While most of the world is still buzzing with positive energy from the Women's Marches on Saturday, several Republican legislators have been working hard to potentially make future peaceful protests a punishable offense.
According to The Intercept, several proposals have been introduced by Republican legislators over the past few weeks specifically targeting protests that block or obstruct traffic—including a North Dakota bill that would allow motorists to hit and kill protesters obstructing the highway "as long as [the] driver does so accidentally."
Another bill in Minnesota would make obstructing a highway a "gross misdemeanor" punishable by a hefty fine of $3,000 and up to a year in jail, while a separate piece of legislature would make "obstructing the legal process" punishable by an even heftier fine of up to $10,000 plus "imprisonment of not less than 12 months." Similar bills designed to criminalize and discourage protests have also been proposed in Washington, Iowa, and Michigan.
As The Intercept points out, this "trend" appears to be a not-so-subtle workaround to the First Amendment, which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting...the right of the people peaceably to assemble." Furthermore, the bills seem to be in response to recent protests organized by Black Lives Matter and the activists fighting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline—which is horrifying for a multitude of reasons, most notably the continued criminalization of black and brown people.
The very specific targeting becomes even more concerning when combined with what Slate reports is a "bracing message implicitly directed to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement" from the Trump administration. As the source points out, amongst the "Top Issues" on President Trump's new White House website is "Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community," which in part appears to be addressed to protestors of police violence.
"The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration," the website reads. "The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it...Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter."
While neither specifically mentions Black Lives Matter or the Dakota Access Pipeline by name, it's easy to see how both the proposed bills and the Trump administration's stance feed a dangerous, violent narrative that targets smaller protests mostly consisting of people of color. As many pointed out in response to the low arrest numbers of the Women's Marches, it's not only a sign of a successful protest, but also proof of a wholly different method of policing—which is why, now more than ever, it's so essential just as many people show up for the small, local protests as the big ones.
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