News & Politics

Multiple States Considering Crackdown on Protesters Blocking Roads

Black Lives Matter protesters gather on the Hernando Desoto Bridge in Memphis, Tenn., Sunday, July 10, 2016. Protesters angry over police killings of black people occupied the key bridge over the Mississippi River, blocking an interstate highway for hours. (Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

As leftists across the nation have taken to blocking streets — often violently — to protest Trump, lawmakers in multiple states are taking legislative action to protect the rights of their constituents.

Two states — North Dakota and Tennessee — are considering bills that would protect motorists from civil liability if they accidentally hit an activist blocking the road. Several other states are considering measures aimed at discouraging protesters from obstructing roads, including tougher penalties and allowing police to clear them from roadways by “any means necessary.”

In North Dakota, Rep. Keith Kempenich introduced a bill which states that if a driver “unintentionally” causes injury or death to someone blocking traffic, the driver will not be liable for damages:

Kempenich said he was spurred to act after Dakota Access Pipeline protesters last year moved to block public roadways, scaring some of his constituents.

“It turned from a protest to basically terrorism on the roadways, and the bill got introduced for people to be able to drive down the roads without fear of running into somebody and having to be liable for them,” he told CNN.

Kempenich made clear that drivers who intentionally run over protesters would still be prosecuted.

“If people stay off the roadway, it has nothing to do with you,” he said. “[But] if you’re on the roadway trying to intimidate some people, then you’ve got an issue.”

A similar bill filed in the Tennessee general assembly on Thursday would also make drivers immune from civil liability if they hit a protestor unless the actions leading up to injuries were willful. Senate Bill 944, filed by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, reads:

“A person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right of way is immune from civil liability for such injury.”

If a driver intentionally hits a protester or acts in an otherwise careless manner, they will not be immune from civil liabilities, according to the bill.

Recent protesters in Nashville have clashed with traffic as demonstrators close or block parts of major roadways. During a recent protest in front of the Nashville offices of Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander Metro Nashville Police responded to an incident where several demonstrators ended up on the hood of a passing SUV.

“Five or six protesters were on the hood of an SUV,” Nashville Police Capt. Greg Blair told The Tennessean. “The driver drove about 100 feet to a TigerMart (gas station).”

Senator Ketron said in a statement:

We believe that citizens have the right to protest. There is a procedure for peaceful protests and the purpose of that process is to protect the safety of our citizens. Protesters have no right to be in the middle of the road or our highways for their own safety and the safety of the traveling public.

A sponsor of the bill, Representative Matthew Hill, also issued a statement:

We are not endorsing anyone running over a person with a car, whether it is protestors or anyone else. If someone intentionally harms a person, they are going to be charged with a crime, period. There is a clear difference, however, between peacefully protesting and lawless rioters in the middle of a public roadway who jeopardize the safety of our families. This is a public safety bill that is meant to protect everyone’s right to peacefully protest and I look forward to seeing this commonsense legislation passed into law.

The bill is likely a reaction to a Black Lives Matter demonstration that shut down a bridge last summer. They created a massive traffic jam that significantly delayed the parents of a very sick baby from getting to the hospital.

Said paramedic Bobby Harrell with Crittenden EMS:

“We received a call there was a child needing medical attention stuck in traffic up on the bridge and due to the protest going on the bridge the family was not able to get through.”

The Sheriff’s department had to escort the ambulance up the wrong way on the interstate to get to the child. A photo shows the parents, handing off their child to paramedics on the bridge.

Harrell said after he had the very sick child in the ambulance, the driver then had to go 25 minutes out of the way to get the child to the nearest hospital.

https://youtu.be/RAg67adwJUY

The law would go into effect on July 1 if passed.

In Minnesota, a Republican-led House committee passed a measure last month that would allow local governments to sue criminally convicted protesters for law enforcement costs:

Rep. Nick Zerwas, a Republican who introduced that measure, said the public should not have to pay to cover law enforcement costs incurred dealing with illegal protests.

The local governments are only able to recoup costs if the protester is convicted of a crime, he said.

Zerwas is also behind a measure that would increase the criminal penalties in Minnesota for blocking traffic on a roadway. “If you want to block a freeway, you’re going to jail, and when you get out, you’re gonna get a bill,” he said.

Democrats, of course, see road obstruction as a legitimate form of speech:

Rep. John Lesch, a Democrat who voted against the measure, said lawmakers were using “overzealous intimidation tactics to suppress speech” and argued that the measure is unconstitutional.

Effective protest movements, such as the Civil Rights-era boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, are necessarily disruptive, he said.

“Inconvenience is at the heart of protest,” he said. “If you’re not being inconvenienced, the likelihood of you listening is drastically lower. So it’s remarkable that all these unarmed young black men were being shot all over the nation and no one cared until you had to take a detour to get to the mall.”

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis posted its opposition to the measure on Facebook.

“This is not a post of defeat. This is a warning to those trying to take away our freedom. We Ready. We Coming,” the group wrote.

A lawmaker in Indiana has proposed a bill that would require officials to direct police to clear activists from roadways by “any means necessary,” according to the Indianapolis Star:

As written, the bill would give authorities 15 minutes to “dispatch all available law enforcement officers” after receiving a report of 10 or more people illegally blocking traffic “with directions to use any means necessary to clear the roads.”

“I don’t care if the folks want to be 10 deep on the sidewalks, I want the streets opened up,” Republican state Sen. Jim Tomes said during a packed committee hearing at the statehouse, last month. “This idea of spontaneous getting out in the streets and bringing things to a grinding halt? That just doesn’t cut it.”

Last Spring, after protesters tried to block a road to a Trump rally, state lawmakers approved a bill that increases the penalties for obstructing a roadway.

If anyone tries to prevent someone from getting to a government meeting or political event after Aug. 6 (when the bill becomes law), they could face up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

That’s a big jump from current law, which calls for 30 days and a $500 fine.

Protesters were outraged when the police helped motorists pass through their blockade.

In Iowa, a lawmaker has proposed a bill that would make blocking roadways a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The Iowa Senate bill, co-sponsored by nine Republican lawmakers, was introduced in response to an incident in November when more than 100 protesters blocked an interstate highway in Iowa City:

The activists shut down eastbound traffic for about 30 minutes, protesting the election of Donald Trump as president, before they were either removed by law enforcement officers or left on their own.

Chapman, who is chief operating officer of Midwest Ambulance Service, said he is concerned about what he called a growing trend across the country where protesters block interstate highways, hindering commerce and unnecessarily putting lives in danger.

“We are concerned about the protesters. We are concerned about emergency medical services being able to get to calls. We are concerned about coming around a curve on the interstate and all of a sudden you have blocked traffic and someone slams on the brakes and a semi comes up from behind and hits them,” Chapman said.

The ACLU, as you might imagine, is not happy about the recent flurry of proposed laws thwarting activists who want to block the streets.

“We are seeing an alarming trend of state bills introduced with the purpose or effect of criminalizing peaceful protest — an act that lies at the very core of the First Amendment’s protections,” said Lee Rowland, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, in an email to CNN:

Rowland said these proposals, if passed, will “undoubtedly” be struck down by courts for violating the First Amendment.

“Legislators are supposed to honor the will of the people, not criminalize it,” she added

The will of the people is to be allowed go about their daily routines without being obstructed by left-wing crybabies. But, sadly, the ACLU is correct about one thing. There will no doubt be a protracted fight in the courts over the proposals. Hopefully, sanity will win out in the end.