Republicans all over the country are dealing with angry constituents who are protesting long and hard just to make their concerns heard. Unfortunately, instead of understanding that these protests are a major signal that something is very wrong, a number of states are working to criminalize protesting so they can stay in their comfortable echo-chambers. Arizona has, perhaps, one of the worst measures out there aside from North Dakota: They want to place protesting into the same category as racketeering.
Right now, racketeering laws in Arizona are specific to organized crime. The state legislature wants to expand that to include rioting, and also expand the legal definition of rioting to include damage to property.
But what’s even worse is that they want to create a “guilt by association” facet to their laws by allowing the state the right to seize the assets not just of protest organizers, but also of everyone who participates in protests that even could turn violent, including people that are clearly not involved in any violence. Given that a lot of these protests turn violent because of black bloc tactics by extremist groups, and not those who are part of the organized protests, you’re looking at a lot of completely innocent people getting robbed of their Constitutional rights.
State Senator John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) thinks this is a good pre-emptive measure for stopping violence before it starts (because that totally always works in every single case):
“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder… Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts? …Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?”
No, not really, but punishing everyone because they happen to be there, or because they were planning something that hasn’t even happened yet, takes this way too far. They’re saying, “Sure, you can protest if you really want to, but we can punish you disproporationately if you do, even if you do nothing wrong.” Planning and organizing a peaceful protest is not like planning a murder, a bank heist, or anything like that. Protests are not crimes.
Kavanagh not the worst, though. State Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) thinks the law should also do away with bail for protesters:
“If they get thrown in jail, somebody pays to get them out. There has to be something to deter them from that.”
Really? How long should protesters be imprisoned for, even if they weren’t involved in any rioting at all?
No doubt these Republicans believe that this qualifies as mere consequences for free speech. Sure, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, but those consequences are, and should remain, in the realms of criticism, analysis, boycotts, etc. Once you make it legal to arrest people for even planning a protest, you’re in violation of the 1st Amendment.
Arizona is in for a ridiculously tough time if they pass this.
Featured image by Jonathan Gibby via Getty Images