Animal Rights Protests Have Cheh Mulling Restrictions
Remember the noise bill—when the D.C. Council attempted earlier this year to restrict amplified protests held in public space? After months of wrangling, restrictions were passed after being severely diluted thanks to labor community objections.
Now prepare to revisit some similar ground: Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh yesterday informed her colleagues that she intends to introduce emergency legislation at next Tuesday's council meeting that would "prohibit targeted picketing of an individual's home in a residential neighborhood."
The proximate reason for such legislation, the notice reads, is that "[r]ecently a series of demonstrators have targeted individual home[s] in the District with loud, harassing, and abusive picketing practices."
Cheh, in an interview, says the protests in question have been by allies of an animal-rights organization called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. The group seeks to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences, a multinational corporation that performs product-safety testing on animals, by targeting the company's customers, investors, or various other parties connected to its operations.
Cheh declines to name the targets of the "very hostile" protests, some of which have occurred in her ward. "They have the most remote, if any, connection to [Huntingdon]," she says. The protesters, she notes, "are very, very aggressive and they're scary....They yell at the people, bang on their doors, wear masks, and say you should die."
Police officials met with Cheh and informed her there is "a lot of ambiguity between what is permissible and what is not permissible" regarding protests at private homes, she says. A call to police regarding the protests has not been immediately returned.
A constitutional law professor (and, incidentally, an animal-rights supporter), Cheh says she intends to draw her bill up to pass legal muster—to wit, a 1988 Supreme Court ruling that a municipal ordinance passed by a Wisconsin town banning protests "before or about" a private residence was in fact proper.
Cheh says she plans to introduce permanent legislation when the next council term begins and, accordingly, hold public hearings. In the meantime, she says, the emergency measure is necessary. "I'm hoping to draw it up as precisely as I need to. This would be a very simple thing that would copy the [Wisconsin] ordinance as so far as it is constitutional."
Don't expect the local labor community to react too kindly. They succeeded in getting the noise bill severely watered down after targeting councilmembers with pickets and radio ads.
Here's one question LL has: What'll Jack Evans do? He's a reliable labor supporter and helped amend the noise bill—but he was also subjected to a early-morning residential protest on that very issue.
UPDATE, 3:55 P.M.: LL has reaction from labor and police sources.