Advocates are sounding the alarm on a new batch of laws coming out of multiple states that would effectively restrict Americans’ First Amendment rights to protest.
Following the months of social justice protests last year, several states are courting the idea of curtailing protests and what defines a peaceful protest, according to a report by The Huffington Post in partnership with The Center for Public Integrity.
In Oklahoma, lawmakers passed a measure that stiffens penalties for protesters who are accused of blocking roads while simultaneously granting immunity to drivers who hit them unintentionally.
“Is it safe for the citizens of Oklahoma to go and do a protest?” Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, racial justice advocate and twin sister of Terence Crutcher who was shot and killed by Tulsa police in 2016, asked a panel during a virtual town hall.
The panel didn’t answer. So Tiffany Crutcher raised the question again. “Would you all advise agains it, the way the law is written, or should we continue, knowing that it’s our constitutional right to speak out and assemble?”
“Are you all confident that we’ll be able to, kind of, walk free from those penalties that may be imposed?” she asked.
NAACP Director of Affirmative Litigation Anthony Ashton responded: “If we thought there was no chance of prosecution, if we thought there was no chance nothing bad would happen, we wouldn’t be filing this lawsuit.”
Just weeks after the law took effect, the state branch of the civil rights organization filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the law in court.
According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Oklahoma is not alone. Within the last year, the highest numbers of anti-protest bills have been proposed in the US. The organization says the laws are in direct response to the 2020 protests following George Floyd‘s murder.
States like Florida, Tennessee, North Dakota, and nearly Michigan have at least proposed bills that redefine protests “through the lens or potential criminality, as opposed to viewing protest through the lens of our First Amendment,” James Tager of PEN America which has tracked the wave of anti-protest bills since it most recently began, told the outlet.
Some experts say that the bills are coming in so quickly and so vaguely that people just a part of a crowd could potentially be charged.
Read more about what advocates are doing to combat the legislation, by clicking HERE.