The Long Beach City Council voted to table a controversial law that would have banned protesters from targeting people’s homes after advocates said it would hinder First Amendment protections for free speech and council members questioned if the law was still needed.
The council last considered creating 300-foot no-protest buffer zones around homes in September 2021 after some members’ homes were targeted.
In September 2020, protestors upset about the level of spending on the police department left coffins on the lawn of former Councilmember Suzie Price. In November 2020, Price and two other members had U-Haul trucks placed outside their homes to signal they should move if they continued to support COVID-19 health orders.
The latter was viewed as a threat that some members said crossed a line.
Councilmember Daryl Supernaw said his first thought when he saw the truck outside his home was the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder rental truck loaded with explosives outside the federal building.
Supernaw canceled Thanksgiving that year as he worked to determine who sent the trucks, later finding out a man who had posted pictures of himself online with a MAGA beanie and a rifle was behind the stunt.
“I don’t think any resident should be subjected to this,” Supernaw said Tuesday night.
The proposed rule would have instituted a ban similar to San Jose’s and Los Angeles’ that barred “targeted” protesting from happening within 300 feet of the intended person’s residence.
In addition to potential misdemeanor charges and civil penalties, protestors could have been subject to civil lawsuits by the target of the protest or their neighbors, something that opponents said could lead to a chilling effect on free speech and harm people protesting for policy changes, who tend to be poorer and people of color.
If passed, the city would be criminalizing protests, opponents said, and preventing protestors’ voices from being heard by the people in power.
“The greatest rights we have are the right to vote and to peacefully assemble and speak,” said Naida Tushnet, a resident who said she’s a longtime member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“If it is inconvenient for us to speak in one place or another, that is not what the constitution is about,” she said.
Erik Garcia, an organizer with the Long Beach Immigrants Rights Coalition, said no meaningful progressive change has ever been without some kind of disruption or protest. Like several other speakers, he said that council members signed up for the potential to be protested when they campaigned for their seats.
“Your feelings and your comfortability should have nothing to do with where and when people assemble when you have the ability to affect their lives,” Garcia said.
The council appeared poised to direct the City Attorney’s Office to begin drafting the ordinance before a succession of members said the atmosphere that fed the pandemic-era protests was no longer present and questioned if they could support the law going forward.
“I think 2020 and the protests that went on during that time was an outlier, and I don’t think we can necessarily set policy based on that period of time,” said Councilmember Al Austin, who made the motion to receive and file the issue instead of moving forward with the ordinance.
Other members quickly followed Austin’s lead, questioning the ambiguity of the language that was being proposed. Councilmember Megan Kerr, who was elected in November, said the recommended law was from a different council in a different time and that she believed in “carrying the burden of the work” of being an elected official.
The council voted to table the issue with a 6-1 vote, with Supernaw being the dissenting vote.
After the decision, opponents who had stuck around for over six hours waiting for the issue to be discussed put down their signs that read “This is racism” and applauded.