Councilmember Maria Rodriguez introduced the ordinance last month, saying strobe lights had the potential to disorient or potentially blind police officers. Councilmember Joe Buscaino seconded the motion. On Aug. 4, the motion passed the city council’s Public Safety Committee with only one dissenting vote. On Aug. 17, councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Nithya Raman, Mike Bonin, Curren Price, and Mark Ridley-Thomas voted against the ordinance.
Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 55.07 currently bans laser pointers, baseball bats, pipes, weapons, and aerosol sprays at demonstrations. This motion would add an amendment to the ordinance prohibiting strobe lights and stroboscopic lamps of any light source, color, frequency, intensity, or lumens, according to the city council meeting agenda.
The motion also cited recent demonstrations in Echo Park and Hollywood, where demonstrators used lights that “may cause seizures in persons that are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy, impacting police officers and demonstrators alike.”
“We’re here to protect everyone at these free speech rallies and protests,” Buscaino said, urging his colleagues to support the ordinance at the meeting. “This amendment to our [code] is not aimed toward … people who follow the rules. This is for people who come to our city, who protest and wreak havoc and cause hell and most importantly may use a strobe light against the officers who are there to protect their First Amendment rights.”
Those in opposition to the ordinance said the rule was too broad, and that “strobe lights” might include cell phones, flashlights, and bike lights in the definition. Others said the vagueness of the rule could be used in a “pretextual” or “discriminatory” manner toward minorities during demonstrations.
Bonin said he often accidentally activates the “strobe light” setting on his iPhone when he tries to turn on the flashlight to use during some of the public demonstrations he’s attended. “The risk of having an amendment like this which gives law enforcement another pretext to crack down on the exercise of free speech…This could be used in a discriminatory manner, in a selective enforcement manner, in a pretextual way.”
Harris-Dawson said the concern he had in the previous committee meeting remains with him today. He said many people in his district carry flashlights for protection.
“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. “I completely agree that we need to solve the problem of folks being attacked with lighting whether you’re an officer or anybody else, but in order to that we have to do the wordsmithing necessary to arrive at that.”
One caller into the meeting, who identified himself as Richie from the social justice organization, People’s City Council, expressed his opposition to the ban.
“I think it’s a joke you guys are trying to ban flashlights,” he said. “LAPD shows up in riot gear and with less-lethals, and they wait till the middle of the night to beat us up, and when we bring flashlights so we can get it on camera…you want to ban that anyways.”
Councilmember Maria Rodriguez and People’s City Council did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline.