In the same week that Americans participated in possibly the largest demonstration in US history, The Intercept’s Spencer Woodman reports Republican lawmakers in at least eight states are targeting protesters with harsher penalties. The proposals are mainly in response to the Dakota Pipeline and Black Lives Matter protests, but they illustrate a desire to stifle resistance efforts that are likely to increase under a Trump Administration.
A Virginia bill aims to increase the penalty against protesters who remain on the street after “having been lawfully warned to disperse.” If passed, those found guilty of “unlawful assembly” could be subject to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. In Minnesota, Republican lawmakers have proposed increasing the penalty for obstructing highway traffic, allowing prosecutors to seek a full year in jail and $3,000 in fines. A lawmaker in Iowa wants to propose a similar bill cracking down on highway protests. In Indiana, an ominous bill would give “all available law enforcement officers” permission to “use any means necessary” to remove “persons obstructing vehicular traffic.” A particularly insane bill proposed in North Dakota would legally enable drivers to injure or kill anyone who is “obstructing vehicular traffic” on a public road, so long as it was deemed an accident.
In Colorado, Woodman reports that the misdemeanor offense of interfering with oil and gas equipment could be reclassified as a class 6 felony, punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and 18 months of prison time. A lawmaker in Washington wants to define certain forms of peaceful protest as “economic terrorism”—some pretty harsh (and vague) language—that would be classified as a class C felony and therefore punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and $10,000 in fines. And in December, Michigan’s state senate cast aside two House-approved anti-union bills that increased fines against picketers and made it easier for businesses to replace workers who are on strike.
Of course, this is just proposed legislation, so we don’t yet know which of these proposals will pass—if any. But these efforts to suppress public dissent and free speech is certainly an alarming trend.
Update: Bloomberg reports that North Carolina’s Sen. Dan Bishop is introducing a ball calling to imprison people “who taunt ex-officials, after former Governor Pat McCrory was pursued down a Washington, D.C., alley by a group chanting ‘Shame!’” In Missouri, Republican lawmakers are targeting protesters who wear masks or robes.