A tidal wave of bills targeting protesters has been introduced by state legislatures across the U.S. since George Floyd died. They would ban “taunting police” and “camping” on state property, broaden activities that are illegal during a riot, and impose harsher penalties for blocking traffic.
Illustration: Andrea Brunty, USA TODAY Network, Photo: Alton Strupp, Courier Journal

After weeks of Black Lives Matter protests final summer season, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis determined he’d seen sufficient of agitators, as he known as them, who have been “bent on sowing disorder and causing mayhem.”

There had been at least 79 demonstrations in Florida in the two months since George Floyd had died in Minneapolis, together with some that turned violent. Amid a citywide curfew in Tampa, protesters traded rocks, bottles and glass for pepper spray and rubber bullets from legislation enforcement. At least one protester was hit in the head by a rubber bullet.

DeSantis, flanked by uniformed legislation enforcement officers and Republican lawmakers, introduced a brand new legislative precedence: a legislation that bans loosely-defined “violent or disorderly assemblies” and punishes efforts to defund the police.

A model of that invoice now awaits DeSantis’ signature after passing the legislature Thursday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat

Florida was at the starting of a wave of payments throughout the nation after tens of millions hit the streets to protest police brutality and racial discrimination in the wake of Floyd’s loss of life.

At least 93 such payments have been proposed in 35 states since Floyd died beneath the knee of Derek Chauvin in May. The payments would ban “taunting police” and “camping” on state property, develop actions which can be unlawful throughout a riot, and impose harsher penalties for blocking visitors.

“These bills talk about ‘riots,’ but the language that they use is so sweeping that it encompasses way more than what people imagine,” mentioned Elly Page, a senior authorized adviser with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. 

The payments, she mentioned, find yourself criminalizing “peaceful, legitimate First Amendment-protected protest.”

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With a jury in Minneapolis anticipated to start deliberations Monday in Chauvin’s homicide trial, cities throughout the nation are making ready for the chance of extra protests. People have taken to the streets in close by Brooklyn Center to protest the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, and in Chicago over the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo

In Oklahoma, a bill that gives drivers legal protection for unintentionally hitting a protester “while fleeing a riot” was despatched to the governor Thursday. Protesters who block streets, highways or autos can be answerable for any injury or accidents, they usually could face penalties of up to a 12 months in jail. 

Bills in different states, equivalent to Iowa, have comparable provisions. Last summer season, there were more than 100 incidents through which folks drove automobiles into crowds of demonstrators.

Elly Page, a senior authorized advisor with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
“It’s so devious, selectively silencing people. This is the kind of penalty that really impacts certain communities and not others.”

More than a dozen payments permit native governments to be held financially answerable for damages in the event that they fail to management protests that get out of hand.

Some payments add potential penalties for native governments that “defund” their police departments — a motion that arose after Floyd’s loss of life — by substituting social providers for sure police actions.

Many of the payments won’t ever be enacted, Page mentioned, however the political local weather favors them in states like Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Bills in Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon would strip public help, equivalent to meals stamps, welfare and unemployment compensation, from folks convicted of collaborating in a riot or inciting one.

“It’s so devious, selectively silencing people,” Page mentioned. “This is the kind of penalty that really impacts certain communities and not others.”

Police move protesters back as they try to move their patrol cars west on Main Street in front of the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 28, 2020 — part of a wave of demonstrations that followed the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
A time of historic protests

An estimated 15 to 26 million folks protested Floyd’s loss of life final summer season, in accordance to the Crowd Counting Consortium. That would make it amongst the largest protest actions in U.S. historical past, if not the largest.

Marcus Anthony Hunter, a professor of sociology and African American research at the University of California at Los Angeles, mentioned the demonstrations have been unprecedented as a lot for his or her variety as their measurement.

“It is the largest assembly of non-Black people demanding justice for Black people I have ever seen in this country,” Hunter mentioned — “young, old, poor, immigrant, women, men, trans, gay people.”

See the place they marched: Tracking protests across the USA in the wake of George Floyd’s death

Many of these protesters have been arrested. In thousands of cases, their charges were dropped as a result of they have been merely exercising their First Amendment rights and hadn’t engaged in violence or broken property.

Police generally declare an “unlawful assembly” so as to clear an space, arresting individuals who refuse to disperse or are breaking curfew — even when they have not dedicated different crimes. 

Of the 521 misdemeanor instances introduced to the Minneapolis City Attorney’s workplace over two weeks of protests following Floyd’s loss of life, 489 have been dismissed, mentioned Mary Ellen Heng, deputy metropolis legal professional of the workplace’s legal division. 

The workplace dropped fees “if we felt that the only action of the individual was being out after the imposed curfew, but otherwise they were part of a peaceful assembly (and) failed to disperse,” Heng mentioned.

