Protesters gathered outside the entrance to a rally for former President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Okla, on June 20, 2020. A new state law increases penalties for protesters who block public roads and grants legal immunity to drivers who accidentally harm them while attempting to flee. Amanda Voisard / The Washington Post via Getty Images Hide caption
Amanda Voisard / The Washington Post via Getty Images
Amanda Voisard / The Washington Post via Getty Images
A new law in Oklahoma increases penalties for protesters blocking public roads and provides immunity to motorists who accidentally kill or injure protesters attempting to escape. Critics of the bill say it is intended to restrict demonstrations and endanger those involved in them.
Governor Kevin Stitt signed the legislation On Wednesday, Oklahoma became the youngest Republican-led state to crack down on protests following nationwide demonstrations against racism and police violence last summer.
“This is an important safeguard for citizens who are just trying to get out of a bad situation,” Rep. Kevin West, a sponsor of the bill, said in one statement. “If they are fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not be prosecuted for trying to protect themselves, their families or their property.”
Under the new lawObstructing the use of a public road or highway during a protest is considered an offense and can be punished with up to one year in prison and / or a fine of between $ 100 and $ 5,000.
Another provision provides civil and criminal liability protection to motorists who accidentally cause injury or death while trying to escape a riot.
State Senator Rob Standridge, a sponsor of the bill, said in a video recording that it sets a high bar. The damage must be unintentional, he stressed, and the vehicle occupants must feel in imminent danger, “as if people are trying to break open the windows or pull someone out of the vehicle”.
“In those cases, and we’ve seen them even here in Oklahoma, it protects them,” Standridge said. “Hopefully things will calm down across the country and that bill won’t be needed for anyone, but if things get to Oklahoma as they did it will protect some people.”
It was introduced in response to a widespread incident That happened in Tulsa last May when a pickup truck drove through a crowd that had gathered on the interstate to protest the police murder of George Floyd.
The truck pulling a horse trailer hit and injured three people, including a 33-year-old man who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from an overpass.
The Tulsa County Prosecutor’s Office announced it in July no charges press against the driver, write in a memo that he, his wife and two children were all “in a state of immediate fear for their safety” and had been the victims of “a violent and unprovoked attack by a number of people who unnecessarily escalated an already dangerous circumstance by blocking a highway”.
“The prosecutor declined to bring charges, but that may not always be the case,” Standridge said. “This bill will protect innocent people caught in an uproar by a mob.”
While several similar incidents occurred across the country last summer, data shows that the vast majority of protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement have been peaceful. A report from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project noticed, that In more than 93% of these gatherings, demonstrators did not engage in violence or destructive activities between May and late August 2020.
Law critics say it is stifling protesters’ first adjustment rights, fearing that it will disproportionately harm people of skin color who are generally at the forefront of demonstrations calling for an end to racism in policing.
“In this state, often the marginalized voices are not heard often, and that’s why they make the protests that they made. That’s why they talk about the things they talk about.” Joshua Harris-Till, President of the Young Democrats of America and an Oklahoman, said in March, Public Radio Tulsa reported. He called the bill “the nation’s worst anti-protest bill”. in a tweet earlier this month.
About 35 protesters marched through the state capitol on Wednesday to protest several progressive laws they called “anti-protest bills”. The Oklahoman reported.
Stitt also signed HB 1643This makes it a crime to doxxx police officers or put anything online that could involve identifying personal information with the intention of threatening, prosecuting or harassing them.
The Oklahoma ACLU issued one statement When both bills passed the Senate calling the legislature “trampling the rights and freedoms of Oklahomans in favor of those with the greatest power and access, including themselves.”
Lawyers denounced the legislation to silence voters’ votes and criminalize their demands for racial justice.
“In a body that prides itself on making freedom a priority, a majority of the Oklahoma Senate today has advanced key laws on an anti-freedom agenda unrivaled by any other lawmaker in their fearless attempts to maintain power, order and centering white supremacy over freedom has been surpassed. ” Oklahomans’ rights, freedoms and lives, especially black and indigenous Oklahomans, “said Nicole McAfee, director of politics and advocacy at ACLU in Oklahoma.
In several other states, protesters and motorists clashed violently during the nationwide racial justice settlement last summer, in which blocking traffic was a common tactic.
In Minneapolis for example a Tank truck driven by a crowd of protesters marching on a highway in June, despite not leaving serious injuries. Other incidents were more deadly: one person was killed and another injured when a man drove his car through protests on one Seattle freewayand was a man in St. Louis fatally hit from a FedEx truck during demonstrations in May.
Nor is Oklahoma the only one driving actions that critics say will quell protests.
International Center for Nonprofit Law Pursuing state and federal initiatives According to the country, more than 60 such measures are currently pending to restrict the right to protest.
Arkansas and Kansas recently passed laws tightening penalties for protesters near gas and oil pipelines. And earlier this week, the governor of Florida signed a law he has called the “strongest anti-riot and law enforcement measure in the country”.