Police presence at Richmond city council meetings returns to normal
on October 1, 2013
Some Richmond residents have objected to what they call “police intimidation” at city council meetings.
Richmond city council meetings are notoriously contentious. On July 23rd, following a disturbance by protesters, more than 125 people were removed from the chambers by police officers. Since July, the RPD has had a larger presence at these meetings. Richmond resident Don Gosney counted 13 officers at the city council meeting on July 30th.
Beginning today, RPD spokesperson Sergeant Nicole Abetkov says officers will return to routine operations, which means two officers and one sergeant will attend each meeting. The sergeant will no longer read aloud the rules at the beginning of each meeting. This statement has included a recital of the consequences—including arrest or citation—for those who break them.
But, the RPD says its officers will continue to pass out printed rules of conduct to every attendee. “That way no one can say they weren’t told the rules,” Abetkov says.
Since the July 23rd meeting, a handful of residents have used the public comment portion of the meeting to speak out against the increased police presence. “Her [Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s] selective enforcement of using armed police officers is one of those things that makes some people feel as if their elected representatives may be abusing their authority to silence people who disagree with them,” Gosney says.
McLaughlin writes in an email that the RPD officers are just there to maintain order. “The rules were repeatedly disregarded at our Council meetings by a few, highly vocal members of the public who were disrupting the meetings in a major way and disallowing the democratic rights of the greater public to be upheld.”
“Well, unfortunately, the way the mayor conducts the meetings denies individuals their free speech rights,” Councilmember Nat Bates says. “It’s a dictatorship—if you don’t fall in line and jump to the music of the mayor and RPA [Richmond Progressive Alliance] you are thrown out of council chambers, and we have recesses and this type of thing.”
“In all reality, everyone has a fair opportunity to have a public safe place,” Abetkov says. For now though, she says the meetings should return to normal, “If stuff starts popping up again we’ll reevaluate.”
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Bates was a supporter of Mark Wassberg in his city council campaign, donating new shirts and ties for him to wear on the stump (according to an interview with Wassberg in Richmond Confidential). Wassberg, for his part, has been the one most likely to cause problems at the council by his extremist antics, which goes from vile comments about Gays, undocumented workers… and Bates refuses to call it hate speech. his refusal to condemn the words (certainly within Bates Freedom of Speech rights), even if he believes they should be allowed, speaks volumes about this man and his own use of any means to destroy progress in Richmond in his fidelity to his corporate sponsors like Chevron.
You never heard anyone decry the fact that we had police officers at our meetings to maintain order.
What you heard was a concern to have ARMED police officers warning and threatening the public at the beginning of each meeting advising us that if we did not follow the rules to the letter–or, essentially, following the whims of the Mayor, we could be evicted and cited by these armed officers of the law.
Considering the way the Mayor selectively enforces the rules and selectively evicts people from these meetings there has been concern that her love for all things socialist also means that she has embraced the dictatorial style of those countries where they practice her style of government.
Isn’t it strange that it’s in vestiges of the far right and the far left that we have dictatorial rule? Even though Richmond is so far left of Bezerkeley and San Francisco, we’d like to think we’re still a democracy and our elected representatives are there to do our bidding and not just their own.