayor Libby Schaaf put the order into effect in the midst of this week’s #SayHerName protest where women and children peacefully protested victims of police brutality.
During the demonstration, protesters were prevented from marching to the police station and were threatened with arrest if they stepped off of the sidewalk. Police informed protesters through a giant sound system that their march was not permitted, and that they could be arrested under Vehicle Code Section 2800, which makes it illegal to disobey anything a police officer says.
Cat Brooks, one of the organizers of the protest says that their right to freely and peacefully assemble was infringed upon.
“The fact is we were threatened with arrest for marching. 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,” Brooks told the East Bay Express.
In an interview with the East Bay Express this week, Mayor Schaaf admitted that she ordered a prohibition on nighttime protests as a result of the demonstrations, and explained that she used a law that was already on the books.
“There have been no changes to any city policy or enactment of any new ordinances in any way to prohibit peaceful protests. 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,” Schaaf told the Express.
While the mayor admitted to the protest curfew, she denied that the protest itself was declared illegal.
“That demonstration was never declared unlawful and never ordered to disperse. My understanding is that protesters were told that once it became dark they needed to get off the roadways. 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,” Schaaf said.
However, local legal experts say that the new order is both illegal and unconstitutional.
“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,” civil rights attorney Rachel Lederman told the Express.
“This was an unreasonable interference with the demonstration given that there had been no serious crimes committed. A local government can impose a reasonable time, manner, and place restriction on speech, 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. The reasonableness is determined by what’s actually happening there. You can’t ban street marches at night because on some past occasions some people broke windows. That’s completely unconstitutional,” Lederman said.
As we reported yesterday, The national demonstrations came on the heels of a report released Wednesday by the African American Policy Forum titled Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women. The forum is dedicated to telling the stories of a number of black women who were victims of police brutality.