The protesting industry is breaking new ground in Oakland, California. The city has seen its share of people out in the streets protesting the police in response to incidents in Cleveland, New York and elsewhere. As in other cities, this has led to disruptions and damage when people go beyond the public exercise of their first amendment rights and decide to turn a demonstration into a riot. One of many problems is the blocking of traffic, essentially shutting parts of the city down for hours on end. In response to this, city officials have established a new policy which would keep marchers on the sidewalks rather than in the middle of roadways and the police have been arresting or issuing citations to those who refuse to comply.
Obviously that wasn’t going to be a popular move, so now the protesters are protesting the policy.
Police made arrests as demonstrators marched in downtown Oakland to against the city’s new get-tough policy for monitoring street protests — the second such gathering in as many days.
Officers watched closely Sunday night as the protesters marched several blocks starting at Frank Ogawa Plaza.
Spokeswoman Johnna A. Watson said about 100-150 marched before organizers ended the event, and then a group of 15-20 started another protest…
The Oakland Tribune reported Sunday that police cited a new policy by the city’s mayor to force protesters from the street to the sidewalk after Oakland experienced several violent demonstrations in the past year. Oakland has hosted rallies in the streets for years, but the mayor said the new policy is needed to combat damage to property and violence.
While the goal of the city officials may be noble, the way it was communicated and implemented was obviously flawed. There are objections being raised over the explanation offered, and for good reason. Saying that the policy is meant to “combat damage to property and violence” seems nonsensical. People in the middle of the street are arguably less able to cause damage (except possibly to cars) than those on the sidewalks within easy reach of shops and residences. But that doesn’t make it a bad policy… just a poorly articulated one.
The cops are dealing with two different typed of behavior when these protests take place. Looting, rioting and arson are serious and sometimes produce deadly results. But that is flat out crime at a big league level and needs to be crushed when and where it happens. It also has little or nothing to do with whether the rioters are on the sidewalks or in the streets. The problem the city seems to be trying to address here is the fact that the no justice no peace theory of protesting seems to have locked on to the idea of shutting down traffic as a legitimate form of free speech. But the laws say otherwise. In virtually any city across the nation you need to obtain a permit to have any sort of march or parade or other activity which will essentially shut down public transportation, as well as the movement of private vehicles and emergency responders. This allows the city to plan in advance, inform the public and arrange for alternate traffic routes. The people who choose to ignore those laws and close down the roadways are breaking the law and need to be removed.
And that’s exactly what Oakland seems to be doing. The problem is that they’re doing a terrible job of explaining it in a coherent fashion.