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City Votes To Ban Pepper Spray, Baseball Bats, Certain Types Of Signs From Protests, Despite Criticism From ACLU

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Protestors in downtown. (Photo by Julia Wick/LAist)
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Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to tentatively approve an ordinance that would ban pepper spray, baseball bats, glass bottles, certain types of signage and other items from protests and public assemblies. The proposed ordinance had drawn criticism from civil rights advocates, who are concerned about First Amendment infringement and unnecessary criminalization of commonplace items.

Metal pipes, open-flame torches, aerosol sprays, bear repellent, rocks, and bricks would also fall under the ban, as would signs that aren't made of "soft" material. As noted in the original motion, the ordinance comes in the wake of a number of violent altercations at protests and demonstrations around the country, and is presented as a means of avoiding potentially violent situations here in Los Angeles.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, however, criticized the ordinance as a "red herring" in a letter to City Council. They argued that although the ordinance has has been billed as being about banning "weapons," weapons like guns, knives, and nunchuks are already illegal to possess publicly. In the ACLU's view, "the primary effect of this ordinance above and beyond existing law" will be "to criminalize the possession of signs that are not sufficiently 'soft' or commonly-possessed items such as soda bottles." The ACLU also raises concerns about the legality of criminalizing items at protests that aren't otherwise banned at other public gatherings, such as certain types of signage. Existing law only specifically prohibits wood exceeding certain dimensions at protests.

The ACLU also warned that the ordinance could needlessly criminalize "engaging in commonplace behavior that individuals will not reasonably know has been legislated into a public safety risk." According to the ACLU's letter, City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell raised similar concerns at an earlier Public Safety Committee meeting, warning that individuals might not realize some of the more commonplace items had been banned—and that this potential criminalization could have particularly negative ramifications for undocumented Angelenos. O'Farrell ultimately ended up voting in favor of the ordinance.

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The ordinance was approved by a 13-1 vote, with only Councilmember Mike Bonin opposing. City News Service reports that Bonin raised concerns about the definition of "public assembly," and whether the ban would also apply to individuals at a farmers market or street festival.

The L.A. Times reports that the new law was passed as an “urgency ordinance,” meaning it could go into effect within days.