An angry crowd, beating drums and waving pitchforks, clubs, and hammers, marches up the street, heading for the house of a local politician. It’s political theater, but the pitchforks, clubs and hammers are real. So, does the politician get out on her porch and meet the protesters with a shotgun? Or, as has become a standard response to protest in Oakland, does she call in riot police, armed with everything from tear gas to tanks?
This was the scene on June 11th, a public protest to an ordinance proposed by Oakland City Councilmember Patricia Kernighan to ban what she calls “Tools of Violence.”
It’s true that violence is a serious problem in Oakland. People shoot people, and the police also shoot people. Police are part of the problem. In February an officer killed a teenager and shot himself in the foot–literally. In dealing with political protests the OPD also has a terrible record, most famously on April 7, 2003 when 59 people were injured by attacking police; the incident was investigated by a United Nations commission, and the city received mention on the list of the world’s human rights abusers. The practice continues: At Occupy demonstrations last fall officers critically injured Iraq war veterans Scott Olsen in October and Kayvan Sabeghi in November. There’ve been numerous injuries, some major and many minor.
(It almost happened to me–on January 28 I happened to look up and see an officer aiming a shotgun at my face. For an instant I thought I was going to be the next Scott Olsen.)
This has been going on for years. It’s gotten to a point where a judge has warned that the OPD may be placed in federal receivership for failure to implement court ordered reforms. So Councilmember Pat Kernighan’s concern with violence might have seemed totally justified and downright commendable if it had been directed at the police rather than at peaceful protesters.
However, Kernighan’s ordinance targets protesters who, after Scott and Kayvan were injured, began carrying shields to protect themselves from police projectiles. The proposed “tools of violence” ordinance defines the “tools” so broadly as to include shields, as well as backpacks, and even water bottles and tripods for cameras. Obviously, the proposed ordinance has little to do with ending violence; it’s about suppressing First Amendment rights.
The situation called for creative theater, a dramatic response as bizarre as the proposed ordinance. So Occupy Oakland called a demonstration, inviting people to bring pots & pans and their favorite TOOL OF VIOLENCE. The event was publicized, both online and in leaflets, so Pat Kernighan obviously knew we were coming to visit her at her home on Monday, June 11th.
That evening a delegation of about fifty of us gathered at the northeast end of Lake Merritt. We were appropriately equipped with the various items of the Kernighan Tool Kit. One couple had brought a huge fork and spoon, some had shields, others wore bike helmets, and almost everyone had water bottles. Several carried hammers. Hammers, which would normally seem quite out of place at a demonstration, had now become a symbol of protest against the suppression of our First Amendment rights.
I brought my whole earth flag on a pole–the same flag I’ve been carrying for years at the Sunday peace walk. Although there has never been any complaint about my flag, Kernighan’s proposed ordinance would define the 6-foot pole as a club, and the penalty would be six months in jail. So that qualified my flag as appropriate for this event.
People carried all sorts of “tools.” My favorite of that evening was a large manure fork, carried by a hefty fellow looking like he was on his way to clean a barn. A standard farm tool, its long sharp prongs added a subtle touch of serious authenticity to our image.
After a brief rally, we set out marching up Lakeshore filling the right hand lane as usual, beating drums and chanting, “These are NOT–tools of violence!”
Some passersby gawked at us, staring wide-eyed at the bizarre display of tools, nearly enough to equip a hardware store. Others waved.
Police cars trailed behind, but didn’t interfere.
At the front of our column was a banner, reading “No justice, no peace.” We had several livestreamers, camera people, some in front and some in the middle.
Up Lakeshore Avenue, onto Walavista, and eventually up a long steep hill on Arimo Avenue towards where Councilmember Pat Kernighan lives.
“Patty! Patty! Can’t you see? You will live in infamy!” we chanted as we ascended the hill, also distributing leaflets as we went.
And what would we find on arrival? What would she do when she saw an angry crowd, beating drums and waving pitchforks, clubs, and hammers, marching up the street, heading straight for her door? Would she be standing on her porch, shotgun in hand, like in a Western movie? Or, as has become the pattern here in Oakland, would we be greeted by a phalanx of riot police? Perhaps even an armored vehicle–the one the sheriffs had brought out on May Day?
