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The Fate of Ordinance 15-04

Tonight was not an easy one for any of the ten sitting members of City Council. For the third or fourth time, the media was in attendance as the Council Chambers were packed once more in hopeful anticipation that the Breed Specific Legislation deeming certain dogs as "vicious" would be repealed. After hearing a number of my fellow citizens speak, I gave the final remarks in the first opportunity for citizen comment just before the Council took up the controversial measure:

"The power of democracy in action is hard to ignore. In the past three months, a group of concerned citizens have come before our city government hoping to be heard. Their courage and solidarity in showing up and presenting their case week after week can not be praised enough. For whatever it is worth, those of you who have participated in this effort must recognize that Ordinance 15-04 is only on Council’s agenda because of your hard work. Regardless of the vote’s outcome, the victory still belongs to you and to democracy itself.

No matter how Council votes, I hope that all of you take note of your accomplishments in at least starting a serious conversation about repealing a law which you have deemed as unjust. See this moment for what it is; a shining example of what the people can do when they engage the system. Please, for the sake of our city and popular sovereignty, do not stop with this issue. Seize this democratic energy which you have so successfully harnessed and utilize it to transform our community.

Each and every one of you ought to resolve to keep attending these meetings whenever possible. Tell your friends and family what you’ve succeeded in doing and encourage them to attend and become active as well. Through your vigilant civic participation, you can ascertain that the city you envision Newark becoming is realized. Just remember, that your obligations as a citizen do not end with casting a vote on Election Day or when you pay your taxes. Instead, a good citizen is a perpetually active one who – in concert with their peers – always aspires to stand up and speak out for a better society as we march onward in time.

Consider, as you look towards the future through the lens of activism, the importance of living wage job creation, affordable housing, transportation, and the imperative of ensuring that our safety forces have all the resources they need to serve us. Certainly your collective voice on these issues can be just as powerful and effective, since each one of them – and many others unmentioned – affects you and your loved ones in some way in day to day life. Tackle them one at a time, if you must. Either way, it would serve us all well if we – as a community – devoted to these causes the energy that you have put on display since December.

Pertaining specifically to the issue before us here, I want to add to the plea of my fellow citizens for a repeal of the Breed Specific Legislation. I not only say this as someone who doesn’t own a dog, but as someone who once used to believe that so-called pit bulls were naturally vicious animals. Over time, and especially here recently, I have come to recognize that I was wrong to blindly label these pets as universally dangerous to our community and am hopeful for a responsible end to a law that seems to cause more harm than it is supposed to prevent. Even so, I want to note that part of me sympathizes with and respects the concerns of those who want to avoid a hasty repeal.

Ultimately, City Council must do what is in the best interests of us all. While weighing this impending decision, it should be acknowledged that such will have an impact both on the welfare of our city and on the lives of real people. So, with that, I implore Council to heed the call of the people who’ve assembled before you either by adopting Ordinance 15-04 and then promptly acting to establish stronger protections for the public from irresponsible owners, or by carefully writing an ordinance which achieves the same objective in a way that balances the freedom to own a dog of your choosing with the need to guarantee public safety."

In the end, the ordinance went down 6-4. Needless to say, the audience was extremely unhappy and quickly filed out of the chambers. Some even felt the need - as they left - to warn of the electoral consequences to come for failing adopt the ordinance. During miscellaneous comments for members of Council, the lingering controversy over the legislation made for a heated set of commentary. One thing is clear, we haven't heard the last of this matter, and each elected official involved took a brave stance for and against this issue.

Now, it's time for the people to decide whether they agreed with what transpired. While I am personally disappointed that the ordinance failed, I want it to be known that I respect each and every person who sat up there and made their position clear. This isn't always so easy as making a decision based on one's political affiliation. Instead, serving the public often forces one to choose between their conscience and the people's will. On this matter, I happen to believe that the four "yes" votes had their conscience in line with that of the people's will. Others may well have seen the aforementioned choice differently, and it is their side which prevailed...for the moment.

The debate continues as we move on to the next issue...

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