Black Lives Matter, ACLU Call out LAPD for Trampling First Amendment Rights

By Kenrya Rankin Sep 01, 2015

The Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Board of Police Commissioners was set to vote today on rules that would govern public attendance and participation at their meetings to, in the commission’s words, “establish an appropriate level of safety, decorum and efficiency in the meeting room.” But following a morning of protests, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles activists say that the board took the vote off the agenda at the last minute. 

Activists who regularly attend the meetings and demand action against officers who have killed unarmed citizens, including Ezell Ford and Redel Jones, are concerned that the proposed rules are subjective and designed to limit their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. Police reform advocates—including those affiliated with Black Lives Matter—have clashed with the commission in recent months. At a meeting last month, the police declared their attendance an “unlawful assembly,” which meant they could be arrested if they didn’t immediately disperse.

Among the proposed rules:

  • No visitors are allowed to stand in the board room; when capacity is reached, people will be sent to an overflow room.
  • Audience members may not “engage in loud, threatening or abusive language, whistling, stamping feet or other acts which cause a disruption.”
  • All requests to speak must be submitted to the Sergeant-at-Arms before the public comment period begins.
  • Attendees are to “behave in a civil manner at all times.”
  • Signs that “disturb” or “disrupt” meetings are prohibited.
  • Speakers must address the board in an “orderly manner” and refrain from making “repetitious, personal, impertinent or profane remarks.”

​If passed, those who are deemed in violation of the rules will be warned, then removed from the room or charged for subsequent offenses. The commission would also be able to decide to clear the space and continue the meeting with only press in the room.

The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter held a press conference before the meeting to decry the proposed measures, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Southern California branch wrote a letter condemning the rules. In it, the organization’s police practices legal fellow Catherine Wagner wrote that the language “leaves open the possibility it may be construed in ways inconsistent with the protections for free speech in both the United States and California constitutions.” After acknowledging the need to prevent genuine disruption, she noted that “mere speech, however, does not constitute an actual disruption simply because some may have been offended by the words use or found the message disrespectful.” 

At press time, no new date had been provided for the vote.

In other LAPD news, yesterday marked the first day of LAPD officers wearing body cameras, just over fourth months after the commission voted for them. They are reportedly being rolled out to 7,000 uniformed officers, including the SWAT team, starting those in the Mission Division. 

Though activists are pleased that body cameras are being issued, there is still concern over the LAPD’s approved policy for using them – officers will be allowed to review the recordings before they write reports or give statements, and they will not be released to the public unless they are used in a criminal or civil case. “It really falls short on most of the issues that we thought a body camera policy had to address,” Peter Bibring, director of policy practices for the Southern California ACLU, told the Los Angeles Times. A recent poll found that 72 percent of California voters think footage should be publicly accessible any time an officer uses force.

While the Obama Administration dedicated $75 million to help outfit officers around the country with body cameras as a tool for holding them accountable in their interactions with civilians, a 2014 investigation found little evidence that they reduce police violence. But there are instances in which they helped build a case – for instance, in July 2015, body camera footage of University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing fatally shooting unarmed black motorist Samuel Dubose lead to his indictment for murder.