- Oklahoma just passed a bill that would provide immunity to some drivers who hit or kill protesters.
- The legislation would also punish demonstrators who block the use of a public street or highway.
- A surge of “anti-riot” bills have been introduced by Republican state lawmakers since summer 2020.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A new law in Oklahoma will penalize protesters who block public roadways, while offering protections to drivers who may unwittingly hit or even kill them with a car.
The bill would make obstructing the use of a public street or highway during a demonstration a misdemeanor carrying a possible sentence of a year in jail as well as a $100 to $5,000 fine.
Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the legislation, which takes effect November 1, into law Wednesday.
Under House Bill 1674, motorists who are “fleeing from a riot” and have “reasonable belief” they are in danger, cannot be held criminally or civilly responsible for injuring or killing demonstrators.
Critics of the bill say it is meant to limit legal protests after a summer of nationwide demonstrations against police violence and racism, following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
The bill’s author, state Sen. Rob Standridge said in a video statement that the law sets a high standard. “It has to be unintentional, first and foremost,” Standridge said, and the driver must feel they are in “imminent harm,” “like people are trying to break open the windows, and trying to drag someone out of the vehicle.”
The legislation was introduced primarily as a response to an incident in Tulsa last May, in which a driver in a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer drove through a crowd of George Floyd protesters on a freeway, injuring three people and leaving one of them paralyzed from the waist down.
The driver, who was not charged, said he sped up because he was afraid for his family’s safety.
“This is an important protection for citizens who are just trying to get out of a bad situation,” state Rep. Kevin West said in a statement last week. “When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families, or their property.”
Data shows that the majority of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful, NPR reported. A report conducted by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project found that protesters in 93% of such demonstrations last summer did not engage in violence or destructive activity.
The Oklahoma bill passed the House and Senate along party lines earlier this month.
A group of people protesting the passage of the legislation entered the House Chambers inside the Oklahoma State Capitol briefly on Wednesday, according to CNN, but the session continued on after demonstrators had left.
The Oklahoma bill is part of a larger movement of legislation Republican state lawmakers are calling “anti-riot” bills, aimed at punishing rioters and absolving the drivers who may hit them.
A proposed law in Indiana would bar those convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment, while a Minnesota proposal would prohibit those people from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits, and housing assistance.
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation earlier this week that cracked down on public disorder, and Republican legislators in Iowa passed a bill similar to Oklahoma’s, that grants immunity to such drivers.
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