Three city councilors of color today expressed hesitancy over a proposed ordinance that would prohibit targeted protests outside the mayor's house early in the morning, saying that while they understand what it's like to be hit with racist bile, they're not sure they have enough faith in Boston Police to not then turn the rule against Black Lives Matter and other protesters.
In response to nine weeks of early morning bucket drumming and anti-vax screaming outside her Roslindale house, Mayor Wu has proposed an ordinance that would prohibit protests outside a specific individual's house between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. The city law department, which drafted the proposal, said it protects protesters' First Amendment rights while letting nearby residents get some peace.
This morning, to steel themselves up for a City Council hearing on the proposed ordinance, the screamers outside Wu's house broke out the bullhorns they'd said they would no longer use to scream about how Wu is a "child molester," a "mass murderer" and a "serial killer" - loudly enough that people living along Cummins Highway, several blocks away, heard them.
During the Zoom hearing, City Councilor Kendra Lara (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) started by saying she knows what it's like to be targeted for harassment - she said she couldn't campaign in parts of her district last year because of death threats.
But she said the city already has a noise ordinance and that she is not sure she trusts Boston Police enough to not start using the new ordinance against Black and Brown protesters on other issues.
"We can't trust they'll be enforced equitably," she said. The ordinance as written, she said, could have "unintended consequences for marginalized communities."
"Protests are meant to be disruptive," she said. After Council President Ed Flynn questioned how much the anti-Wu demonstrations have cost BPD, she said, "the Montgomery bus boycott cost the government a bunch of money." And yet, she continued, even with existing ordinances, the city has had large protests by women where nobody was arrested and large, equally peaceful BLM protests where 200 were arrested.
Still, Lara said that what is going on at Wu's house is not really protesting, but a small group of people basically harassing and threatening Wu, and more could be done to protect her and her neighbors. "Threatening someone's home is not a protest," she said.
"The noise ordinance does not get enforced at all unless you are White and calling in a Black neighborhood," agreed Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson (Roxbury).
Councilor Julia Mejia (at large) said she also knows what it's like to be targeted with hatred, but said "it's part of the job" and that she cannot support something that would infringe on First Amendment rights.
Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (Roslindale, Hyde Park, Mattapan), who represents Wu's neighborhood, recalled how, as a child, he would pick up the phone to death threats after his father came out against the Iraq war. But he supported the proposal, saying it is a measured approach that lets protesters exercise their First Amendment rights while letting residents who have nothing to do with the mayor live their lives peacefully.
And answering Lara's and Mejia's concerns, he continued, people of color have never targeted a single person's house for week after week of yelling. "I have never seen folks of color do this," he said.
Also supporting the measure: Ed Flynn, who said he remains convinced that the reason the protests against Wu have become as loud and disruptive as they are, in a way that protests against past mayors, including his father, never were: Because unlike her white, male predecessors, Wu is a woman of color.
"That also has to be part of the discussion," he said. "It's the white elephant in the room."
Councilor Erin Murphy (at large) also opposed infringement on what she said were people's First Amendment rights, although she added that "anything threatening or harassing behavior should never be tolerated."
Councilor Michael Flaherty (at large) reserved his ire for the city law office, which did not send anybody to the hearing. He wondered if the city's lawyers, who drafted the proposal "were just listening in or underneath their desks" and demanded to know just how many lawyers the city employs and how much they pay for them. Wu's chief of civic engagement did attend the hearing, but she could not answer any specific police-enforcement or legal questions, saying she would refer those to the departments.
One of the first members of the public to speak was Nina Lev, who lives near Wu's house. She said that in addition to the protesting affecting people in their homes, even with the windows shut, when residents do dare venture outside, some of the ranters will go up to them and "accost us with conspiracy theories about the mayor."
She was then followed by several of the protesters themselves who said Wu made them protest outside her house by refusing to meet with them. She is shirking her duties by refusing to meet with them, they said, failing to consider whether calling her a child abuser and a dictator, as they did during the hearing, if more quietly than on the street, might be one of the reasons why.
Shana Cottone, a suspended BPD sergeant currently suing the city for $6 million because of the shame of being refused service at a Fenway pizza place because she wasn't vaccinated, said the city should be concentrating on its real noise problems: The thousands of complaints about loud parties the city gets every year. She criticized Arroyo, who chaired the hearing, for holding it just on Zoom rather than having a hearing in person at City Hall.