Michael Hunt in his KKK outfit at a public meeting in 2009 (photo: Screenshot of City Channel 35)
The Los Angeles City Council was not happy in 2009 when Venice Beach activist Michael Hunt, an African-American, showed up to protest treatment of boardwalk vendors while wearing full Ku Klux Klan regalia, including the trademark pointy white hood. Many on the panel walked out.
Councilmembers were probably no happier when they agreed last week to pay Hunt $215,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed after being ejected from a meeting of the city’s Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners in 2011 for the same stunt. At that meeting, he wore the hood and a T-shirt with a racial slur. He was made to leave and given a citation that was later dismissed.
Hunt claimed he was denied due process of law and his freedom of speech and right of assembly had been curtailed. But the city argued he violated established commission rules of decorum that prohibited “disorderly or boisterous conduct.” Freedom of speech and assembly isn’t a license to disrupt officials conducting the city’s public business. City officials defended their right to have a dress code at least as stringent as McDonald’s.
Sounds reasonable. But videos here and here show Hunt walking through City Hall in full Klan regalia, mingling with disinterested folks going about their business, and speaking at various public meetings. He is articulate, informed and passionate about his cause, which is the treatment of vendors on Venice Beach. City Attorney Mike Feuer advised the council that his investigation found witnesses didn’t think he was a problem.
In April 2009, months before his council appearance, a federal jury awarded Hunt $264,000 after he sued the city over a controversial ordinance that set strict rules for boardwalk vendors, who had plied their trades for years without municipal supervision.
Venice had gentrified over the years and storefront merchants outnumbered freestanding presentations by artists, artisans, musicians, fortune-tellers, glass-walkers, chainsaw jugglers and the like. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) clashed repeatedly with boardwalk denizens, issuing warnings and citations.
Hunt minced no words in telling the authorities, including Police Chief Charlie Beck at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting in 2010, how he felt about the situation, but he was not profane or acting insane.
At the City Council meeting in 2009, then-Councilman Eric Garcetti (now the mayor) told Hunt he wished the hood would disappear, but he respected his right of free speech. However, enough councilmembers walked out to kill the necessary quorum and the meeting ended.
After last week’s settlement, Councilman Bernard Parks dismissed Hunt as a nuisance and said the city settled just to avoid legal fees. Hunt’s lawyers picked up $340,000 from the city in the earlier lawsuit. Parks pointed out that two other men recently won a lawsuit against the city for their repeated ejections from public meetings and, although they were only award $1 by the jury in damages, lawyers got around $600,000.
Channeling his inner Dave Chappelle, whose blind character Clayton Bigsby doesn’t know he’s black and has written a popular white supremacist book, Hunt has challenged his civic adversaries to deal with his arguments despite his provocations and their preconceptions.