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REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS IN FIVE STATES PROPOSE BILLS TO CRIMINALIZE PEACEFUL PROTEST

Posted by on Jun. 4, 2017 at 7:01 PM
  • 26 Replies

N SATURDAY, THE Women’s March on Washington will kick off what opponents of the incoming administration hope will be a new era of demonstrations against the Republican agenda. But in some states, nonviolent demonstrating may soon carry increased legal risks — including punishing fines and significant prison terms — for people who participate in protests involving civil disobedience. Over the past few weeks, Republican legislators across the country have quietly introduced a number of proposals to criminalize and discourage peaceful protest.

The proposals, which strengthen or supplement existing laws addressing the blocking or obstructing of traffic, come in response to a string of high-profile highway closures and other actions led by Black Lives Matter activists and opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Republicans reasonably expect an invigorated protest movement during the Trump years.

In North Dakota, for instance, Republicans introduced a bill last week that would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as a driver does so accidentally. In Minnesota, a bill introduced by Republicans last week seeks to dramatically stiffen fines for freeway protests and would allow prosecutors to seek a full year of jail time for protesters blocking a highway. Republicans in Washington state have proposed a plan to reclassify as a felony civil disobedience protests that are deemed “economic terrorism.” Republicans in Michigan introduced and then last month shelved an anti-picketing law that would increase penalties against protestors and would make it easier for businesses to sue individual protestors for their actions. And in Iowa a Republican lawmaker has pledged to introduce legislation to crack down on highway protests.

by on Jun. 4, 2017 at 7:01 PM
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Ms.KitKat
by on Jun. 4, 2017 at 7:02 PM

The anti-protesting bills have alarmed civil liberties watchdogs.

“This trend of anti-protest legislation dressed up as ‘obstruction’ bills is deeply troubling,” said Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, who views such bills as violations of the First Amendment. “A law that would allow the state to charge a protester $10,000 for stepping in the wrong place, or encourage a driver to get away with manslaughter because the victim was protesting, is about one thing: chilling protest.”

In North Dakota, the author of the bill that would permit the killing of protestors has linked his legislation directly to anti-pipeline activists’ successful protests that involved obstructing roadways. Although the bill ostensibly requires drivers to have acted “negligently” or accidentally in killing a protestor, the bill’s co-sponsor, Republican state Rep. Keith Kempenich, has said that some accidents might occur if motorists “punched the accelerator rather than the brakes,” according to the Bismarck Tribune.

“If you stay off the roadway, this would never be an issue,” said Kempenich. “Those motorists are going about the lawful, legal exercise of their right to drive down the road.”

Republican legislators behind the anti-protesting bill in Minnesota have also said that their effort is in response to an increasing number of highway closures by activists. In recent months, Black Lives Matter protests have made national news for shutting down major freeways in Minneapolis, most recently in July when a group of protestors blocked a main downtown thoroughfare to protest the police shooting of Philando Castile. The bill elevates such protesting to a “gross misdemeanor,” punishable by both a year in jail and a fine of $3,000.

In addition to the highway-protesting bill, Minnesota lawmakers also proposed a separate piece of legislation that greatly increases penalties for nonviolent cases involving “obstructing the legal process.” Under the bill’s language, nonviolent obstruction of authorities would carry “imprisonment of not less than 12 months” and a fine of up to $10,000.

Jordan S. Kushner, a Minneapolis civil rights attorney who has represented Black Lives Matter protesters, said this latter bill was “most alarming” because of its dramatic penalty enhancement and its apparent targeting of nonviolent protests.

“The statute is very heavily abused by police to charge people with crimes in response to minor resistance to police based on good faith disagreements with what they are doing,” Kushner told The Intercept in an email. “It is frequently used in response to people who verbally challenge or try to observe/record police at protests.”

While other anti-protesting proposals in Washington state and Iowa focus on protesters blocking transit routes, a bill that was floated in Michigan appeared to target labor unions. The legislation, which was passed by the Michigan House of Representatives before being set aside by the state Senate last month, would have enabled the state to fine individual picketers $1,000 per day of picketing and would place a $10,000 daily penalty on a union presiding over such a protest. A companion bill would have made it easier for employers to replace striking workers.

Although it’s unclear whether Michigan Republicans will reintroduce the legislation, Democrats are not optimistic. “I think they absolutely will revive it,” Democratic state Rep. Leslie Love told The Intercept.