This was a relatively affluent neighborhood, and there were no potholes in this street. Houses up here were elegant, well kept up, but not really mansions. The inhabitants were clearly among the better off residents of Oakland’s District 2, but they didn’t appear to be the 1%. Some families came out and waved to us. Even up here, Occupy seemed to enjoy a bit of popular support.
And finally, along the crest of the hill, we came to a halt. This was where Pat Kernighan lived. It was a one-story house, pale green with white trim, and large windows across the front. Nice, but rather modest for an officeholder who serves the 1%.
No police. Not in front of her house anyway. There were just the two or three cop cars behind us. They stayed back, keeping their distance.
So where was Pat Kernighan? Three or four of our delegation went to ring her door bell, knocking on the door, peering in the windows. “Councilmember Kernighan, where are you? You have visitors. A delegation from Occupy Oakland. Don’t you want to come out and talk with us? No?”
The rest of us waited out in the street, watching. A TV camera, I think it was Channel 2, was filming the scene, as were several of our camera people.
Watching this, I thought of a demonstration I’d read about years ago which was held in front of a governor’s mansion. I forget which state, or who the governor was, but anyway. He came out and talked with the protesters, who must’ve been pretty surprised. It gave the appearance of a politician who listened, and it made the guy look good. And it occurred to me that if Pat Kernighan were to come out and talk with us, she might come off looking good this evening.
“Maybe she’s hiding in the basement,” quipped someone standing next to me.
“Leaving her house undefended? Look at those big windows. She’s been telling everyone that we’re a band of violent vandals.”
“She could’ve had riot police here to protect her home, but she didn’t bother to call them. Obviously she doesn’t believe we’re violent. It’s just something she talks about at the city council.”
We held a short rally, Bella Eiko and Elle Queue spoke while others leafleted the nearby houses, just to let Kernighan’s neighbors know why we’d came. Then we marched back the way we’d came, down the hill and back to the flatlands, beating drums, and waving flags, hammers and pitchforks.
Below is Councilmember Kernighan’s proposed ordinance (The numerous typos in the below are in the original):
ACTION REQUESTED OF THE CITY COUNCIL
Adopfion of this ordinance.
APPROVED AS TO FORMAND LEGALITY
ORDJNANCE NO. C.M.S.
INTRODUCED BY COUNCILMEMBER KERNIGHAN AND CITY ATTORNEY PARKER ORDINANCE PROHIBITING THE POSSESSION OF THE TOOLS OF VIOLENCE DURING A DEMONSTRATION
THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF OAKLAND DOES ORDAIN AS FOLLOWS:
SECTION 1. The following is added to the Oakland Municipal Code, Chapter 9.36 – Weapons.
Section 9.36.500. Tools of Violence at Demonstrafions
The following definifions shall apply only for the purposes of this section.
“Club” means any length of lumber, wood, wood lath, plastic, or metal, unless that object is one-fourth inch or less in thickness and two inches or less in width or, if not generally rectangular in shape, such object shall not exceed three-quarter inch in its thickest dimension. Nothing in this secfion shall prohibit a disabled person from carrying a cane, walker, or similar device necessary for mobility so that the person may participate in a demonstration.
“Painting Device” means any aerosol paint can or pressurized paint sprayer, including but not limited to, any improvised device.
“Paint Projecfile” means any container, including a plasfic bag or balloon, and containing paint and designed to be thrown or projected.
“Shield” means any impact-resistant material held by straps or a handle attached on the holder’s side of the impact-resistant material and designed to provide impact protecfion for the holder. “Handle” does not include a sfick or dowel used as a sign post. Paper, cloth, cardboard, or foam core less than one-quarter inch thick are not impact-resistant material for the purposes of this ordinance.
“Wrench” means a wrench with a span greater than or expandable to one and a quarter inches standard or 30 millimeters metric and of a length of 12 inches or more. B. Weapons and Vandalism Tools Prohibited.
No person shall carry or possess a Club, fire accelerant, fireworks, Painfing Device, Paint Projectile, Shield, sling shot, hammer, or Wrench while participafing in any demonstrafion.
The prohibitions of this section shall not apply to any law enforcement agency employee, fire service agency employee, or public works employee who is carrying out official duties.
1. Any person violating Subsection B is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) or by both.
2. Remedies under this chapter are in addition to and do not supersede or limit any and all other remedies, civil or criminal. The remedies provided for herein shall be cumulative and not exclusive.