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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council meeting shut down as pro-Palestinian protesters demand to speak

Pro-Palestinian protesters shut down a Spokane City Council meeting Monday over an October resolution in support of Israel and council rules they argue infringe on their First Amendment rights to petition their government.

Even after council members cleared the chambers, with around a half-dozen uniformed officers standing between them and the public, dozens of protesters led by local activist Justice Forral continued to walk up to the dais to speak one by one as if the meeting had continued unabated, interspersed with chants of “free, free Palestine” and “City Council, listen to us.”

Council President Lori Kinnear in recent weeks has begun enforcing an interpretation of meeting rules that bans any members of the public from naming other council members during their testimony. Members of the public in recent weeks seeking to speak out against the Oct. 9 Israel resolution sponsored by Councilman Jonathan Bingle have attempted to criticize comments by Bingle and Councilman Michael Cathcart, but have been shut down frequently by Kinnear.

That October resolution, which passed unanimously, condemned the recent attacks in Israel by Hamas and supported Israel’s “right to defend itself.” Pro-Palestinian activists have protested this decision as “racist” and “historically illiterate,” arguing that the City Council had not considered Israel’s role in the tensions in that region or consulted Palestinian-Americans living in Spokane before voting on the resolution, which was introduced with little public notice on the same day it was approved.

Council rules require that any member of the public who speaks during the meetings “direct all remarks to the Council President, shall refrain from remarks directed personally to any Council Member or any other individual …” There has been disagreement whether that rule disallows remarks that refer to a council member, or whether such a rule would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Councilman Zack Zappone noted that disagreement over the wording shortly before the meeting deteriorated into protest.

In a brief interview, Forral said the protesters had anticipated possibly disrupting the meeting if Kinnear continued to enforce a broader interpretation of the rule.

“How do we talk about things?” Forral asked. “How do we hold anybody accountable? How do we hold our city council members accountable if we can never name them?”

Going forward, if the rule is not changed in light of the protest, Forral expected continued disruptions.

“I guess the City Council is no longer going to have meetings,” he said.