The workplace pursued instances through which the defendant was charged with one other crime, equivalent to fleeing police, damaging property, driving whereas intoxicated or having an unlicensed gun.

The many payments launched in the previous 10 months characterize an acceleration of a pattern that started beneath the Trump administration. Nearly all of the payments launched since Floyd’s loss of life have been sponsored by Republicans, in accordance to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which is monitoring the initiatives. 

Florida bill expands definition of a riot

Florida’s so-called anti-riot invoice grew to become a kind of mannequin for measures throughout the nation.

Known as Measure HB 1 — an indication of its excessive precedence for lawmakers — it could have been the most divisive invoice to face lawmakers this session. Proponents argue the invoice is critical to defend companies and communities from the violence of the mob. Opponents have known as it a racially-tinged assault on free speech.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Fort Myers, Florida, on June, 5, 2020, the seventh straight day of protests in the wake of the loss of life of George Floyd.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Fort Myers, Florida, on June, 5, 2020, the seventh straight day of protests in the wake of the loss of life of George Floyd.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Fort Myers, Florida, on June, 5, 2020, the seventh straight day of protests in the wake of the loss of life of George Floyd.

The measure toughens penalties for a number of crimes and creates new ones together with “mob intimidation,” “inciting a riot” and “defacing, damaging or destroying a monument.” The final provision is basically aimed toward defending Confederate statues. 

Republican Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach informed Florida lawmakers on the House flooring final month that the “First Amendment does not protect violence; it also does not protect fighting words” or phrases that stir a panic.

“We can act before it’s too late. We don’t need to have Miami or Orlando or Jacksonville become Kenosha or Seattle or Portland,” Byrd mentioned, referring to some of the cities that noticed violence final summer season.

The proposed measure toughens penalties for a number of current crimes and creates new crimes together with “mob intimidation,” “inciting a riot” and “defacing, damaging or destroying a monument.”

The invoice revises the definition of a riot to a gathering through which three or extra folks collectively intend to interact in disorderly conduct and take part in a “violent public disturbance” ending in property injury, harm, or creating a hazard of both.

“With that definition, you could see how someone could be charged with a riot without doing anything violent or destructive,” Page mentioned. “You just have to be in a group where somebody might be doing something threatening to be violent or destructive.”

The invoice creates against the law known as “aggravated rioting,” which carries a stiffer penalty — up to 15 years in jail.

Rachel Gilmer, co-director of Dream Defenders, a youth group based after the killing of Trayvon Martin, mentioned there have been protests in at the very least a 3rd of the state’s 67 counties final summer season, together with in rural areas not identified for demonstrating in opposition to racial injustice.

Gilmer mentioned it was no coincidence that DeSantis known as for a invoice “meant to repress and censor our movements” as a result of the state is “ground zero” for the Black Lives Matter motion.

Iowa: ‘violence and anarchy’ is unacceptable 

Floyd’s loss of life spurred Iowa lawmakers to come collectively to ban most police chokeholds and bolster coaching, amongst different efforts. But this 12 months’s proposals have been extra polarizing.

At the request of Gov. Kim Reynolds, her fellow Republicans in the legislature superior a measure that enhances the penalties for rioting, legal mischief and disorderly conduct. Similar payments are pending, too.

Matthew Bruce leads a group of Black Lives Matter activists at the Iowa State Capitol on June 29, 2020, calling for Gov. Kim Reynolds to sign an executive order to allow felons in Iowa to vote.

“Violence and anarchy is not acceptable,” Reynolds mentioned in calling for the invoice. She pointed to final summer season’s civil unrest round protests in Des Moines and different Iowa cities, the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, and a June incident in Davenport the place, following an evening of unrest, an officer was shot throughout an ambush and a number of shootings left folks lifeless.

“The bill will make it clear that if you riot or attack our men and women in uniform, you will be punished,” Reynolds mentioned. “We won’t stand for it.”  

The ACLU and Iowa-Nebraska NAACP have opposed the proposal. Democrats have criticized the elevated penalties as too extreme.

Rioting would turn out to be a felony and illegal meeting an aggravated misdemeanor. It would additionally make merely being current throughout a riot punishable by a cost of felony disorderly conduct.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate have handed variations of this bill, making it possible to ultimately turn out to be legislation.

Rioting would turn out to be a felony and illegal meeting an aggravated misdemeanor. People who’re current throughout a riot could be charged with felony disorderly conduct. Defacing public property can be a felony.

The invoice would make it against the law to deliberately level a laser at a police officer so as “to cause pain or injury.”

with 871 protest-related arrests, including 252 for at least one felony charge, between late May and late September.