In Washington, a state where Democrats control both houses of the state legislature, there is little chance that the plan to label protestors as “economic terrorists” will advance. Prospects are better for the anti-protesting bills in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota, all of which have Republican-dominated legislatures.

In the case of Minnesota, Kushner says the bills in question are seen as a “serious cause of concern,” and he characterized the state’s new legislation as being purely political.

“I think that the motivations for the Republican legislators proposing bills to penalize protests are to cater to the general public hostility towards Black Lives Matter in the overwhelmingly white suburban and rural districts they represent,” said Kushner in an email. “The goal is to criminalize protesting to a greater degree and thereby discourage public dissent.”

Correction: Jan. 19, 2017

An earlier version of this article referred to Philando Castile as “unarmed.” In fact, Castile told the officer who shot him that he was armed and had a license to carry the weapon. 

https://theintercept.com/2017/01/19/republican-lawmakers-in-five-states-propose-bills-to-criminalize-peaceful-protest/

SuG4
by Firestarter on Jun. 4, 2017 at 7:28 PM
1 mom liked this
That just might backfire on them one day!
Ms.KitKat
by on Jun. 4, 2017 at 8:12 PM
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Exactly! 

This is why I am a staunch supporter of the 1st amendment. 

Be careful what you (general) wish for because you just might get it ; and it could be used against you ! 

Once again I find I have to ask - who gets to be the decider if a group is silenced? And will you (general) be okay if it's you ?

Quoting SuG4: That just might backfire on them one day!


nicki.hemingway
by on Jun. 4, 2017 at 8:23 PM
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You do realize that it is illegal to be a pedestrian on a freeway unless it is an emergency situation (like walking to an exit to get gas/call for help).  Yes there should be stiff penalties for doing this (and in many states there already are similar penalities in place though enforcement varies). 

As for not charging those who accidentally hit protesters on freeways; they should not be accountable if it was not intentional since the protesters should not be there is the first place.  How dare the laws protect both those who are driving and those who are protesting.  If a protest is truly peaceful there is no reason to go on an active freeway. 

In the past freeway protesters have prevented fire trucks and ambulances from doing their jobs.  This is not about being an inconvenience to others but rather people are doing something very illegal and very dangerous that puts their lives and others in peril.  No social agenda is worth the loss of life because of stupidity. 

Momtoone07
by Gold Member on Jun. 4, 2017 at 8:26 PM
1 mom liked this
I do not believe blocking traffic is a peaceful protest. When it is your child, mother, father, sibling on the other side if that protest and needs emergency care, you probably won't find it peaceful anymore, either.
Bookwormy
by Ruby Member on Jun. 4, 2017 at 8:28 PM
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This is exactly why the ACLU supports the 1st Amendment for all, including neo-Nazis & the KKK. They clearly don't like their messages. Far from it! However, without strict and furious 1st Amendment protections for all, civil rights organizations like BLM are at grave risk.

By sacrificing the 1st Amendment, we run the risk of sacrificing ourselves and our fight for justice.
turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on Jun. 4, 2017 at 8:33 PM

I dont understand the need to walk down a highway or motorway to protest.

I'd be ok with protestors taken away and jailed, processed and fined for doing so.  Its dangerous and shouldnt occur.

Having said that....WTF is with the bill for it to be legal to run over people>?!  No charges should be given if someone accidentally hits a person on a highway...but to actually say you can and it is legal is just all kinds of fucked up.

SeanandNoahsmom
by Dawn on Jun. 4, 2017 at 8:37 PM
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They'll never succeed in getting it passed- a stark violation of the first amendment.
Ms.KitKat
by on Jun. 4, 2017 at 8:37 PM
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Yes! And this is worth repeating: 

by sacrificing the first amendment we run the risk of sacrificing ourselves and our fight for justice! 

Quoting Bookwormy: This is exactly why the ACLU supports the 1st Amendment for all, including neo-Nazis & the KKK. They clearly don't like their messages. Far from it! However, without strict and furious 1st Amendment protections for all, civil rights organizations like BLM are at grave risk. By sacrificing the 1st Amendment, we run the risk of sacrificing ourselves and our fight for justice.


VooDooB
by on Jun. 4, 2017 at 8:39 PM
2 moms liked this
Since when is civil disobedience and peaceful protesting synonymous?
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