Thursday, December 3, 2015

Blong Yang's Embarrassing Sham of a Public Hearing

Minneapolis Police cleared out the protesters from street in front of the 4th Precinct this morning. Below is an account of the public hearing that was carefully orchestrated to justify it.

Yesterday, the Minneapolis City Council's Public Safety Committee took up the seemingly routine procedural matter of amending their meeting agenda. Council Member Palmisano--with a wink and a nod from committee chair Blong Yang who represents the area that includes the 4th Precinct--proposed they allow public testimony regarding the ongoing protests occurring in front of the 4th Precinct over the shooting of an unarmed man named Jamar Clark. This last minute addition to the agenda made it practically impossible to give testimony on the topic unless you were already present for the meeting.

Fortunately for opponents of the 4th Precinct protest, committee chair Blong Yang (and presumably others on the committee) made sure to invite a specially selected group to give testimony painting a uniformly negative picture of the protest (complaints of traffic, parking, crime, smoke, drugs, drinking, etc). The committee's lone voice of dissent was CM Cam Gordon, who worried "if we take up this topic now, what about people who would have come if they knew they had an opportunity to give public comment and may not actually be here now?"

And surely those folks would have come, because on November 19th a group was turned away by the City Council and prevented from giving testimony on the very same topic. They were denied a chance to speak because it would have meant bending the rules. That's fair enough and all according to the rules, whether you agree with it or not. But you couldn't blame Cam Gordon for being "especially surprised" by yesterday's "last-minute decision to open time up and to be addressed by the Police Federation president and a few, seemingly forewarned or invited residents."

The man from the Police Federation whom Gordon singles out, is Lt. Bob Kroll. As a union president, Kroll is duty-bound (perhaps understandably so) to push the idea that his fellow officers are innocent of wrongdoing in the shooting death of the unarmed Jamar Clark. But Kroll has been particularly outspoken, using his platform not just to defend cops, but to go after the protests themselves. Speaking of the 4th Precinct protesters on television, he said that "we need to silence that vocal group of activists." On talk radio he called the 4th Precinct protest a "local version of Benghazi." That Yang's committee would elevate the already well-amplified voice of Lt. Kroll, while going to great length to exclude dissenting voices, is disturbing.

Kroll, who is infamous for accusations of racism and brutality, called for Yang's committee to "pull your mayor back and quit mis-micro-managing the police department and let people with experience on how to remove unlawful protesters in." Before adjourning, Chair Yang indicated he was ready to forcibly end the protest: "I think we've taken a really good tact in terms of asking nicely, asking for voluntary removal. At some point it just has to be a little bit different than that because that tactic has not worked."

There isn't a rule against leaving an item off the committee's published agenda and adding it at the last minute. I'm no parliamentarian, but there's probably not a rule against stacking the room with your supporters, inviting a controversial police union leader to testify, and using that one-sided feedback to justify heavy-handed tactics against a peaceful protest. While it may not be technically against the rules, it is "embarrassingly undemocratic," as Cam Gordon put it. Forget democracy, it was just plain embarrassing.

Even worse is this detail from Gordon's aide Robin Garwood, who recounts how Yang had previously rejected the suggestion of allowing public testimony at their committee:
"I actually asked the committee chair more than a week ago whether it might be fruitful to open up some time on the committee's agenda for a discussion of the Clark shooting and related protests, and was told in no uncertain terms that that would not happen."
Council Members Yang, Council President Barb Johnson and their allies are sending the message that protesters stationed in front of the 4th Precinct should not expect to receive a fair and open airing of their grievances in front of the City Council. Bending the rules of the established political process so shamelessly against protesters seems like the wrong way to go about convincing them to give up their civil disobedience.