The state legislature in Oklahoma has advanced a bill that would impose much steeper penalties for people who block streets and highways during unauthorized protests and gatherings. Somewhat more controversially, the bill would also provide immunity from prosecution for drivers who strike rioting individuals with their vehicles when fleeing attackers. The penalties for shutting down traffic would provide significant fines and jail time. The assembly already approved the measure and the bill now heads for the desk of Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, though there has been no official word as to whether or not he plans to sign it. (Washington Examiner)
A bill meant to protect drivers who hit protesters during the course of fleeing a riot passed the Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday.
House Bill 1674, which passed through the Senate by a vote of 38-10, would increase penalties for blocking roadways while also providing immunity to drivers who kill or injure motorists while fleeing the scene of a riot in fear for their lives, according to the Associated Press.
The bill comes in response to an incident in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year in which a driver in a pickup truck drove through a group of George Floyd protesters blocking an interstate and injured several protesters. The driver, whose family was in the car, was not charged.
A number of states have been developing legislation similar to this, a topic that we discussed back in February. All of these efforts are fairly uniform and, at least in my opinion, have the same problematic aspects.
When it comes to stiffening the penalties for road blockage, I have no problem with that if it’s what the voters of the state support. The common BLM tactic of flooding highways and streets with human bodies is a far more serious offense than something like simple jaywalking. Not only does it cause significant disruption to the municipal infrastructure, but it poses a risk to human life when ambulances, firetrucks and other first responder vehicles are unable to make their way to emergency situations.
Further, nobody’s free speech rights are being infringed by such rules. There are processes in place to allow groups of people to conduct legitimately peaceful protests using city streets. Organizers can apply for a permit and the police will help them (rather than hindering them) by blocking off the designated streets during the authorized hours of the event, directing traffic around the area. This process will also eliminate the issue of drivers being trapped in their vehicles, covered in the other portion of the bill.
The major problem with these enhanced penalties comes with the enforcement aspect. In larger cities, some of these “peaceful protests” that turn into riots when the sun goes down can easily swell to hundreds, if not thousands of people. Asking the local police force to arrest that many people, not to mention the resources required to process and prosecute them all, is a very heavy lift. It’s made even more difficult when everyone is wearing masks, supposedly to prevent the spread of the virus. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the problem, but perhaps other alternatives could be considered. One idea might be to buck the trend being pushed by “police reform” advocates and actually expand the authority of the police to deploy non-lethal crowd control tactics to clear roadways more quickly. Arrests could be limited to the organizers of the riots if they can be identified.
As to the immunity question, while I’m not entirely opposed to the idea, it really shouldn’t be necessary. Anyone who is trapped in their vehicle when rioters begin pounding on it and threatening to break the glass and drag them out into the mob is legitimately in fear for their life and the safety of others riding with them. A person in such a situation is entitled to flee to save themselves. If the rioters make the choice to remain on the street in front of a running vehicle, they’ve placed themselves willingly in a dangerous position. But these situations also reinforce the need for motorists to keep dash cameras and other recording devices running if they are so equipped. You need to be able to prove that you were actually being threatened if you wind up running down some rioters. That would be true with or without an immunity bill such as the one now moving forward in Oklahoma.