Friday, September 30, 2016

Censorship & Bias at SF City Hall over Signs Held by the Public?

For many years, Paulette Brown has displayed large hand-held signs during Board of Supervisors and police commission meetings, showing her son who was murdered and info sought related to his alleged killers. I fully support my friend Mrs. Brown to use City Hall meetings and the publicly-funded SFGov TV platform to exercise her First Amendment freedom of expression right.

I also want the same right and believe every member of the public should be able to hold a sign no larger than 11-by-17 inches, regardless of the message or content.

This week, at the Ethics Commission hearing, I held a letter-sized sign which was captured on the City-funded cameras and this upset the commissioners. They summoned three sheriff's deputies to intimidate me into putting my sign away.

Here is what the Sheriff's Department provided me regarding signs at City Hall, in all public meeting rooms:

As long as signs are not on sticks and don't exceed 11" X 17", as are Mrs. Brown's, they're supposed to protected by the First Amendment and rules of the sheriff. In practice, that is not the case. There's also nothing about barring the public from showing the signs on SFGov TV.

Contradicting the sheriff and the First Amendment is the above stated ban from the meeting procedures of the Board of Supervisors that apply in their ornate chambers: "Board procedures do not permit . . . bringing in or displaying signs in the meeting room."

This photo shows the president of the board, London Breed, holding a sign/proclamation honoring a member of the police commission during a regular Tuesday meeting. To the right, you can see Mrs. Brown holding her sign. Why are supervisors and select members of the public allowed to bring and display signs?

Related to this, whenever I or anyone has displayed a sign about a political candidate or ballot prop, we've been verbally informed by the supervisors or commissioners that these signs are prohibited. Supposedly, electioneering via signage is forbidden.

Time for City Hall officials to produce the alleged law that stops us from showing political signs at hearings and on the taxpayer-funded media outlets of SFGov TV.

None of the guidance or rules from the supervisors and sheriff contain any language about this alleged prohibition.

I've been requesting for two days, via email and messages left with aides to Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who allegedly doesn't have vmail, for a meeting to discuss being left alone and not threatened with ejection or arrest by her deputies when I hold up a sign not over the 11" by 17" limitation.

Finally, here is an AP wire photo that ran this week in the San Francisco Chronicle and on their web site, showing members of the public holding Black Lives Matter signs at the Charlotte, North Carolina, City Council meeting.

The Board of Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee earlier this year banned spending City money on travel by govt employees to North Carolina to protest the state's anti-trans bathroom access and anti-LGBT laws.

While that state is justifiably excoriated for those laws, at least in Charlotte, taxpayers can hold up signs of all sizes at City Council meetings and not break any rules.

It's time for San Francisco to follow Charlotte's example on signage at govt meetings.

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