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Republican Law Would Protect Killer Motorists

Photo by Jakob Rosen on Unsplash

The murder of George Floyd gave rise to the largest social justice movement in U.S. history, with 15 to 26 million Americans participating in protests. It also produced a vicious Republican backlash against civil rights and civil liberties.

Mirroring voter suppression efforts throughout the country, GOP lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 bills to criminalize peaceful protest, and in some cases protect motorists who mow down demonstrators.

Ironically dubbed “anti-riot” laws, these bills are anti-protest, anti-free speech, anti-democratic and, unfortunately, very American.

Ironically dubbed “anti-riot” laws, these bills are anti-protest, anti-free speech, anti-democratic and, unfortunately, very American.

GOP lawmakers today seem to be channeling their segregationist predecessors. Jim Crow politicians promulgated segregation laws that strictly limited the movement and freedom of Black people, and vagrancy and loitering laws that criminalized Black Americans for being outside and assembling in groups.

Movements create social change, and this new legislation is a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the increased national calls to end police violence and systemic racism. While the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol demonstrated the preeminent danger of white supremacist and right-wing domestic terror groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, Republicans view social justice — a symbol of a changing, diverse and inclusive nation — as a threat.

With 361 voter disenfranchisement bills in 47 states, gerrymandering and anti-protest measures, the GOP hopes to silence its multiracial political opposition in the way that Southern segregationists quelled Black power.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law what he called “the strongest anti-looting, anti-rioting, pro-law-enforcement piece of legislation in the country.” Signed during the trial of Derek Chauvin — the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of killing George Floyd — the law classifies a riot as a public gathering of three or more people and denies bail for defendants accused of committing offenses during a protest until they have appeared in court.

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The law also enhances penalties for damaging Confederate monuments and flags, and like similar legislation in Iowa and Oklahoma, protects drivers who hit or injure protesters.

These cruel and obscene laws would have protected James Alex Fields Jr., the neo-Nazi who was sent to prison for plowing his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at a “Unite the Right" rally in 2017, killing 20-year-old Heather Heyer.

Republican legislation proposed in Minnesota would prohibit people convicted of engaging in protest from working in government, receiving student loans, food stamps, housing assistance, unemployment and other government services and benefits.

Moreover, ArkansasMontanaKansas and Ohio have promoted increased criminal penalties for climate protesters who trespass on “critical infrastructure” including oil, gas, coal and plastics facilities.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative group representing lobbyists, lawmakers and corporations, including the fossil fuel industry, has drafted the anti-pipeline protest bills for state legislatures. Like voter ID, Stand Your Ground and other ALEC initiatives, this anti-protest legislation disproportionately targets communities of color.

“State Republicans who can’t stop screaming about ‘cancel culture’ are doing everything in their power to cancel the First Amendment right to assemble,” tweeted Robert Reich, the former Clinton administration labor secretary who now teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.

With only 25% of people identifying as Republicans — a dwindling base in a changing multicultural America — the GOP faces a choice.

David A. Love

It can either listen to the Black Lives Matter protesters and adopt new policies to reflect a new reality or seek to silence their voices. The Republican Party is choosing the latter.

David A. Love

Black Commentator