Flare up with homeless protesters leads to abrupt end of city council meeting, outrage

A protester yells after tonight’s city council meeting suddenly and unexpectedly adjourned.

Tonight’s council meeting was supposed to include a discussion of homelessness. Instead, it exploded into a debate between protesters and a council member—and was abruptly canceled.

After a back-and-forth with members of the audience, Councilman Rick Jennings—who ran the meeting because Mayor Kevin Johnson was absent—pounded his gavel and adjourned after less than a handful of public commenters.

His move prompted the few dozen protesters to jump from their seats. They began yelling and cursing at the council members, who packed up their belongings and exited through a back door. Police formed a line between protesters and the council dais.

(Click here to see video of the protesters yelling after the meeting was canceled.)

Jennings spoke to SN&R via phone after the night’s unexpected end. “I tried to do everything I could to maintain control of the meeting,” he said.

“When things start to get out of control and individuals start to dominate the meeting—when they want to insult you with … language that is insulting, when they want to curse at you—to me, those are inappropriate behaviors. And if they are allowed to continue, that means they think it’s OK.”

The council member, who also ran last week’s meeting because the mayor was out of town, said there were also similar problems this past Tuesday. He said adjourning was “the safest way in order to send a statement” to the protesters about how to behave.

Activists said after the meeting that all they wanted to do was applaud after each speaker. “There have been way more disruptive meetings in the past, especially over the Kings arena,” protest organizer James “Faygo” Clark told SN&R. “And they didn’t shut down the meeting. Tonight, they shut down the meeting over people applauding. Applauding. That’s what people do when they like what they’re hearing.

“They never say anything when people applaud for the Kings, but now that we’re talking about homelessness, and looking for solutions, they want to end the meeting and silence the public.”

Jennings said he’s “going to do the same thing” at future meetings if there continue to be disruptions. “I’m hopeful that people will now start taking me seriously, that I will adjourn a meeting even if it means I can’t hear the voice of the constituents,” he said.

After council left, protesters remained in the chambers, chanting “Recall Jennings” and speaking out against the city’s homelessness policies. The action later moved to City Hall’s lobby before police cleared everyone out just before 9 p.m.

Outside, the homeless protesters continued their occupation of City Hall grounds, the 44th day of protest.

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