Fort Collins mayor ends council meeting after protesters disrupt it and chant about Gaza

By | March 6, 2024

Members of the Fort Collins City Council abruptly ended their meeting Tuesday evening when dozens of people seeking a local solution in support of a ceasefire in Gaza began shouting in the council chambers at the start of the meeting.

After the meeting ended and the crowd dispersed, three women who taped their hands to the walls of the rooms in protest were issued citations.

The demonstration was loud and heated, but remained peaceful.

Dozens of people gathered for the meeting, which started at 6 p.m. and had only one discussion item on the agenda: a vote on whether to approve a metropolitan district for a proposed housing development.

As Mayor Jeni Arndt made comments about behavior during public comments, someone in the chambers shouted, “This meeting will not be in order,” which was part of a statement the three women gave to the audience to read as soon as they did had done. their hands glued together.

Arndt interrupted, warning that the comments were out of order and saying that individuals could be removed from the room for disrupting the meeting. The person resumed making the statement.

Arndt asked for the person to be removed, but they continued to make the statement, so she gave them a break.

The council members left their seats, with the exception of Council Member Kelly Ohlson, who remained in his seat for a few minutes before leaving it.

For twenty minutes, the crowd chanted various choruses, including “ceasefire now!” and “let Gaza live!” They sang protest songs, including: “City council, you cannot hide, you ignore genocide.”

A member of the group then addressed the crowd, urging them to allow the meeting to continue until the council returned. Sabrina, who declined to share her last name with the Coloradoan, said she didn’t want council members to be able to use the disruption as an excuse not to listen to what those gathered had to say.

City Manager Kelly DiMartino addressed the crowd and said the City Council wanted to resume the meeting, including a public comment portion.

But protesters in the chambers shouted at her, saying the council wasn’t listening to them even when they followed the formal process.

With council members still not on stage, people took to the podiums to make their comments.

Eventually, the microphones were turned off, and members of the crowd shouted their displeasure and called the council members cowards.

As a group of people left the rooms, including one person displaying an American flag and an Israeli flag, some individuals appeared to taunt them by waving and shouting hello. Someone could be heard telling them to go home and watch Al Jazeera. Some chanted: “Judaism yes, Zionism no.”

After another round of chanting, council members returned to the chambers at 6:42 p.m. They voted to suspend the rules so they could deal with the disruption, and Arndt declared the meeting over.

Ginny Sawyer, project and policy manager in the city manager’s office, told the Coloradoan that protocol is to go on recess if there is unrest in the chambers.

In an interview with The Coloradoan after the meeting, Arndt said she adjourned the meeting because the disruption made it impossible for the council to continue its business.

She said it was important to stay calm.

“We didn’t want the police pulling people out,” Arndt said.

The demonstration followed two consecutive council meetings where more than 200 people showed up together to urge the council to form and pass a resolution expressing support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

More: Crowd calls on Fort Collins City Council to support ceasefire in Gaza

The Human Relations Commission discussed the possibility at a meeting last month and recommended the council adopt a resolution. The Council chose not to decide on a resolution at its meeting on February 20.

Women glue their hands to the walls of council chambers

Three women taped their hands to the wall as the meeting began, as the crowd recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Fort Collins residents Cheryl Distaso, Claire Kopp and Hania Sakkal used Gorilla Glue to attach their hands to the brick wall where people lined up for public comment.

After the meeting adjourned, the crowd was asked to leave the rooms and told the building was closing. Some chose to remain in a show of solidarity with the women.

The remnants of that crowd left the building only after a woman, who identified herself as their attorney, told them it was time to go and that she would stay there with them while first responders worked to free them.

After a Poudre Fire Authority crew freed them, the women emerged from the building with their citations, which included obstructing a legal meeting, disrupting a legal meeting and tampering.

The women said they knew going in that there would be legal consequences for carrying out their plans.

Kopp said they felt like they had exhausted all available options.

“They refused to even put it on the agenda for discussion,” she said. “We just feel in good conscience that we can’t watch people get slaughtered week after week after week and our city just ignores it and moves on, like you know, ‘We’re just going to talk about pickleball now.’ ”

Distaso said the council did not even recognize the Human Relations Commission’s recommendation to move forward with the resolution.

Sakkal said, as a Lebanese American whose country was bombed by Israel, “being forced to pay for the mass murder of my own people is unconscionable.”

“We have tried every avenue possible, and no one wants to listen to our concerns,” she said. “What should we do at this point? Just walk away and say, ‘It’s OK?’ It will never work out.”

In an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, Arndt responded to a question about her reasons for not passing a resolution by referring to comments she made at the Feb. 20 meeting, when she thanked the audience for coming to discuss the topic to speak.

In that statement, she said she heard love, compassion, commitment to peace, freedom of speech and freedom of religion, all fundamental values ​​of the city and country.

“Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise, and it is my sincere wish that we in Fort Collins see each other as friends and neighbors, as members of the community as we live, work and play together. That we celebrate what brings us together and embrace our differences, that we care for each other and live in peace and understanding.”

As for what happened Tuesday, Arndt said the council’s operations will resume.

“This is part of our public debate and we are going to find a solution to it.”

This story may be updated.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Fort Collins women glue their hands to the wall during a city council meeting

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