LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles City Council voted today to direct the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would ban strobe lights from protests and demonstrations.
The vote was 9-5.
Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez introduced the motion -- which was seconded by Councilman Joe Buscaino -- on July 28, calling strobe lights capable of disorienting or temporarily blinding police officers and protesters.
The motion first passed the City Council's Public Safety Committee on Aug. 4, with only Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson voting no. Harris-Dawson also dissented Tuesday, along with Councilwoman Nithya Raman and Councilmen Mike Bonin, Curren Price and Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Dissenting council members expressed concern that the definition of lights prohibited in the motion was too wide and includes cell phones, flash lights and bike lights that people carry for safety.
“My flashlight that my wife has in a drawer next to her bed has a strobe button on it, and it's just a regular flashlight. I know lots of my constituents that use public transportation keep these in their purse ... and so if they're going from work to a protest, we need to make sure that we've structured any policy in a way that protects folks that are not out to hurt officers or protesters or anybody else,'' Harris-Dawson said during the committee meeting, a stance she reiterated on Tuesday.
Rodriguez responded to Harris-Dawson during the committee meeting by saying that the motion would get the conversation started, and details of what types of lights would be included in the ban would be hashed out while the ordinance is drafted.
Raman noted that the City Council is usually careful and specific in its instructions to the city attorney on ordinances.
“In the past, when we've discussed things that we're sending to the city attorney, the instructions that we provide them have been taken very seriously to them ... have been very, very specific. I do feel like the instructions that we're providing this particular referral to the city attorney to create this ordinance are clearly overbroad. I think even a bike light that's flashing would qualify under this ordinance,'' she said.
Bonin said that even an iPhone, which has a flashlight with a strobe function, would be prohibited under the motion.
“I may be more awkward and clumsy than many, but I cannot turn on my (iPhone) flashlight without activating the strobe. It happens every single time,'' Bonin said. “Almost every flashlight now has a strobe function, almost every cell phone with a flashlight has a strobe function and we have the risk of having an amendment like this that gives law enforcement yet another pretext to crack down on the exercise of free speech, so this one concerns me.''
Rodriguez said in her motion that while the vast majority of protests in Los Angeles are peaceful, “there have been incidents of violence between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, as well as acts of violence targeting police officers.''
According to the motion, “The use of strobe lights can be extremely harmful as the lights can disorient and/or temporarily blind both police officers and protesters.''
It also states that people have used strobe lights against officers during recent demonstrations in Echo Park and Hollywood.
“Additionally, intermittent light patterns created by strobe lights may cause seizures in persons that are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy, impacting police officers and demonstrators alike,'' the motion says.
Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 55.07 currently prohibits people at protests from possessing laser pointers, baseball bats, pipes, weapons and aerosol sprays. Rodriguez's motion, if approved by the council, would direct the city attorney to draft an amendment to the ordinance to add strobe lights and stroboscopic lamps of any light source, color, frequency, intensity or lumens.
Buscaino spoke in support of the motion, saying:
“This is aimed for the anarchists who come to our city, who protest and wreak havoc and cause hell, and most importantly, may use a strobe light against our officers who are there to protect the First Amendment rights.''
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