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How the GOP creates tougher penalties for protesters

Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed bills granting immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters on public streets. A Republican proposal in Indiana would ban anyone convicted of illegal assembly from holding employment in the state, including elected office. A Minnesota bill would bar people convicted of illegal protests from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits, or housing assistance. And in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis this week signed sweeping legislation that toughened existing laws governing public disorder and created a new level of harsh offenses – a bill he called “the strongest anti – looting, riot control and law enforcement. legislation in the country. Sign up for The Morning New York Times newsletter The measures are part of a wave of new anti-protest laws, sponsored and supported by Republicans, in the 11 months since the Black Lives protests Matter swept the country after the death of George Floyd. The Minneapolis cop who killed Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of murder and manslaughter on Tuesday, a cathartic end to weeks of tension. But as Democrats seized on Floyd’s death last May to highlight racism in the police and other forms of social injustice, Republicans have responded to a summer of protests with a series of new punitive measures governing the right to lawfully assemble. GOP lawmakers in 34 states introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session – more than twice as many proposals as any other year, according to Elly Page, senior legal adviser at the International Center for Human Rights Law. non-profit organizations. , which follows legislation restricting the right to protest. Some, like DeSantis, refer to them as “riot” bills, confusing the right to demonstrate peacefully with the riots and looting that have sometimes resulted from these protests. The laws convey the hyperbolic message Republicans have pushed in the 11 months since Black Lives Matter’s protests against racial injustice swept the country: that Democrats tolerate the violent and criminal actions of those protesting against it. racial injustice. And the legislation underscores how supporting law enforcement personnel and opposing protests has become part of the foundation of GOP orthodoxy and a likely pillar of the platform the party will adopt mid-year. – term of office for next year. “This is consistent with the general tendency of lawmakers to respond to powerful and persuasive protests by seeking to silence them rather than engaging with the message of the protests,” said Vera Eidelman, lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union. “If anything, the lesson of the last year, and decades, isn’t that we need to empower police and prosecutors, it’s that they are abusing the tools at their disposal. already. Laws already exist to punish riots, and civil rights advocates fear the new bills violate the rights of legal assembly and free speech protected by the First Amendment. The vast majority of national Black Lives Matter protests last summer were peaceful – more than 96% involved no property damage or injury by police, according to the Washington Post, which also found that police or counter-demonstrators were often at the origin of the violence. Most of the protests in Florida last summer were also peaceful, although a few in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville produced episodes of violence, including the burning of a police car and a store. sport stuff. Yet by passing the bill that DeSantis enacted, Republican leaders have expressed contempt for cities that cut police budgets and tolerate protesters who disrupt business and traffic. “We weren’t going to allow Florida to become Seattle,” said Chris Sprowls, a Republican who is the president of Florida House, mentioning the cities where protests lasted for months last year and protesters turned out. frequently confronted with the police. “We weren’t going to allow Florida to become Portland.” Florida law imposes tougher sentences for existing public disorder crimes, turning misdemeanors into misdemeanors, creating new misdemeanors and preventing defendants from being released on bail until they appear before a judge. A January investigation by Ryan D. Tyson, a Republican pollster, found broad support in the state for tougher penalties against protesters “who damage personal and business property or assault law enforcement.” But the law goes further. If a local government chooses to cut its law enforcement budget – to “dissolve the police,” as DeSantis puts it – the measure provides a new mechanism for a city or county prosecutor or commissioner to do so. appeal of the reduction to the State. The law also increases penalties for the demolition of monuments, including Confederate ones, making the offense a second-degree felony punishable by 15 years in prison. This allows anyone who injures a protester, for example by entering a crowd, to escape civil liability. State Senator Shevrin D. Jones, a Broward County Democrat and outspoken critic of the law, noted that DeSantis was quick to point out how necessary the bill was the day after the deadly January 6 riot at the United States Capitol, but had made no mention of the event when signing the bill on Monday, focusing only on the summer protests. It was proof, he said, that bills to punish protesters disproportionately targeted people of color. “This bill is inherently racist,” Jones said. So far, three bills to limit protests have been enacted – Florida and new laws in Arkansas and Kansas that target protesters seeking to disrupt pipelines. Others will probably come soon. In Oklahoma, Republican lawmakers last week sent a law to Gov. Kevin Stitt that would criminalize illegally blocking a public street and grant immunity to drivers who hit and hurt protesters during a riot. Last June, a van carrying a horse trailer drove through a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters on a Tulsa highway, injuring several people and leaving one paralyzed. The driver, who said he accelerated because he feared for the safety of his family, has not been charged. The bill’s mover, State Senator Rob Standridge, said the Tulsa incident prompted him to seek immunity for drivers who strike protesters. He said on Tuesday he was unaware of any driver allegedly charged after hitting protesters in Oklahoma. “I hope this law will never be used,” he said in an interview. Carly Atchison, spokesperson for Stitt, declined to say whether he would sign the bill, which passed with veto-proof majorities. Tiffany Crutcher, whose twin brother Terence Crutcher was shot dead in 2016 by a Tulsa police officer who was later acquitted of a manslaughter charge, said Oklahoma’s proposal represented the efforts Republicans to extend the Trump administration’s hostility towards people of color. Crutcher said she was convinced that if Stitt signed the legislation it would be enforced harder against those protesting racial injustice than against white protesters protesting for gun rights or against abortion. “We all know over the past four years we’ve seen white supremacy, bigotry and racism show its ugly head in so many ways,” said Crutcher, who quit his job as an orthopedic surgeon to work for racial justice after the death of his brother. . “It is the continuation of the Trump administration that has shown us every day that black lives don’t matter.” While Republican lawmakers present anti-protest legislation as support for the police, law enforcement does not necessarily support the new proposals. The Iowa bills, part of a law enforcement package proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, would deprive local governments of state funding if cities and counties carry over their own budgets to law enforcement – something no jurisdiction in Iowa has sought to do. And state lawmakers have rejected a proposal by Reynolds to track police arrest data by race. State police departments have not asked for new tools to crack down on protesters or to grant immunity to drivers hitting protesters walking the streets, said Kellie Paschke, lobbyist for Iowa Peace Officers Association, a police coordination group. In Kentucky, where protests after the police assassination of Breonna Taylor lasted for months last year, the state Senate passed a bill that would make it a crime to insult or taunt a policeman with “offensive or derisory” words or gestures that would “have a direct tendency to provoke a violent reaction. The measure would have required that those arrested on such a charge be held in jail for at least 48 hours – a provision that does not automatically apply to those arrested for murder, rape or arson in Kentucky. Although Bill died in the state due to bipartisan concerns about free speech, the bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, a retired Republican, said he plans to send it back to the next session. Carroll said the bill was necessary to keep the community safe and protect law enforcement personnel. “They are constantly under attack,” he said, noting that police decades ago could “arrest someone for insulting them”, until court rulings reduced those police powers. In the hours after DeSantis signed the Florida bill on Monday, as the nation awaited Chauvin’s verdict, progressive community organizers in the state expressed concern over how law enforcement could react to any manifestation resulting from the decision. Moné Holder, senior director of advocacy and programs for Florida Rising, a social justice organization, said his team had spent a lot of time educating activists about their rights under their new law. “It’s a tactic to silence our voices,” she said. After the verdict was announced, she remained concerned about how the police would treat community members if they chose to gather outside, to be together after an emotional year. “Comfort yourself, cry, cry,” she said. “The fact that we have to think twice is embarrassing.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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