anti-protest legislation, US protest, US protest legislation

Protest Under Assault in USA

Ideas and Issues

April 15, 2021

New Orleans      These days as we keep our eyes peeled at state legislative activity to suppress the vote, it’s important to remember that many state legislatures under conservative control are also still smarting with offense at the Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd and trying to take a crack at that. Ironically, these folks are not as incensed by the January 6th Capitol riots, but who is surprised.

Human Rights Watch notes that “According to the US Protest Law Tracker, created by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, there are currently 51 bills under consideration in 24 state legislatures, including as many as 10 in Oklahoma, that they warn would threaten the right to assemble peacefully.” But that was in January. The number is growing according to The Guardian, and is now up to 29 states and more than 90 different bills with some already breathtaking measures moving forward in places like Florida as well,

Republicans in Florida’s house of representatives passed the controversial Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act at the end of March. The law would increase penalties for participating in broadly defined “violent” protests – the vast majority of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful – and make it a felony to deface monuments if damage is more than $200.

The Florida measure isn’t quite law yet, but the train has pulled out there. Not that the United States is alone on this score, given the pending action in the United Kingdom Parliament that is equally draconian.

Paying a fine for a protest might seem like a hand slap compared to some of what is being contemplated in Oklahoma and New Hampshire, where if you draw the only available conclusion from the Human Rights Watch reporting, you could be legally run over by a car or take a bullet.

Among the proposed laws are nine, including three in Oklahoma, that the Tracker reports would provide civil and/or criminal immunity for drivers injuring or killing protesters unlawfully disrupting traffic and one stand-your-ground bill in New Hampshire that would allow deadly force against protesters “likely” to use “any” degree of unlawful force during a riot.

It’s fair to wonder, given the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights protecting peaceful assembly, whether or not these overly broad targeted efforts to criminalize and stop protests are legal, but that would mean counting on the current US Supreme Court to be as committed to protecting these rights as they are something really dangerous like the right to bear arms.

Not to be a Debbie Downer or Nervous Nellie, because protests will continue as they must, but it’s still worth noting that the price and penalties for taking action may be going up, and we may not be in any position, state-by-state, to stop them.

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