Republicans are trying to criminalize peaceful protests
The Republican agenda under Donald Trump is revealing itself and it’s not pretty. As the Women’s March prepares to kick off on Saturday, seven Republican legislators in seven different states are issuing proposals that would criminalize and discourage peaceful protest.
Many of the proposals are aimed at strengthening or supplementing existing laws that focus on the blocking or obstructing of traffic.
The laws were proposed after a string of high-profile highway closures and other actions led by Black Lives Matter Activists and opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Republicans in North Dakota have issued 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.
A bill in Minnesota would allow prosecutors to see a full year of jail time for protesters blocking a highway.
Republicans in Washington have gone so far as to propose a plan to reclassify as a felony civil disobedience protests that are deemed “economic terrorism.”
In Michigan, lawmakers have proposed a bill that would allow businesses to sue individual protestors for their actions.
“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. Like many other civil rights lawyers, he views the bills as an obstruction of first amendment rights. “
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,” he told The Intercept.
In North Dakota, a bill was introduced that would permit the killing of protestors, although it does require that a driver acted “negligently” in the killing. That bill’s co-sponsor, Republican state representative Keith Kempenich says the bill would protect a motorist who accidentally “punched the accelerator rather than the brakes,” according to the Bismarck Tribune.
“If you stay off the roadway, this would never be an issue,” Kempenich says. “Those motorists are going about the lawful, legal exercise of their right to drive down the road.”
In Minnesota, lawmakers have proposed a bill that would increase penalties for non-violent cases involving “obstructing the legal process.” Under the bill’s language, non-violent obstruction of authorities would carry “imprisonment of not less than 12 months” and a fine of up to $10,000.
While many bills have focused on the obstruction of traffic, a bill proposed in Michigan last month appeared to target labor unions. The legislation, which was passed by the Michigan house of representatives before it was set aside by the state senate, 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.
Thankfully, the bill in Washington D.C. which labels protestors as “economic terrorists” is unlikely to pass because both the house and senate are controlled by democrats.
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