After a year in which the Black Lives Matter rallies saw Americans begin to reorient and rethink racial inequality in the nation, a pushback from predominantly Republican legislators is looming, with 29 states in the US moving to introduce Draconian anti-protest laws.
Florida is the most recent state to introduce legislation that critics say would crack down on protests, infringe on free speech rights, and potentially disproportionately target people of color, while other states have pursued billing projects. anti-protest law that could even prevent convicts from receiving public benefits.
Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives the controversy passed Protection against violence, disorder and looting law and law enforcement at the end of March. The law would increase penalties for participating in broadly defined “violent” protests (the vast majority of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful) and would make defacing monuments a crime if the damage exceeds $ 200.
That account is likely to happen the Florida Senate, and the Governor will sign it into law, in the coming weeks, with Republican politicians in many other states pursuing similar legislation.
In January, Mike DeWine, the governor of Ohio, signed a new law that would increase penalties for protests near “critical infrastructure,” while a bill similar to Florida’s legislation was approved by the state senate in Kentucky last month.
In oklahomaLawyers are working on legislation that would introduce prohibitive sanctions for protesters who block traffic, participate in broadly defined “illegal assemblies” and introduce new restrictions on protests taking place near the state capital.
There are 71 pending laws at the state and federal level that would impede the right of Americans to protest, according to the International Center for Non-Profit Law, in 29 states.
Vera Eidelman, staff attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology ProjectHe said there have been “waves” of anti-protest bills introduced at the state level since late 2016, but not on this scale.
“This year it is advancing at the rate of a tsunami,” Eidelman said. “They are no longer just waves. It is different both in terms of numbers and in terms of the breadth of the bills. “
In 2017, amid a wave of anti-Trump activism, more than 30 anti-protest bills were introduced, prompting the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to complain to the US Department of State. USA, while legislation was also introduced. in response to demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In 2021, it is the widespread Black Lives Matter protests of the previous summer that appear to have sparked the backlash against the protests.
“It’s disappointing, but not very surprising, because we had a really powerful and expressive summer of protest,” Eidelman said.
“And as we’ve seen consistently over the last five years, lawmakers have chosen to respond to the protests that are spreading, people speaking out, trying to silence those people, rather than trying to engage with their messages.”
Many of the bills that are making their way through state legislatures share common provisions, either creating new vague and ill-defined crimes, or increasing penalties for conduct that is already illegal.
Not all bills will become law, “but even the fact that they are introduced is a serious problem,” Eidelman said.
“These bills not only seek to impose monetary and criminal penalties, but there are also provisions in various states that would exclude people from public employment, public benefits, and public office,” Eidelman said.
“Which I think is really dangerous and concerning, especially during Covid when people really need things like public benefits.”
Except that protesters convicted under draconian protest laws would prevent people like John Lewis, the late Florida congressman and civil rights activist, from holding public office, and potentially prevent people who engage in politics through protests from seeking elections. .
Since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, 95 banknotes that would restrict the right to peacefully assemble and protest have been introduced across the country, said Elly Page, a senior legal adviser at the International non-profit law center.
“This is an extremely worrying attack on a fundamental constitutional right, one that is fundamental to democratic participation and that has been fundamental to social progress throughout our country’s history,” Page said in an email.
“The legislation itself makes it clear who it is targeting as well. Since the start of the protests last summer, which have taken place mainly in the streets, we have seen 15 tickets that eliminate the repercussions for a driver hitting a protester, and almost 50 bills that aggravate the criminal penalty by blocking traffic.
“Once again, despite the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the protests last summer, we have seen almost 60 banknotes that would expand states’ Already too broad “riot control” laws or increase the sanctions related to riots that could be imposed on peaceful protesters. “
In many states, anti-protest laws have been pushed by Republican senators or state representatives, but in Florida, it is the state’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, who has taken the initiative.
DeSantis, a Trump-style Republican who is said to be considering a presidential race in 2024, Announced the ‘Combating Violence’ bill in September 2020, before urging the Florida GOP-controlled House and Senate to pass it.
The DeSantis bill is likely to be in effect by the summer, in time to crack down on any protests of the kind seen last year, despite emotional objections from some Florida Democrats.
“This bill was written in response to peaceful protests last summer that focused on supporting those who believe that the lives of blacks are important. This is not a bill that has in mind any group other than the lives of blacks, “said Angie Nixon, representative of the state of Florida, told Orlando Weekly.
“This bill is designed to keep us in check, to keep us fearful, to keep us from talking about the fact that black lives matter.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism