Literally every remote public commenter at last Tuesday's Emeryville City Council meeting was a racist troll, presenting a test for one of the few Bay Area cities that still allows remote public comment.

It’s become regrettably common that racist trolls have often invaded the public comment component of cities’ public government meetings during the meetings on Zoom era, leading many cities like San Francisco to end remote/call-in public comment. But even with only in-person public comment, some cities are still seeing the racists show up to comment in person.

Other cities, like the East Bay city of Emeryville, do still allow remote public comment. Though Emeryville adopted a policy in April 2023 that they would simply cut off any commenter whose remarks could be deemed as harassment or hate speech. They’ve never had to employ that policy, until last Tuesday night, when the Bay Area News Group reports that Emeryville Mayor Courtney Welch had to cut off every public commenter for bigoted remarks.

We are not going to embed video of the meeting, though it is available online (and its first hour and 20 minutes is just dead air, as the council is in closed session.)  But once the meeting gets around to public comment, all five commenters were trolls whose slurs drew the hook of the cut-off policy.

The first calls himself “Bill Schehner,” and seems perhaps arguably legitimate at first, though it seems his pro-Palestine remarks might veer into outright antisemitism (they did). He calls for “disavowing any support for the terroristic nation of Israel, an illegitimate state stolen from Palestinian land,” but they cut him off when he says something about “complete abolition.” The next commenter starts with “I agree with what the last person said,” and then attempts to explain how Jewish “religious books” encourage pedophilia, and he is then cut off. After that, someone who identifies herself as “Ursula” begins complaining about trans women, and quickly turns her bit into using the f-word slur (and I don’t mean “fuck”) and the n-word.

Mayor Welch cut this off immediately, and seemed ready with a prepared speech. “Speakers shall not use threatening, profane or abusive language which disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of a city council successor agency, management of Emeryville Services Authority or related meeting,” she said. “Statements or conduct that is hostile, intimidating, oppressive or abusive is per se disruptive to a meeting and will not be tolerated. I hope everyone online heard that. You will be removed if you violate that policy.”

Back to public comment. The next (and final) speaker uses the n-word and an antisemitic slur in the very first sentence, and was cut off. Needless to say, none of these comments had anything to do with the items on that evening’s agenda.

I would understand if these callers were kids like Bart Simpson who just wanted to say “IP Freely” and get a laugh out of it. But these callers were all adults, with nothing better to do with their lives that make racist comments over the telephone, and Mayor Welch acknowledges that this is harassment of city workers who are required to be present for the meeting’s proceedings and broadcast.

“We were all working as a team to make sure we’re protecting staff and the public from having to be subjected to this type of behavior,” Welch told the News Group after the meeting. “If you cross the line you will be removed. You are not free to make harmful speech and make the workplace for our staff hostile.”

Related: Racists Have Been ‘Zoombombing’ Public Meetings Across US, and SF's Board of Supervisors May End Remote Commenting Entirely [SFNews]

Screenshot: EmeryvilleCA via Youtube