In an effort to protect residents’ rights to free speech and assembly, Berkeley Vice Mayor Sophie Hahn proposed legislation that would create higher standards for imposing curfews.
Hahn’s proposal sets a framework to enact a new subset of curfews with a primary purpose of limiting or completely banning constitutionally protected speech and assembly, which she called “First Amendment Curfews.”
The item is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Ben Bartlett and Kate Harrison, as well as Mayor Jesse Arreguín.
“It will be a big step forward for civil liberties and really echoes the themes that have been important to the city of Berkeley ever since the Free Speech Movement began here in the 1960s,” Hahn said.
She also said she wrote the item in early June after Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley and Berkeley Police Department Chief Andrew Greenwood initiated a curfew to limit robberies.
Hahn alleged that the council was asked to ratify and extend the curfew without being presented with legal and constitutional standards.
“We were in a very stressful situation,” Hahn said. “We were asked to take action very quickly. We were told there were threats of violence.”
The concerns that prompted the curfew, however, did not materialize, according to Hahn. The City Council then asked Williams-Ridley to rescind the curfew.
Hahn said she immediately wrote the item, as she believed these events demonstrated a lack of infrastructure to ensure curfews are responsibly placed.
If passed, Hahn’s proposed legislation would make it more difficult to impose First Amendment Curfews, by requiring a City Council meeting and a discussion of all alternatives.
Approved First Amendment Curfews must also specify impacted areas and can only be implemented one day at a time.
“My legislation forces a process, a very careful deliberation that makes it harder for the emergency services director to impose curfews unilaterally without the City Council,” Hahn said. “We have to have a real basis to expect there will be a danger to our citizens — we cannot impose them on thin speculation.”
Hahn also said she hopes the First Amendment Curfew legislation will serve as a model for other cities.
Hahn said she believes the United States is facing “dangerous” times, alleging that the federal government is responding differently to protests against police brutality compared to demonstrations of white supremacy.
By creating a higher standard of scrutiny for First Amendment Curfews, Hahn said she wants to protect free speech and assembly in ways she believes the federal government has not.
“We are in a very serious and frightening situation, with no regard to free speech and assembly in this country, and cities cannot be complicit,” Hahn said. “We have to be extremely vigilant in safeguarding our ability to speak, to assemble, to protest, to demonstrate and stand up to the values we believe in.”
The First Amendment Curfew legislation will be addressed at the council’s next meeting July 28.