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SF Supervisor Peskin proposes ending remote public comments following hate speech at meeting

PIX Now - Morning Edition 9/28/23
PIX Now - Morning Edition 9/28/23 06:42

SAN FRANCISCO – Twelve minutes before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a final report with recommendations for African American reparations on Tuesday, a cluster bomb of phone calls during public comments hit the chamber with vitriolic racist and antisemitic rants.

It was the third such incident in the Bay Area this month, following a series of hate-filled comments at Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meetings on Sept. 12 and Sept. 19. That county's board responded by switching back to pre-pandemic rules, when public comment could only be delivered in-person or through email. Now, it looks like San Francisco's board is on track to do the same.

"Let's be clear," said board president Aaron Peskin, visibly exasperated after listening to three male callers condemn Jews and Blacks with slurs and conspiracies. "I fought to have unlimited, remote public comment. Now, I will be introducing a change to the board rules. This will be done. Ain't gonna happen in these chambers in the city! It is over."

After the meeting, Peskin introduced a rule change to eliminate remote public comment, which will be considered by the board's rules committee Oct. 9 and possibly brought for board approval Oct. 10. If passed, public comment will only be heard in person and through email.

The board adopted virtual public comments during the COVID-19 pandemic and decided to retain the system after the health emergency ended this year. Calling in from home allowed greater accessibility to members of the public who could not make the trip to City Hall.

"I wanted to encourage the public and make it easy to participate in the workings of government decision making," Peskin said after the meeting.

He admitted to being a big supporter of keeping the remote comment format, but he has changed his mind.

"I cannot countenance or allow a forum for hate speech in the public marketplace of ideas and expression," he said.

The Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism is tracking an increase in antisemitic speech and trolling efforts at public government meetings. Some groups have called in to meetings in several states, including California. The identities of Tuesday's callers are unknown.

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