Council Holds Hearing on Targeted Residential Picketing Ordinance

The City Council Committee on Government Operations held a hearing on March 14 regarding the ordinance filed by Mayor Michelle Wu on targeted residential picketing. The hearing was held on Zoom, with no in-person participation. As filed, the ordinance reads that “It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in targeted residential picketing between the hours of 9:00pm and 9:00am. For the purpose of this section, targeted residential picketing means picketing, protesting, or demonstrating, with or without signs, that is specifically directed towards a particular residence or one or more occupants of the residence, and which takes place before or about the targeted residence.”

It continues to say that those in violation will be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second, and $300 for the third and any following offenses, and will be enforced by the Boston Police Department. The ordinance will have to receive approval from the City Council to take effect. The ordinance came after Wu announced the vaccine mandate for city employees and the B-Together initiative, which has since been lifted. Many residents and members of unions feel that Wu has taken away their rights with this policy, and they have been picketing in front of her Roslindale home in what they say is an attempt to have their grievances heard.

The hearing was chaired by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who said that he feels “that this is a narrowly tailored ordinance. It gives people 12 hours of a day to do this.” He said that as the child of an elected official he “understands….your parent being challenged in that way,” saying his father—Felix Arroyo—received death threats for his opposition to the Iraq War. Arroyo said that “I don’t see that as the job of others…” including neighbors or family members, to put up with the protests. “I do believe that 9am to 9pm is accommodating,” he said. Other councilors also weighed in on the matter, including District 8 Councilor Kenzie Bok, who said that protecting first amendment rights is important. She said this particular ordinance is a “very narrowly tailored time and place restriction,” and “that’s the only framework in which the council should be looking at something like this.”

At-Large Councilor Julia Mejia said she has “fundamental problems…with this ordinance,” including having the police enforce it as well as issues with “creating legislation just for the sake of legislation,” since she said a noise ordinance already exists. Chief of Community Engagement Brianna Millor said that once picketers have an “intention to disrupt” the lives of families and individuals they are targeting, “the protests then become a very big quality of life issue.” City Councilor Ed Flynn, who has also had picketers outside his home,  said that “the public protest at City Hall, to me, is more appropriate. I think that’s a much better location than going to someone’s house and being disruptive.” District 7 Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson said that “as a woman, a a person, I don’t want anyone to harass me in my home. What I’ve seen or observed has not been peaceful.

The thing that’s putting me in the back and forth, if we’re going to do this—who is it going to impact?” District 8 Councilor Kendra Lara said that “threatening someone’s family is not a protest. I want us to be careful when we have conversations about protesting and picketing.” At-Large Councilor Erin Murphy said that “I don’t feel comfortable taking away people’s rights by telling them when their rights can be exercised.” During public comment, many residents who have been picketing in front of Mayor Wu’s home spoke, saying they do not feel like the mayor has listened to them. Others, some of which are Wu’s neighbors, said their lives are disrupted by the noise made early in the morning by the picketers. Resident Nina Lev said she lives “about five houses down” from Mayor Wu, and has “been woken up, often daily, for weeks on end” with “drumming” and “loud shouting” that can be heard with all the windows closed and the heat running. She said the noise begins around 7am “until the mayor leaves her house,” which could be around 8am.

“This morning, it was well, well over an hour,” she said, adding that many neighbors are hospital workers or working parents who want peace and quiet in their homes. She said she does support the right to free speech, but says the ordinance “is crafted in a narrow enough way that we’re both protecting free speech and protests” as well as “protecting the rights of the neighborhood.” Resident Shana Cattone, who is against the ordinance, said that “I do question the 9am to 9pm time frame. Protesting tends to take place 7, 7:30-8:00, which is when the mayor leaves. That is targeted protesting.” Cattone said that the mayor “repeatedly and consistently has refused” to listen to the grievances of those against the vaccine mandate.

“Our rights to constitutionally demonstrate are not something that should be negotiated or legislated through an ordinance.” She also said that “the mayor closed city hall.” Arroyo said that “City Hall has certainly been open throughout this time” on certain days and through appointments. Padma Scott, who identified herself as someone who has protested, said that “…we have done all the phone calls, the emails. We’ve gone to City Hall…this ordinance is unconstitutional.” She said that as a mother of a Boston Public Schools student, many of the other protestors are in the same boat as her. “We are regular people,” she said. “If we had actually threatened the mayor, we would have been arrested.” Scott added that “we are sorry about the neighbors; this is not directed at them.

If she would have answered us, we would not have to be there. You do not get to decide when we get to exercise our first amendment rights. We will not be oppressed.” Arroyo said that this will move to a working session, as it Is not ready to be voted on by the council yet. Some councilors wanted the Boston Police Department as well as the city’s law department to be involved to get a clearer picture of how the ordinance would be carried out. Any information about a working session will be posted on the city’s website once it is available. The full video recording from this hearing can be found on the Boston City Council YouTube channel.

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