Over the last week, lawmakers in ten states have proposed bills that would severely limit and punish peaceful public expression – a first amendment right. Seemingly in direct response to the success of the Woman’s March on Washington, the initial success of the Standing Rock water protectors in North Dakota, vandalism that occurred a few blocks away from the inauguration – as well as the now constant gatherings to protest Trump’s policies. It has become more evident that keeping the public quiet is another step in an unconstitutional outwardly fascist repression of public dissent.
Using Fascism to describe the intent of these bills may seem inflammatory, yet they legalize violent repression and quieting dissent – one of the tenets of Fascism. The public only sees nationalistic pride and believes the leader is instilling peace and conveying the message of his governing legitimacy.
The bills proposed in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota aim to affect highway protests. The bill introduced in North Dakota, if passed, would mean motorists would not be held liable for “negligently causing injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway.” Essentially allowing motorists to drive over protesters who get in the way.
These are not increases in the penalties for violent behavior or vandalism, but for non-violent protesters.
In addition to the highway-protesting bill, Minnesota lawmakers also proposed a separate piece of legislation that greatly increases penalties for nonviolent cases involving “obstructing the legal process.” Under the bill’s language, nonviolent obstruction of authorities would carry “imprisonment of not less than 12 months” and a fine of up to $10,000.
The bill’s language is vague enough that police can use it to charge anyone who disagrees with their actions in an area. It opens the possibility of a expansion, anyone who speaks up against arrest or pulls out a phone to record police activity can also become a target.
The legislation in Virginia has troubled Democratic lawmaker State Senator Jennifer McClellan who says she is alarmed by the move because of the law’s applicability to an enormous range of situations.
“As someone who is a direct beneficiary of the civil rights movement and all the gains that were the direct result of civil disobedience, I strongly oppose this effort to further criminalize dissent,” McClellan said. “The way the bill is worded is very broad: Take the student sit-in leaders — you could put those protesters in jail for up to a year.”
In Missouri, a bill is pending that would make it a crime for anyone participating in an “unlawful assembly” to intentionally conceal “his or her identity by the means of a robe, mask, or other disguise,” and end up with a year in jail. This bill also states that wearing a “hood” would also be included in criminalized coverings, although this language does not appear in the current wording of the bill
“This trend of anti-protest legislation dressed up as ‘obstruction’ bills is deeply troubling,” said Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union. “A law that would allow the state to charge a protester $10,000 for stepping in the wrong place, or encourage a driver to get away with manslaughter because the victim was protesting, is about one thing: chilling protest.”
… “I think that the motivations for the Republican legislators proposing bills to penalize protests are to cater to the general public hostility towards Black Lives Matter in the overwhelmingly white suburban and rural districts they represent,” said Jordan S. Kushner, a civil rights attorney in Minneapolis who represented Black Lives Matter protesters. “The goal is to criminalize protesting to a greater degree and thereby discourage public dissent.
These movements to legislate have inspired other states to action including North Carolina where a Republican lawmaker has pledged to introduce legislation to criminalize protestors heckling politicians in the state after an incident over inaugural weekend in Washington, D.C. in which demonstrators persistently shouted at the state’s former governor Pat McCrory.
In their fervor, republican law makers may be forgetting these will also apply to their own protest interests.