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Racial Justice Advocates Say GOP Is Trying to ‘Shut Folks’ Mouths’ with Bill to Punish Protesters More Harshly

There’s a movement building by GOP officials in several states to pass bills that would enforce harsher punishments for protesters, while also making it easier for people who counter with violence to get away with vehicular crimes. This week Alabama State Rep. Alan Treadaway became the latest Republican to introduce a bill that would implement harsher punishments for protesters who participate in riots that become violent or destructive, The Associated Press reported.

If passed, the bill would establish several new felony offenses including: aggravated riot and assault against a first responder. Aggravated riot would be charged against people who participate knowingly in a violent or destructive riot, and assault against a first responder would be charged against anyone who attacks, spits on or throws bodily fluid on officials.

Protesters arrested for the aforementioned offenses as well as blocking traffic would also have to remain in jail for a minimum of 48 hours; and local municipalities that vote to defund police would not be eligible for state funding.

The bill is not a response to the harrowing insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but rather was spurred by Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd while in police custody last Memorial Day.

“This summer what I saw was so alarming,” Treadaway told. “That situation was hijacked. People could have died. Police officers were attacked.” He said the bill is not meant to punish peaceful protestors, but rather those “who are hell-bent on destruction.”

Treadaway is not the first GOP politician to propose such legislation. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also proposed a bill in September 2020 called the “Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” which would implement measures similar to Treadaway’s bill but also goes further.

In addition to blocking funding for local municipalities that defund police, and making it a felony for protesters to block traffic, assault law enforcement, and participate in marches that become violent, DeSantis’ bill also seeks to make it a second-degree felony to topple monuments, would waive sovereign immunity so victims can sue local governments, and refuse bond to protesters arrested and charged with such offenses.

DeSantis also proposed legislation that would protect drivers who hit protesters if they’re “fleeing for safety from a mob.”

“Today I announced bold legislation that creates new criminal offenses and increases penalties for those who target law enforcement and participate in violent or disorderly assemblies. We will always stand with our men and women in uniform who keep our communities safe,” DeSantis tweeted.

Black lawmakers and racial justice advocates decried the bills as attempts to silence the social justice movement.

“What this bill is trying to simply do is shut folks’ mouths,” Alabama Sen. Rodger Smitherman said of Treadaway’s bill. “Black Lives Matter protesting out in the street, they want to snatch them up, throw them in a paddy wagon, charge them, keep them 48 hours before they can go before the judge and then find them guilty.”

Rep. Chris England said it was disheartening Treadaway was more focused on punishing protesters than rooting out the problems that spark them. “We want the same sort of condemnation that we all give to violence and rioting to some of the underlying issues,” England said.

ACLU Florida Director Micah Kubic shared similar sentiments about DeSantis’ bills. “This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” Kubic told Insider.

“Under the guise of protecting public safety and residents, this proposal would deny fundamental due process to protesters by eliminating their right to bail,” Kubic continued. “Instead of addressing the violence protesters in cities across the state have been subjected to at the hands of law enforcement, Gov. DeSantis is doubling down on his disdain for dissent. This is not what democracy looks like.”

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