Last month I noted Arizona Republicans wanted to turn protesting into a felony crime with legislation that, in theory, would have held all marchers and organizers responsible under felony state racketeering charges if any property damage was done whatsoever, even if it wasn't by actual people involved in the protest itself. The outrage over the bill was so hot that Arizona Republicans shelved the bill within days, but I warned you of this at the time:
Arizona's bill was the most egregious, and the intent was certainly to turn the state's next Black Lives Matter or immigration protest into an opportunity to declare thousands to be felons, throw them in prison (or deport them) and remove their right to vote. Like most states, Arizona does not allow felons to vote, and if convicted of multiple felonies, that disenfranchisement is permanent.
But several other states are moving to criminalize mass protests. Republicans in Arizona may have been defeated for now, but eventually this bill or something like it will be passed, and it will be used against people of color to disenfranchise. harm, or even kill.
As I predicted, another state has stepped up on this, and it should come as no surprise that our next contestant on "Who Wants To Criminalize Dissent?" is North Carolina's GOP.
Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 249. He says drivers who came upon protesters on Charlotte highways last fall “feared for their lives,” and his bill would “add a little bit more of a deterrent by heightening awareness and adding a penalty.”
“The first core responsibility of government is the safety and security of its citizens, and this will assist in that effort,” Torbett added.
North Carolina is one of 17 states where Republican lawmakers have filed bills addressing recent protests, according to The New York Times. Some of the proposals are similar to Torbett’s legislation.
If Torbett’s bill passes, people who block roads while participating in a “riot or other unlawful assembly” would face Class A1 misdemeanor charges, the misdemeanor category with the longest sentences for jail, probation or community service. Illegally blocking roads for any other reason would remain a Class 2 misdemeanor.
The bill would also allow local governments to sue people convicted of riot, unlawful assembly or traffic obstruction charges for the cost of the law enforcement response.
Penalties would be even tougher for anyone convicted of the new crime of “economic terrorism,” which the bill defines as “a criminal offense that impedes or disrupts the regular course of business” by causing damage of at least $1,000 with the intent to “intimidate the civilian population” or a government entity. That would be a Class H felony, which typically carries a prison sentence of four to 25 months.
The American Civil Liberties Union is voicing concerns that the bill could infringe on First Amendment rights to protest.
“No matter your politics, all North Carolinians should be concerned any time lawmakers seek to curb our fundamental constitutional right to protest and criticize our government,” ACLU North Carolina spokesman Mike Meno said Friday. “This bill is part of a wave of legislation we’ve seen across the country designed to criminalize peaceful protest and have a chilling effect on people’s First Amendment rights”.
That's correct folks, NC Republicans want to round up any protesters who participate in any "unlawful assembly" on maximum misdemeanor charges and jail time, and want to turn rioters into "economic terrorists" complete with felony convictions and in NC, loss of voting rights.
The next Black Lives Matter protest in NC under this legislation? Mass arrests, convictions, and countersuits to allow local governments to sue protesters for the cost of the police response. And who gets to determine what an "unlawful assembly" is? Why the very government looking to pass this legislation. It's whatever the state wants to deem as unlawful.
It may not be quite as egregious as Arizona's proposed legislation, but North Carolina is definitely heading dow the road of authoritarian government in order to protect Dear Leader Trump.