The Los Angeles City Council provoked outrage on Tuesday by considering – but not voting on – a proposed rule change designed to eject disruptive public speakers. At the heated City Council meeting, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, along with dozens of members of the public, voiced their concerns about the proposal.
Current rules allow for public speakers to be kicked out of the council chambers for being disruptive, but only from that specific meeting. The proposal, which was introduced by Councilman Herb Wesson, Councilman Gil Cedillo and Councilwoman Nury Martinez, would bar anyone ejected from a City Council or council committee meeting from attending any more meetings the rest of the day.
If the person is removed from another meeting within three business days, he or she would be barred from attending any more meetings for three business days. If they disrupt another meeting within the next three business days after they are allowed to return, they would be barred from meetings on the next six business days.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the motion next week.
A handful of people are routinely ejected from council meetings or committee meetings for violating rules, including yelling out or being disruptive when it is not their turn to speak, or for using racist and bigoted language. Some of these individuals, such as well-known gadfly Armando Herman, told City Council they would sue if the proposal was passed.
Other public speakers were more philosophical in their objections, though no less passionate. Jamie Garcia, of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, told City Council that mere consideration of the proposal, which she likened to silencing of free speech rights, sent a strong message to Los Angeles residents.
“It is often said that we are not heard in this body,” Garcia said. “[But] this space is for us to come and air our grievances.”
Others were more supportive of the motion. North Hollywood resident Ron Bitzer, who described himself as a “former public gadfly,” told City Council that he understood the importance of both free speech and public comment, even from unpopular speakers. However, Bitzer elaborated, that doesn’t excuse vulgarity in the council chambers.
“What has been happening in this chamber is not public free speech,” Bitzer said, adding that he couldn’t show his grandchildren how their government works with such language being used.
For now, City Council has elected to continue refining the matter with legal counsel and working on a way to enforce decorum at City Council meetings – without violating free speech laws.