The news coverage may have slowed down, but nationwide protests against police brutality in support of #BlackLivesMatter and other pressing social issues haven’t stopped. Historically, protests have served as a means for citizens to get their voices heard and incite change. Where many had hoped to use their voices to influence new legislation, lawmakers have not only ignored the public outcry but have started to propose bills that would restrict people’s right to protest as a whole, and in some states, it’s already working.
In Tennessee, protesters have camped outside of the Capitol in Nashville since June. Their demands include meeting with the governor to discuss racial inequality, police brutality, and removing the statue of early Ku Klux Klan leader, Nathan Forrest, from the Capitol. In response to the protests, Gov. Bill Lee signed legislation to increase the punishment for camping on state property. The new bill, HB 8005, changes the charge from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony that is punishable by up to six years in prison. Any protesters who refuse to leave after receiving a warning can be charged with a felony, and previously convicted felons would lose their right to vote altogether.
In Portsmouth the cops put out warrants for a senator, NAACP, and PDs for helping BLM.
In Salt Lake they've targeted a senator and the DA is pressing charges for buying red paint.
In Tennessee they're passing laws to make peaceful protest into a felony. https://t.co/tg4p55bcGy
— just vetch (@vetchtv_twitch) August 23, 2020
In Portsmouth, Virginia charges were filed against state Sen. Louise Lucas, members of the NAACP, the city’s public defender, and a School Board member regarding a protest in June that resulted in the vandalism of a Confederate monument. In Salt Lake City, Utah protesters face felony criminal mischief and riot charges over splashing red paint and smashing windows during a protest. If convicted, punishment can include a life sentence in prison.
In light of recent high profile cases of civilian murders at the hands of the police and racial inequalities, the decision to pass legislation that penalizes protesters may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t. According to the ACLU, in 2017, roughly 20 states proposed bills to restrict protesters’ rights ranging from fines to imprisonment. Many did not pass due to specific language included in many of the bills that would have infringed on citizens’ First Amendment rights.