Berkeley’s increased powers to regulate unauthorized protests is an overstep

CITY AFFAIRS: New ordinance meant to close a demonstration management loophole is overly broad, not a long-term solution to upcoming season of alt-right presence.

Kelly Baird/Staff

Even an alt-right rally isn’t enough of a justification to suddenly increase government and police authority with little public oversight. But that’s what Berkeley City Council did when it granted the city more power to regulate unauthorized protests.

A new ordinance empowers the city manager to issue temporary regulations on unpermitted protests that spill into the sidewalk and streets. Previously, Berkeley could set protest rules on unpermitted rallies when they were held at city parks. It’s a loophole police say made managing bloody alt-right protests earlier this year particularly challenging.

These temporary regulations include, for example, bans on specified objects that could potentially be used as weapons, or creating strict entry points. But the ordinance does not stipulate whether these are the only rules that the city manager could call for, leaving the door open for unwanted restrictions.

Several city councilmembers said violence in Charlottesville had upped the ante, justifying the need to increase control. But attempting to patch this gap with an ordinance that is both vague and overly broad is ill-advised, and emergency measures often have the effect of granting too much unintended power.

In fact, in the next four months that this ordinance remains in effect, it could give the city the capacity to be even more inhospitable toward marginalized communities. Police authority disproportionately affects people of color, and Berkeley police are no exception. A report released last month by the city found that Black people are six times more likely to be subjected to use of force by a police officer than white people.

Many unauthorized assemblies, like the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests or the marches after President Donald Trump’s election, spark important discussions about large-scale oppressions that marginalized communities face all over this country. Clearly, not all unauthorized assemblies merit equal amounts of police oversight and intervention. While a protest of white supremacists is not a worthy cause, this doesn’t mean all unauthorized protests are similarly vile.

The city manager can wield new powers for events proposed to draw 100 people or more. These powers could theoretically be used to issue regulations on events as harmless as Berkeley Critical Mass, a group bike ride that happens on the second Friday of every month, said Cheryl Davila, the lone city councilmember present at the meeting who voted against the ordinance.

This broad overstep was approved in a hasty manner and with overwhelming opposition from public commenters present at the emergency meeting.

Ultimately, emboldening the police, which already has a bad track record with marginalized groups, is not a long-term solution to the upcoming season of controversial speakers and their extremist followers.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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