State Legislatures Aim to Criminalize Peaceful Protest

America was founded on dissent and protest. And now, state by state, the Republican party has become obsessed with taking protest away.

Protest is the most effective means of giving a minority a voice against the more powerful. The act has grown increasingly necessary since President Donald Trump was sworn into office. Unsurprisingly, the GOP is attempting to limit this right – and they party is looking to state legislatures to make that happen.

Minnesota is just the latest to introduce a law to limit free expression. In this case, the state added a provision to increase penalties for public protesting, which the Minnesota GOP tacked onto a public safety bill. The increased penalties would apply for any protest that blocked cars on highways, planes at airports or stopped transit in any other way.

The sponsors claimed protests that block transit could have a life-endangering impact. Opponents scoffed, maintaining that emergency vehicles were allowed through and the right for marginalized voices to be heard outweighed the inconvenience of commuters.

Minnesota’s Republicans are following the path of Republicans in many other states by claiming that silencing protesters is a common good. North Dakota presented similar legislation in order to tamp down protest over the Dakota Pipeline, which the Trump administration enthusiastically backed once seated in the White House.

According to the North Dakota bill, drivers would not be held liable if they hit protesters who obstruct traffic. Oklahoma also introduced a bill to jail protestors who impact “critical infrastructure,” which is expected to especially impact environmental groups.

If it sounds like these states are copying each other, well, that’s intentional.

“As citizens unhappy about the Trump administration look to build on the momentum of the historic Women’s March with additional public expressions of outrage, Republicans across the country are quietly introducing legislation aimed at limiting and even criminalizing peaceful demonstrations,” Mother Jones reported in early March. “According to a recent count from the American Civil Liberties Union, at least 17 states have proposed such anti-protest bills, many of which include language ostensibly aimed at improving measures such as public safety. But upon closer analysis, these bills all appear to share the intended goal of suppressing First Amendment rights by making peaceful dissent a crime with the threat of jail time and hefty fines.”

Since the report came out, that number has only increased, and it has even made people living outside the United States concerned.

“Peaceful assembly is a fundamental right, not a privilege, and the government has no business imposing a general requirement that people get permission before exercising that right,” said U.N. human rights investigators Maina Kiai and David Kaye, according to Common Dreams. “We call on the US authorities, at the federal and state level, to refrain from enacting legislation that would impinge on the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and opinion.”

It is true that protest can occasionally become violent. After all, a case currently being heard claims that President Trump effectively and purposefully incited violence at his own rallies, encouraging physical assault against those who opposed his campaign. Despite that dangerous situation, there appears to be no state bills being introduced to protect the public safety of those who protest political rallies.

If there was any doubt that these bills are intended to discourage participation and dampen the power of marginalized communities, again, the Minnesota GOP serves as a prime example of the legislators’ intention. When women of color in the Minnesota House spoke out in opposition to the protest bill, missing from the room were white, male GOP House members. Instead, they were allegedly in a room to the side, playing cards.

Apparently when it comes to freedom of expression, Republicans value some people’s speech more than others.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

148 comments

Melania P
Melania Padilla4 days ago

With the new government I would not be surprised if this happened

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Elaine W
Elaine W1 months ago

This is seriously disturbing and will curtail freedom to resist and send more individuals to money making private prisons.

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Carl R
Carl R1 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Elaine W
Elaine W2 months ago

Peaceful protest is necessary for democracy. Call your congresspersons and peacefully demand the rights of people in a free society.

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Philippa P
Philippa P2 months ago

Thanks.

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Will R
Will Rogers2 months ago

If peaceful protests worked black people would be free in America. If you need their permission to protest and they have the power of veto, you are not free. Freedom means doing what you want when you want. Governments have enslaved the people with them as our masters instead of them being our servants, our public servants. They treat you like other people's children, talk down to you, lie. Take your taxes and wage wars where your children have to fight. And then give you the carrot of peaceful protest while they violently take away your rights including the right to protest violently. They want you to be peaceful so they can take what they want from you. And they teach you to be passive while they wage war. Your nation was built on violence, on slavery and genocide. And even now you are waging many wars on this globe and supplying arms to the rest. You lot don't need peaceful protest you need revolution! You need to transform yourself from a country of war to a country of peace before you can talk about ineffectual peaceful protests.

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Ken -
Ken -2 months ago

An extension of Donald J (the "J" is for jerk) Trump's wish to suppress all voices but his own. He is forging a path to dictatorship.

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Telica R
Telica R2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Christian Menges
Christian Menges2 months ago

Thanks!

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Margie F
Margie FOURIE2 months ago

As long as its peaceful

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