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July 20, 2024, 01:46:11 am
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Author Topic: ACLU sues states MAGA-led anti-protest laws  (Read 2196 times)
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« on: April 11, 2023, 04:58:46 pm »

State Legislatures Make “Unprecedented” Push on Anti-Protest Bills

Since the day of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, at least nine states have introduced 14 anti-protest bills. The bills, which vary state by state, contain a dizzying array of provisions that serve to criminalize participation in disruptive protests. The measures range from barring demonstrators from public benefits or government jobs to offering legal protections to those who shoot or run over protesters. Some of the proposals would allow protesters to be held without bail and criminalize camping. A few bills seek to prevent local governments from defunding police.

The pushes by close to a fifth of state legislatures are part of a pattern that began to pick up speed after the summer’s uprisings in response to the police killing of George Floyd, which in many communities included significant property damage. In a handful of states, lawmakers did what they often do: introduced new legislation — however unnecessary — to show that they were responding to their constituents’ concerns.

The rate of new bills being offered sped up dramatically as lawmakers kicked off their legislative sessions at the very moment that Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Bills quickly arose in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island.

In Florida, lawmakers have latched on to the insurrection at the Capitol to justify a bill they’d been working on for months. “Lawmakers may be trying to take advantage of the moment and the visuals of the violent and destructive Capitol scene, to make their case — to the public and to fellow lawmakers — that these draconian new measures are necessary,” said Page.

To some observers, the timing of the bills smacked of hypocrisy. “It’s telling that so many radical right-wing state lawmakers are responding to an attack on our democracy with an attack on our democracy,” added Daniel Squadron, a former Democratic state senator from New York and president of Future Now, a group focused on winning state legislatures from Republicans. “Make no mistake, these bills were teed up long ago to criminalize peaceful protest, stifle speech, and obscure the clear distinction between First Amendment rights and a violent insurrection.”

The rash of bills present something of a unified effort, drawing on predecessor legislation as well other states’ measures for their language.
A version of Nebraska’s bill was first described at a press conference last fall, when Republican state Sen. Tom Brewer said he was inspired by Florida’s proposed legislation. Just as Florida reintroduced a version of its anti-protest law a day after the Capitol attack, Nebraska Republican lawmaker Joni Albrecht introduced her own version of a bill on January 7 — a bill she told The Intercept had nothing to do with events on Capitol Hill and was modeled on a law passed in Tennessee last year.

The Nebraska bill, like many of the others, qualifies as what Page has described as a “kitchen sink” bill: a single bill throwing “everything but the kitchen sink” at the issue of disruptive protests. Like several other states’ bills, lawmakers in Nebraska are seeking to redefine disruptive protests — in this case, upping the penalty for “riots” that include any disturbance in a public place involving at least three people obstructing government functions or putting property or people at risk.

New Nebraska penalties, like ones proposed in Mississippi and Indiana, would also punish anyone aiding a riot. Prosecutors would be able to bring felony charges against anyone who was a part of a riot where injuries or significant property damage occurred, even if they didn’t personally cause it. Several states also imposed stricter detention rules around rioting: In Nebraska, riot participants would not be eligible for bail, while proposals in Arizona and Kentucky would allow law enforcement to detain people arrested during a riot for 12 hours unless a judge deemed them unlikely to begin rioting anew.

The Nebraska bill also creates new, harsher penalties for obstructing traffic — another one of the most common recent anti-protest bill elements, included in legislation in Oklahoma, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Rhode Island, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

In other states, bills would expand the definition of conduct that would justify use of force from bystanders against demonstrators, including things perceived as “threatening” behavior. Among these provisions, some states’ proposals would strengthen “stand your ground” laws — allowing deadly force — should a person be confronted by a “mob” or riot, including in New Hampshire; other provisions, such as in Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Florida, would protect a driver who, fleeing a riot, injures or kills someone.

For civil liberties advocates in Oklahoma, the measure warranted particular attention: Last summer, a man drove a truck with a trailer into a protest in Tulsa, but prosecutors declined to charge the driver. Nicole McAfee, director of policy and advocacy at the ACLU of Oklahoma, said the bill entrenches a culture of impunity among protest opponents and could make demonstrators think twice about engaging in a protest. “Oklahoma has no shortage of ways to punish folks,” McAfee said, noting that new laws were not needed to deal with disruptive protests. “So really what this does is it chills speech.”


(AP) — Harsher punishments for violent protests in North Carolina are being challenged by a prominent civil rights group, which said in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that several parts of a new anti-riot law are unconstitutional.

The North Carolina law was drawn up in response to protests against racial injustice and police brutality in 2020.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is asking a U.S. District Court to block enforcement of several provisions of the new law, arguing it “impermissibly criminalizes North Carolinians who exercise their fundamental free speech, assembly and petitioning rights.”
“It is a flagrant attempt to vilify and criminalize a social justice movement,” said Sam Davis, an attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

The law was passed last month by the Republican-controlled General Assembly with some bipartisan support. It raises criminal punishments for willingly participating in or inciting a riot. Beginning in December, fines and prison time will increase, typically by a couple years or more, for protesters who brandish a weapon, injure somebody or cause significant property damage. The law also creates new crimes for protesters who cause a death or incite a riot that contributes to a death.

The ACLU suit says provisions of the new law are overly broad, including the definition of a riot as a “public disturbance” involving three or more people whose assembly causes injury or damage, or creates a “clear and present danger” of injury or damage.

The civil rights group also warns that the law criminalizes urging another person to engage in activities defined as rioting, and has provisions that could punish protest leaders who don't engage in violence themselves. These provisions “target mere advocacy” in violation of the First Amendment, the lawsuit states, and could dissuade people from engaging in lawful demonstrations.

Under the law, business owners can seek compensation from protesters who damage property, equal to three times the monetary damage.

Those accused of rioting or looting will also have to wait 24 hours before their bond is set. Bill supporters argued that defendants could otherwise be released immediately by a magistrate and continue causing destruction.

Social justice advocates criticized the measure as it moved quickly through the General Assembly, saying it targets Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other minority groups by scaring them away from exercising their constitutional rights. Some warned it might lead to more arrests of Black and brown protesters who could be unfairly perceived by police as threats to instigate violence or disorder.



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