Lewiston City Councilor Bob Blakey showed up to City Hall on Monday evening to greet the people who want to throw him out on his keister.
At issue was a recent comment Blakey made about separate June 6 demonstrations in Lewiston. On that Saturday, a large group of Black Lives Matter supporters marched on the levee in protest of police brutality against minorities. Meanwhile, heavily armed members of the Liberate Idaho group patrolled downtown, proclaiming they were there to protect the city from rioting that had marred some otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in other cities.
But Blakey noted that the result was that many people downtown felt intimidated by all the guns, and some people stayed away altogether, hurting businesses. He drew the group’s ire, including a recall effort, when he proposed a resolution asking the Legislature to give cities greater authority to regulate open carry of firearms during such protests.
“I want to have some conversations,” Blakey said of why he came. “But some of these people have their minds made up and probably don’t want to listen to me.”
Blakey sat on the City Hall steps, but not many of the 15 or so people supporting the recall spoke to him. A couple of supporters stood across the street, holding signs of support for Blakey. Recall organizer Heather Rogers handed out cupcakes, and a few people openly carried rifles and handguns. Any anticipated tension failed to materialize, however, and soon Blakey had to hurry off to the council’s regular 6 p.m. meeting at the Lewiston City Library. The Liberate Idaho contingent followed to offer their comments to the council.
Rogers — carrying a small, black semi-automatic pistol on her left hip — cited the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms in her comments, and talked about members of her group actually helping the Black Lives Matter protesters safely get to their vehicles after dark that Saturday night.
She acknowledged that there were complaints about poor weapons handling among the armed individuals downtown, but said anyone falling into that category probably came from a different group calling itself Protect LC Valley. Rogers said her Liberate Idaho/Protect Lewiston group was made up of highly trained and organized individuals, complete with team leaders to coordinate their protest.
Lewiston resident Wilson Boots took Councilor John Bradbury to task for his comment after the protests that the armed individuals should be ashamed of themselves for intimidating people.
“I’m ashamed I got duped and voted for a Democrat,” Boots quipped as Bradbury said he supports gun rights, but not how the Second Amendment advocates conducted themselves.
Later in the meeting, Bradbury said that while Liberate Idaho may have good goals, they didn’t win many fans because they scared and intimidated most people they encountered.
“You don’t help your cause when what you’re doing is perceived to be threatening by other people,” Bradbury said.
Several of Blakey’s fellow councilors said they wouldn’t support his resolution to the Legislature asking for more city control over open carry laws, even though Blakey said he has received many statements and emails of support. John Pernsteiner said the protesters were protected by the Second Amendment and that a resolution would be an overreaction to one incident.
But Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Schroeder said she fears it won’t be a one-time incident. She pointed to Sandpoint, which received an opinion last week from the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., that said private paramilitary activity during that city’s Black Lives Matter protest violated the Idaho Constitution and state law.
According to a report in the Bonner County Daily Bee, the institute wrote that the subordination clause in the Idaho constitution forbids private military units from operating outside of state authority. There is also state law prohibiting “unorganized associations” from engaging in paramilitary activity.
Schroeder asked what the council could do to make it clear that the city wants its police department taking care of public safety, not a private militia.
“This was extremely disturbing, and I wasn’t even down there,” Schroeder said.
Councilor Kevin Kelly, a seven-year U.S. Army veteran and supporter of gun rights, said he would nevertheless like to explore Blakey’s desire for some kind of control over such situations. He was especially dismayed by the affect the armed presence had on downtown businesses.
“Pretty much, nobody sold anything that day,” he said.
But Mayor Mike Collins said he would favor more dialogue between the various factions over a resolution calling on the Legislature to change state law. He and Pernsteiner said that such a resolution would be futile anyway because it would fall on deaf ears once it reached Boise.
In other business, councilors voted unanimously to approve the ultimate “termination budget” for the Lewiston Urban Renewal Agency’s downtown revenue allocation area, effectively closing it.
The agency wanted to take on new infrastructure projects in the district, but the terms of a 2016 settlement of a lawsuit brought by Nez Perce County would have sapped its ability to collect the property tax dollars needed to finance any projects.
Agency officials have said they may form a new, larger district downtown so it can start rebuilding its base to take on projects in future years.
Mills may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2266.