The Oklahoma House has passed a new bill this week that gives drivers both criminal and civil immunity if they hit protesters with their motor vehicles.
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According to The Oklahoman, House Bill 1674 was introduced by Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore) and is only one of several bills introduced by Republican lawmakers to target protesters. Rep. Kevin McDugle, (R-Broken Arrow), presented on the House floor and said he supports peaceful protests but not rioting. In the bill, the drivers are protected from hitting people “fleeing from a riot.”
In his argument, he referenced an incident in Tulsa where a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer drove through Black Lives Matter protesters leaving one paralyzed from the waist down. McDugle said the driver responded out of fear. The driver was not charged.
“This bill simply says, ‘please stay to the peaceful protests,’” he said according to the outlet. “Don’t block roads. Don’t impede on the freedoms of others.”
“A large part of our duty as legislators is to protect our citizens,” said West according to the Oklahoman. “This is something that gives them protection.”
Their Democratic peers disagree. Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) who is Black, shared opposing feelings.
“Maybe the way to prevent something like this from ever happening again is to make reforms on the broader systemic issue,” he stated. Nichols continued, and expressed concern that he would have to inform his pre-teen son that, lawmakers “made it so that folks who may advocate for people who look like him can be run over with immunity.”
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Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, added similar sentiments.
“Something happened over the summer,” she said, speaking of the nationwide call-to-action against police brutality and racism. “If we were honest with ourselves, stuff didn’t just happen over the summer. Stuff has been happening for centuries. Could we be reasonable? Could we try to get to the root cause of why people are in the streets in the first place?”
The bill now heads to the state Senate. If passed, prosecutors would have the authority to charge protesters who “unlawfully obstruct” streets and highways with misdemeanors.
CNN reported similar legislation is being proposed in Tennessee. The HB13 bill was introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly in February and adds to laws already enacted. It is already a misdemeanor to “obstruct a “highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, or hallway,” however the new bill would up the charge to a Class E felony, punished with up to six years in prison. Like the Oklahoma bill, it would also give people who drive cars into protesters and “unintentionally causes injury or death to another person” immunity from prosecution.
State Rep. Ron M. Gant said the bill would create “law and order,” in the southern state according to the report.
“This legislation promotes law and order and protects Tennessee communities against violence by safeguarding public roadways and increasing penalties for those who commit these reprehensible acts against innocent people,” Gant said. “These senseless acts have no place in a civil society.”
The ACLU of Tennessee has opposed the bill. A similar attempt was made in 2017, but the House version did not pass the Civil Justice Committee and the Senate version did not pass the Senate Judiciary Committee.
According to the Wall Street Journal, between May and September of 2020, drivers across the country have driven into demonstrators at least 104 times with two reported deaths. Although many instances were accidental, some motorists claimed to be acting in self-defense of themselves and their property.
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