Oakland and the First Amendment


Oakland is a city with a long history of militant activism. There was of course the Occupy Movement, which put the city in the national eye when demonstrators shut down the Port of Oakland. More recently there have been the many Black Lives Matter protests with mass marches through city streets, highway closures, and more.

But it was a recent protest that has seemed to be the last straw for the city’s business community. During May Day demonstrations, a group of protesters splintered off from the general march and went on a vandalism spree, smashing car windows all along Oakland’s Auto Row.

Furious over their perception of city leaders’ permissive stance towards demonstrations, they put a lot of pressure on Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to change the city’s stance towards protests. One business owner wrote “Oakland Small Businesses Getting the Schaaft” across the boarded up front entrance.

Schaaf and other city leaders appear to have gotten the message – last month they approved a change in the city’s laws concerning the right to protest. Now if organizers want to hold a protest after dark, they must first obtain a permit from the city. Permits cost $300, take up to a month to approve, and require the organizers to inform the local bus line what the demonstration route will be.

Decrying the move as a limitation of their free speech rights, some activists have – you guessed it – protested. Several events have taken place since the mayor introduced the new rules. A social media trend #BreakTheCurfew has gathered traction.

What do you think about the new permit to protest system? Is it a good compromise between activists and the business community, or do you think that it infringes on citizens’ free speech rights? Vote and comment here.

Should Protesters Be Required to Obtain a Permit?
In the wake of May Day protests that saw the vandalism of several car dealerships in Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaaf pushed through new rules that require protesters to obtain a permit in order to have demonstrations after dark. The permits cost $300, can take up to a month to be approved, and organizers must provide information on the route the march will follow. Many longtime activists and staunchly oppose the new permit system, saying it is an infringement of their first amendment rights. But Oakland’s business community by and large support the rules, given how frequently vandalism occurs with protests.


On a related topic, the Oakland city council will soon take up a new ordinance that is meant to address privacy rights in the age of high tech surveillance technologies.

Oakland has adopted a sophisticated surveillance system called the Domain Awareness Center for the port of Oakland, one that in 2013 was set to be adopted by the entire city. The center can efficiently pour through footage from traffic cameras as well as license plate readers, combining this information with the city’s gunshot detection system as well as existing police files.  However, the broader rollout was being considered at about the same time as the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA spying program. All of a sudden Oakland officials felt the heat of a national debate.

City leaders backed off of adopting the surveillance program city-wide, but civil liberties advocates have continued to put pressure on officials to create more transparent and stricter rules around high tech observation systems. As a result, Oakland officials will decide on new rules on the existing monitoring system, which would also apply should such systems be broadened.

The rules call for restrictions on who can access the port’s camera system and requires regular audits of the system. The proposed ordinance would also call for a standing privacy committee to be formed that would write regulations for every additional piece of surveillance equipment the city acquires in the future. A complementary proposal calls for allowing citizens who believe their privacy rights have been violated by the surveillance system to obtain a court order against the city.

Although currently limited to the port area, Oakland police and emergency officials have signaled that an expanded surveillance system would assist them in efficiently responding in the event of major catastrophe, such as an earthquake.

Do you think these proposed rules on surveillance systems will be effective in protecting individual privacy? Do you have any changes you would suggest? Vote and comment on the issue here.

Adopt New Rules Around Surveillance Technologies
Oakland officials are considering rules to inform how new surveillance technologies will be regulated in the city. The proposal calls for regular audits of surveillance cameras, the formation of a privacy committee to draft regulations for new monitoring equipment that is acquired by the city, and would allow citizens to obtain a court order against the city if they feel their privacy rights have been violated. The Port of Oakland currently uses a high tech surveillance system called the Domain Awareness Center, and city leaders at one point considered expanding the center’s reach city-wide. Do you support these new rules?

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