By Will Kane
San Francisco Chronicle
OAKLAND, Calif. — Clubs, spray-paint cans, hammers, slingshots, fire accelerants and wrenches can no longer be carried during demonstrations in Oakland, the City Council decided early Wednesday, but downtown merchants are wondering if the new ban will be enough to stop vandalism and violence.
The ban on protest weapons and tools was one of two high-profile measures the council decided in a meeting that stretched from Tuesday night to early Wednesday. The council also funded a controversial surveillance center that could eventually link dozens of security cameras, license plate readers and gunshot detectors at a central police intelligence hub.
The ban was the council's response to the latest violent demonstration in the city's downtown district, where masked vandals, angered by George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, smashed store windows, spray-painted buildings and burned trash cans last month.
One demonstrator armed with a hammer struck the face of a waiter trying to protect the restaurant Flora on Telegraph Avenue. The waiter was taken to the hospital and has recovered.
Merchants in Oakland said the ban shows that the city is taking protest vandalism seriously, but they questioned whether police will actually arrest hammer-toting vandals during the next demonstration.
"How many people still talk on the cell phone while they're driving, and that's banned," said Natalie Nadimi, the community manager for Oaklandish, a clothing store that had its storefront window broken during the protests.
Nadimi said tools aren't always used to break windows.
"We've seen windows broken with someone just kicking it with their foot," she said.
Keeping Violence Down
Councilman Noel Gallo, who proposed the ban, said he is confident his plan will help police quell violent protests.
"If you come with a baseball bat, we can remove you from the crowd before you start breaking windows or take the bat from you, and you can say whatever you want, and keep protesting," Gallo said.
All but three council members voted for the ban: Dan Kalb abstained, and Larry Reid and Desley Brooks were absent during the vote. The ordinance awaits a second reading in September.
Oakland first considered a similar ban in 2012, when Occupy Oakland protesters broke downtown windows on several occasions. A council committee shelved the idea after activists disrupted a meeting, saying the effort was a violation of their freedom of speech.
Drew Cribley, the waiter who was hit in the face with the hammer, said the ban makes sense.
"I don't know why you would need (a hammer) at a protest. It is there for people to vandalize," he said.
At the same meeting, the council voted unanimously to move ahead with a surveillance center that would eventually allow police and city officials to continuously monitor video cameras, gunshot detectors and license plate readers. The council's decision to accept a $2.2 million federal grant to help pay for the surveillance center infuriated opponents who crowded into the council chambers and chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" for nearly two minutes after the vote.
At issue was the Domain Awareness Center, a proposed city and port intelligence center that will link dozens of traffic and surveillance cameras with police and fire dispatch systems, Twitter feeds, crime maps, gunshot-detecting microphones and alarm programs.
City officials say the federally funded center will allow authorities to improve their response to crime, terrorism, earthquakes, fires or hazardous-materials incidents.
"The most important purpose of the center is to save lives by coordinating real-time information," said Renee Domingo, the city's director of emergency services.
But dozens of speakers said the center will inevitably turn Oakland into a police state.
"The Domain Awareness Center is the guard tower which will watch over every person in the city of Oakland," said Mark Raymond, 20. "This program is an attempt to criminalize and imprison all people who live and pass through Oakland."
Once it is operational in July 2014, the center on Martin Luther King Jr. Way will be monitored 24 hours a day by a police officer, a police analyst and a person from the Port of Oakland, Domingo said. The center will eventually cost $10.9 million, which will be paid with federal grants.
"What they did is approve a vast surveillance center without understanding the implications," Linda Lye, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said after the vote Wednesday morning. "The privacy policies would be drafted only after the center is built. At that point, what opportunity will there be to determine if the safeguards are sufficient?"
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said she had tried to balance individual privacy rights with the city's need for security.
"We have tried our best to find the sweet spot where we are going to take advantage of the tools that we have at hand to make our city safe. ... We have done everything we can to safeguard privacy," Schaaf said before being drowned out by boos, howls and calls of "fascism!"
One opponent later suggested that Schaaf "go home to your mansion and kill yourself."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 the San Francisco Chronicle