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Antisemitic and Homophobic Hecklers Disrupt Cleveland Town Hall Meeting

Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin shut down public comment twice during the Sept. 25 council meeting after Griffin said one of the speakers made an antisemitic remark and a negative comment about the LGBTQ+ community.

Griffin said a second speaker was stopped after he started invoking individual names, and another speaker was cut off after exceeding the three-minute time limit. Griffin said the incidents have Cleveland City Council looking into potential rule changes for public comment during council meetings.

“Anytime that I have the gavel, I am going to shut people down whenever they insult any race, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliation,” Griffin said. “It was a very sad commentary about what public comment is supposed to be doing. I’ve heard from several LGBTQIA community members, I have heard from several Jewish Community leaders, I’ve heard from the Jewish Community Federation.”

Griffin told News 5 council has no intention of stopping public comment at council meetings, which was established in August of 2021, but said public comment could be restricted to Cleveland residents only, or other measures can be taken without violating First Amendment rights.

“It’s just unacceptable, and we have to have swift action in order to deal with these types of issues,” Griffin said. “We are going to talk to the law department to see how we can tighten up some of the constraints so we don’t have more episodes like we did yesterday.

Ward 8 Cleveland Councilman Michael Polensek told News 5 he’s appalled by public comment speaker misconduct, which has some going over the three-minute time limit and making inappropriate remarks. However, Polensek said the council is not out to restrict anyone’s First Amendment rights.

“I’m opposed banning anyone’s ability to espouse their beliefs, or their ignorance or their stupidity or racism if they wish to do so and let them expose themselves for what they are,” Polensek said. “The council president will take his direction, we’re going sit down and talk, we are going to dialogue among ourselves, and if we have to tighten up the rules to make it more clear, I’m fine with that.”

Jonathan Entin, Case Western Reserve University Professor of Law, told News 5 that Cleveland City Council can make some rule changes to public comment during meetings without infringing on First Amendment rights.

“The city does not have any constitutional obligation to allow public comments in council meetings at all,” Entin said. “The city could also limit the subject that people talk about to things that the city may have some obligation or responsibility, and I think they probably can limit the comments to people who are residents of the city.”

Griffin said city council attorneys and the Cleveland Law Department will review potential public comment rules changes in the coming days, with the potential of new guidelines being in place this October.