Many of those people were charged under the state’s existing riot statute and other “trumped up” charges, most of which were later dismissed, Randy Strobo, an attorney with the Louisville law firm Strobo Barkley PLLC, said in an email.

Carroll’s measure included a provision noting that if elected officials have reason to believe there is going to be a riot and they are grossly negligent in their response, they could be held liable for the riot and any property damage. 

Opponents said the bill would have incentivized local governments to be more aggressive against protesters.

Lane Boldman, executive director of the nonprofit Kentucky Conservation Committee, said Carroll failed to understand the “unintended consequences” of his bill.

“How do you define a riot? How do you define when someone is being aggressive or insulting in a way that provokes a riot?” Boldman asked. “Officers, they have to put up with a lot. They are usually in situations where tempers are heightened for both the citizen and the officer. So you have to be clear about your definitions and reduce the situations that allow it to be subjective.”

The bill was derided by the ACLU of Kentucky and Democrats as an attack on the First Amendment. Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal called it a “backhand slap” in opposition to his majority-Black district in Louisville.

TOP: Louisville Metro police and protesters face off throughout a Breonna Taylor protest in downtown Louisville on May 28, 2020. ABOVE: Police lead detained protesters to the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections on Sept. 23, 2020.
TOP: Louisville Metro police and protesters face off throughout a Breonna Taylor protest in downtown Louisville on May 28, 2020. ABOVE: Police lead detained protesters to the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections on Sept. 23, 2020.
LEFT: Louisville Metro police and protesters face off throughout a Breonna Taylor protest in downtown Louisville on May 28, 2020. RIGHT: Police lead detained protesters to the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections on Sept. 23, 2020.
Tennessee: 'We are talking about activity that becomes violent'

Months after a whole bunch of protesters gathered final summer season close to the state Capitol in Nashville following the deaths of Floyd and Taylor, state Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville took motion himself. He launched one of two payments filed by Tennessee Republicans in search of to improve penalties for riot-related crimes.

Bell mentioned he filed his invoice largely in response to final summer season’s motion. Although the protests in Nashville have been principally peaceable, there have been incidents of vandalism and arson, equivalent to when protesters started a fire at Nashville’s Metro Courthouse.

Bell mentioned he is not focusing on protests the place folks need to “express their grievances. … We are talking about activity that becomes violent, activity that destroys property.”

Metro Nashville Police and protesters face off outside Metro Courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 30, 2020, after the “I Will Breathe” rally to protest the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after being pinned down by a white Minneapolis police officer.

Under current legislation, Tennesseans who knowingly take part in a riot that ends in property injury or harm will be convicted for aggravated rioting, a felony. Bell’s bill would mandate 45 days in jail for people who travel from out of state to a riot and intend to commit a crime.

The bill passed the state Senate mostly along party lines in March and awaits further action in House committees.

Another bill would make it a crime to intimidate or harass someone during a riot and to throw something at someone with the intent to harm them. The bill has yet to arrive in any committee in the Senate and has not made it to the House floor.

Minnesota payments lack traction 

In response to protests over the Keystone XL pipeline, for the past four years lawmakers in Minnesota have tried to pass a law that increases penalties for blocking traffic.

Republican state Rep. Paul Novotny of Elk River, who worked in law enforcement for more than three decades, is the primary sponsor of a bill that would increase penalties for obstructing traffic on freeways and access to airports. Those would be more serious misdemeanors punishable by up to a year of imprisonment and a $3,000 fine.

Black Lives Matter protesters have blocked major Twin Cities interstates. Some demonstrations devolved into looting and caused serious property damage.

Protesters move onto the interstate to shut down I35W in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020.

Protesters transfer onto the interstate to shut down I35W in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020.
Zach Boyden-Holmes, The Des Moines Register – USA TODAY Network

“It’s not a shock to see some of these payments be launched once more,” said Julia Decker, policy director for the ACLU of Minnesota. She said the civil liberties organization opposes “any invoice that is going to criminalize First Amendment-protected speech rights and related rights.”

With only Republican support in the split Legislature –– and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz empowered with a veto –– the bill is unlikely to gain traction.

Another bill from Republican state Rep. Eric Lucero, a cybersecurity specialist, would withhold state loans, grants or other public assistance from people convicted of any offenses tied to protests, demonstrations, rallies, civil unrest or marches. The bill has no co-sponsors and has not progressed since it was introduced January.

Contributing: John Kennedy, USA TODAY Network-Florida Capital Bureau; Joe Sonka, The Courier-Journal; Yue Stella Yu, The Tennessean; Nora Hertel, St. Cloud Times; Ian Richardson, Des Moines Register

Follow Tami Abdollah, a national correspondent covering criminal justice, on Twitter at latams.

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