With the inauguration of Donald Trump as president just one week ago, Republican lawmakers in several states are passing laws to ban peaceful protests. The laws seem to be directed toward demonstrations where protesters are blocking traffic on local roads or highways. The new laws supplement or strengthen laws already on the books which are intended to dissuade civil disobedience. The new legislations are drastically increasing the fines and carry extended jail time for those taking part in demonstrations that impede traffic.
It would appear that a lot of the laws are targeting demonstrations such as the ones lead by Black Lives Matter activists that shut down a busy highway and also the actions of the demonstrators who halted the work on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Some of the laws being passed will allow motorists in North Dakota to run over and kill protesters blocking roadways as long as the crash is ‘accidental’.
A bill recently introduced by legislators in Minnesota will severely increase the fines for civil disobedience and will allow prosecutors to jail protesters for up to one year for blocking a highway. The Republicans in Washington state are seeking to have protestors involved in civil disobedience rallies to be charged with felonies for taking part in “economic terrorism.” The Republicans in Iowa are promising to pass legislation that will make protest on highways illegal. Lawmakers in Indiana are considering a bill that would give police the authority to clear roadways with force and by “any means necessary.” In Colorado, legislation is being considered that would change environmental protest from a misdemeanor to a felony, and the penalties would be a fine of up to $100,000 and an 18-month prison sentence.
According to Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said “This trend of anti-protest legislation dressed up as ‘obstruction’ bills is deeply troubling. A law that would allow the state to charge a protester $10,000 for stepping in the wrong place, or encourage a driver to get away with manslaughter because the victim was protesting, is about one thing: chilling protest.”