Republicans in statehouses across the U.S. are devising legal tools to regulate public dissent as demonstrators take to the streets to protest President Donald Trump in waves not seen since the Vietnam War, reports Bloomberg.
At least 10 bills to limit protests have been introduced in recent months. North Dakota is considering protection for motorists who “unintentionally” kill protesters blocking roads. Washington state Senator Doug Ericksen would punish those who “disrupt our economy.” Next week, North Carolina Senator Dan Bishop will call for imprisoning people who taunt ex-officials, after former Governor Pat McCrory was pursued down a Washington, D.C., alley by a group rightfully chanting “Shame!”
Many of the bills, which clearly impinge on constitutional freedoms, were filed before Trump’s election in response to Black Lives Matter and oil-pipeline protests. They’ve gained fresh relevance amid global women’s marches and nationwide airport demonstrations over Trump’s illegal immigration ban. On Wednesday night, black-clad protesters set fires and smashed glass at the University of California at Berkeley, forcing the cancellation of a speech by a conservative writer.
At the state level, bills have been proposed in Missouri to prohibit demonstrators committing illegal acts from wearing masks or robes; in Iowa, to levy five years in prison for traffic disruptions; in Washington, to punish protesters who interfere with commerce; and in Minnesota, to keep roads clear and allow governments to sue violators for costs. All are awaiting committee hearings or other legislative hurdles.
In July, traffic on Interstate 94 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, was blocked for about five hours by 300 demonstrators protesting the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by police. Lohmer is sponsoring a bill to triple the $1,000 fine for such activity and allow for as much as a year of jail time.