April 16, 2003
It's funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
Sup. Tony Hall tries to create new fines for civil disobedience
By Savannah Blackwell
Despite admonitions from activist groups that reining in protesters could result in violations of First Amendment rights, Sup. Tony Hall has mounted a frontal assault aimed at curtailing acts of civil disobedience and holding protesters responsible for costs associated with their activities.
On Sunday, April 13, a conservative group called the Citizens Action Network put out a press release announcing plans to place on the ballot an initiative that would make it a misdemeanor to block traffic on public streets, or even pedestrian traffic on sidewalks. And Hall will serve as the initiative's sponsor, according to the group's director, John J. Malloy.
"This legislation is going after people who break the law," Hall said. "This is targeting criminals, not people who are expressing their First Amendment rights. This is a matter of law and order."
The initiative calls for fining violators up to $500, with a mandatory minimum of $300, and creating a mandatory cash bail of $1,000 for all those arrested. It also seeks to punish protesters who give false names. "Any individual, who refuses to provide any court, with valid identification, may be found in contempt," the measure says.
To place the initiative on the November ballot, Hall will have to convince three of his fellow supervisors to support him in the effort. If that doesn't happen, Citizens Action has vowed to gather enough signatures to get the issue before voters.
The organization's announcement comes on the heels of discussions at City Hall over whether protesters should help pay for the unexpected costs the city has run up as a result of the marches and demonstrations. Officials from the San Francisco Police Department, for example, told supervisors serving on the board's Budget Committee April 10 that they have spent more than $2 million responding to protest-related activities.
Hall has proposed that the Board of Supervisors pass three resolutions cracking down on these activities. One asks for City Attorney Dennis Herrera to "pursue all legal remedies against those responsible for organizing these crippling demonstrations in order to recover the costs incurred by the City and County of San Francisco that resulted."
Another resolution asks District Attorney Terence Hallinan to "prosecute to the fullest extent allowed under the law" protesters who blocked traffic. And another asks both Hallinan and Herrera to explore the possibility of pursuing racketeering (RICO) charges and other state and federal violations against the organizers of the protests.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said Hall's efforts to recover protest-related expenses from antiwar organizers are misguided and possibly unconstitutional. Such a move would "chill participation in expressive activity at a time when it is most needed," ACLU officials wrote in an April 1 letter to the District Seven supervisor.
The District 7 Advisory Council, which is headed by Hall's political ally, planning commissioner Michael Antonini, sent an e-mail March 30 urging members to call all of the supes and urge them to support Hall's legislation. And Mayor Brown has accused protesters of "defecating in their own nest."
Yet it's not likely Hall will get much support elsewhere in the corridors of City Hall especially among his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors. Sup. Matt Gonzalez called for the April 10 hearing after expressing concern that police may have directed more resources than necessary into their response.
In addition, he questioned why officers dropped their normal habit of "facilitating" protests, cordoned off large sections of roadway, and arrested everyone within the marked-off area. That approach resulted in the detainment of folks who weren't even participating in the protests. Several speakers, including Riva Enteen of the National Lawyers Guild, said police failed to warn the crowd that if they did not disperse, they would be arrested. In addition, some speakers said they were taken into custody even though they were standing not in the street but on the sidewalk.
Budget Committee members Chris Daly and Sophie Maxwell said they thought the protesters had for the most part conducted themselves reasonably, and that they were proud to live in a city where people often take to the streets to initiate political and social reform.
"Democracy is sometimes expensive and not as convenient as we'd
like to have it," Maxwell said. "But I am proud of San Francisco
and proud to be a San Franciscan."