This clearly isn’t going to go over well with the Social Justice Warriors but it’s an idea which has deserved a look for quite a while now. The definition of “protests” in the United States has changed a lot in a short period of time and the demands in resources, manpower and money which affected communities experience have ramped up as a result. When protests consisted of marches by people who obtained permits in advance and stuck to the normal rules, most of the impact on municipalities consisted of a little overtime for the cops and cleaning up the trash afterward. Today, however, protests are intentionally far more “disruptive” when they are carried out by Black Lives Matter and related groups. Costs skyrocket and entire communities feel the impact as businesses are shut down and transportation grinds to a halt.
This has been particularly true in Minnesota, and now one lawmaker has proposed a change in the rules which would allow disruptive groups to be billed for a portion of these costs. (Thinkprogress, unfortuantely)
Black Lives Matter helped stimulate a discussion about racial inequities in Minnesota, but some oppose the tactic of shutting down shutting down public roads and police precincts. In an attempt to deter those sorts of protests in the future, Republican Rep. Nick Zerwas has introduced a bill that makes protesters civilly liable for law enforcement costs if they refuse to disperse when ordered to do so and end up being arrested and convicted of a crime. The ACLU, however, says the proposal is unconstitutional.
Zerwas told ThinkProgress his bill isn’t targeted toward any specific group, but is aimed at “individuals who go into a situation to try and disrupt and destroy and block commercial activity with the intent of drawing a large police response and then being arrested.”
“Local jurisdictions would have the ability to recoup costs,” he added. “If this is the new thing where once a month a [protest] happens, we can’t possibly expect our property tax payers to pay for it.”
In a statement about the bill, Zerwas noted that the additional police presence deployed in response to Black Lives Matter’s Mall of America protest in late 2014 cost more than $25,000. He hopes his bill “will save taxpayers money if such unlawful protests occur in the future.”
Here’s another set of quotes where Zerwas gives an example of what he’s talking about. (City Pages)
“Last week, you have a person who doesn’t like what… a teacher at Como Park is tweeting out, so now I’m just going to shut down the school somehow?” Zerwas asks. “If that protest would have gone through, how much do you think it would’ve cost the St. Paul School District? Does anyone think St. Paul schools somehow have that extra money lying around for increased security measures?
“At some point you must see you’re not trying to be constructive. You’re trying to be destructive and disruptive and there’s a cost to that. That cost is real money and paid by real taxpayers.”
Obviously the SJWs will be up in arms over this, claiming that the government is trying to shut down free speech or being racists or whatever. That much is completely predictable. But what of the actual substance of the debate? Protests are not only expected to be peaceful, but in accordance with the law. The government can’t stop you from making your voice heard, but they can stop you from breaking the law. That includes provisions against blocking traffic on highways for hours on end and invading private property (such as a shopping mall) and shutting down business. Liberals are quick to point out that pro-lifers have the right to protest at abortion clinics, but they must remain a certain distance from the entrance and not deny access to people wishing to enter. Where are those complaints when Black Lives Matter shut down other businesses? You’ll hear nothing but crickets.
The problem that Minnesota faces is that even if they manage to pass such legislation, enforcement will be problematic at best. Just trying to get an order to prevent BLM from shutting down the Mall of America resulted in a judge throwing up his hands and declaring there there were only a few individual “leaders” who the order could be sent to. Who will be sent the bill for these expenses? You can’t very well expect one of the organizers to pay for the costs incurred by thousands of others even in the highly unlikely event they would have the money to pay the tab.
It’s a good idea, but it only seems to work in theory. You couldn’t even collect the names of people to charge without conducting hundreds of arrests at a time and you would then be swamping limited law enforcement resources even further. I imagine that’s just what BLM counts on and they’re using these limitations to full effect.