RICHMOND (CBS SF) – The Richmond City Council has asked its city attorney to explore whether it could enact free speech limits during council meetings, but city officials have been told that silencing the people who disrupt meetings is most likely unconstitutional.
The idea was first proposed by Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles – who wanted to explore the possibility of the council banning residents from attending council meetings for six months if they use “hate speech” or “fighting words.”
It has been more than a year since the Beckles, the city’s first openly-gay council member became the target of anti-gay ire.
“The City Council meetings are getting increasingly more violent in tone and feel with regard to homophobic comments that are being made and directed at me,” Beckles said last year.
The situation has continued to deteriorate, and Tuesday night was no exception.
“I’m going to keep coming up here and telling how you gays have no morality, that you’re filth and dirt, that’s right, because I’ve got the constitutional right to say it,” announced Mark Wassberg during public comment in City Council Chambers.
At one point, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin ordered police to eject reverend Kenneth Davis for being “out of order.” Davis has had repeated heated exchanges with members of the council. Beckles was recently captured on camera hurling insults at Davis after one meeting.
“You guys are a bunch of bullies, a bunch of women abusers. Act right,” she says on the cellphone recording. “Go home. Get a life.”
The Richmond City Attorney advised the council that banning the public from meetings is most likely unconstitutional.
Beckles has backed off from the idea of a ban, but city staff is working on a proposal aimed at balancing the right to free speech and the council’s need to maintain decorum at its meetings.