Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson ordered the room be cleared of any observers at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting after pro-Palestine protesters and some city refuse workers demanding better pay repeatedly disrupted the proceedings.
The disruptions began early in the meeting during the public comment period. The City Council exited the chambers after the pro-Palestine protesters demanded council members respond to several impassioned comments urging the council to pass a resolution supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.
After a few minutes, Richardson returned to the dais by himself to speak to the crowd that had chanted “shame” and booed the council as they exited.
Richardson said a ceasefire resolution was not on the agenda, so the council could not legally discuss it, but he told protesters to attend the city’s Equity and Human Relations Commission, which is scheduled to discuss a ceasefire resolution on Wednesday. The commission has already urged the council to adopt a resolution supporting a ceasefire in Gaza as well as condemning all forms of hate and identifying resources to combat Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism.
“I’m trying to make a statement and conduct official business,” Richardson said at one point during his explanation as people in the audience shouted him down.
The crowd continued to yell over Richardson after he refused to answer questions about why the council had not yet placed a resolution supporting a ceasefire on its agenda for a vote. (Resolutions are symbolic nonbinding votes that the City Council routinely takes to advocate for federal issues like abortion, gun control or other items outside their control.)
“You have a right to participate in the meeting. You have a right to show up to the meeting, but you have to allow us to conduct the meeting,” Richardson continued.
Here’s video of the city council retreating to chambers to boos and chants of “shame” after pro-Palestinian protestors calling for the city to support a ceasefire got angry after the council didn’t address their comments. Turned into “Recall Richardson” chants. pic.twitter.com/Q1cJzzZvSG
— Jason Ruiz 🐀 (@JasonRuiz_LB) December 6, 2023
When the protesters kept shouting, Richardson ordered the room to be emptied.
A California law passed last year clarified that legislative bodies like City Councils are allowed to expel disruptive people from public meetings. If that doesn’t work to restore order, the meeting room can be cleared, according to the League of California Cities, which advises cities on the law.
However, even in this case, nondisruptive members of the news media must be allowed to return, according to the League, which cites Government Code 54957.9’s rules about when meetings can be cleared.
Members of the public and the media were not allowed back into Tuesday night’s council meeting. When asked whether anyone, including news reporters, would be let back in, a Long Beach police officer said they would not and they could watch the meeting from home.
The decision cut short any opportunity to give public feedback to the City Council, which frustrated refuse workers, who were hoping to voice their demands for better pay.
“We’ve been trying to talk to City Council and the mayor since before March,” said Anthony Holmes, a refuse worker who has led protests at City Hall. “We’ve tried to tell them about how our department is trying to create an environment that keeps Blacks and Mexican workers at odds with each other. And tonight, they kicked all of us out because the Palestinian protesters were saying to give us more money.”
City Attorney Dawn McIntosh said after the meeting that the decision to clear the room was made by Richardson after she advised him about his options for keeping the proceedings on track. McIntosh said she didn’t think Richardson had “any other option.”
The protesters “made it clear they weren’t leaving and they weren’t going to stop and then you get the whole bullhorn going, so the only option was to clear the room,” McIntosh said.
The decision to prohibit anyone from reentering was made because it was too difficult to determine who had and who hadn’t been part of “the screaming mob,” McIntosh said.
She noted that the press should have been allowed back in and that city officials would talk with officers assigned to the meetings about how to handle similar situations in the future.
Long Beach Post Columnist Jackie Rae contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information from the city attorney.