Write to your elected representatives to state your opposition to anti-protest legislation. You can find information about who your elected officials are at the local, state, and national level here.
Millions of people in the United States have participated in demonstrations since George Floyd was murdered in May of 2020 (NYT). The national attention that the movement for Black lives received generated a flurry of corporate support: two-thirds of the largest companies in the U.S. made public statements about police brutality (MarketWatch). However, not everyone has embraced the movement. Last year, former President Trump inaccurately claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement is destroying Democrat-run cities (USA Today). Twelve thousand demonstrations over the previous year were analyzed by the Crowd Counting Consortium at the University of Connecticut. They found that the majority of them were peaceful, with no property damage or injuries (ABC News)
Protesters are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Last year, protestors were hit with cars more than 100 times (WSJ). In Kenosha, WI, on Aug. 25, 2020, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse open fired on demonstrators, killing two and seriously wounding one. He pled not guilty to all charges, claiming that he shot the individuals in self-defense (NPR). Between May 26 and June 5, 2020, Amnesty International USA recorded 125 incidents of police violence against protestors (Amnesty International USA).
Despite the strong evidence, the GOP has continued to rail against these protests by proposing legislation to prevent citizens from utilizing their constitutional right to protest. In the 2021 legislative session, 81 anti-protest bills have been introduced in 34 states – twice as many as previous years. Often veiled as “anti-riot” bills, these statements exacerbate the hateful rhetoric that demonstrations against police brutality and violence are an act of violence in themselves (NYT).
Bills passed in Florida, Oklahoma, and Iowa grants immunity to drivers who hit protestors with their vehicles. Indiana’s proposal seeks to bar those convicted of unlawful assembly from state employment. In Minnesota, a bill seeks to restrict individuals who are convicted of unlawful protests from receiving benefits such as student loans, unemployment benefits, or housing assistance (NYT)(TNR). In some cases, states are looking to criminalize the act of merely attending a protest. The Iowa bill makes it a felony to even be present at a riot, regardless of the protestor’s actions (ABC News).
Unlike most protests, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was a violent event, resulting in five deaths that included a Capitol Police off(PBS). The assault on the capitol was incited by a speech by President Trump, who made false claims of election fraud and encouraged the mob to go out and “fight like hell” (NPR). Despite this, the police response to this riot was unlike the police response to protests. Officers were seen clearing the barricades and taking selfies with the rioters (PBS). Although the anti-protest legislation does not distinguish between types of protests, Republican proponents of the bill choose to center Black Lives Matter protests in their arguments instead of noting the danger of this event (NPR).
These laws are clearly meant to suppress individuals who would like to see accountability for police violence and racism. They’re also a direct violation of our First Amendment right, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of people to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (Congress).
Republican legislators are passing laws restricting the right to protest, thinly veiled as anti-riot laws. Many of these laws offer protections for citizens who hit protesters with their vehicles.
Black Lives Matter protests have been largely peaceful, with the most violent protest of the last year being the Capitol riot of Jan. 6th.
Anti-protest legislation is a violation of our First Amendment rights to assemble peacefully.