There is a disturbing trend toward criminalizing protesting. Many of us watched in horror as armed officers dressed in riot gear violently removed water protectors from their new camp. But too many still feel far removed from what’s going on in North Dakota while we Facebook our support for water protectors with an onslaught of sad and angry emojis or maybe you are gearing up for the next march by looking for the one in the location that will have the most favorable weather. But soon those police actions will be closer to home and more pressing for all of us. States have been quietly enacting legislation that serves to strengthen the power of police officers and change the language that defines a protest.
— Alexander Rubinstein (@AlexR_DC) February 22, 2017
When we speak of First Amendment rights typically we focus on Freedom of Speech or Freedom of the Press. But the right to peaceably assemble is just as important, if not more important because it allows every individual to have equal input.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
People across the country have recently been moved to action by the 2016 Presidential Campaign and subsequent election to vocalize their concerns. From the primaries to the election, through recounts, and constitutionally questionable Executive Orders; people have been shaken from their stupor and have become more engaged in the political process than they have been for decades. Marches and strikes across the nation have become the norm rather than the exception. These efforts have been rewarded with increased visibility for causes that affect the most vulnerable. The immediate judicial response shows the power and importance of protesting as a means of making sure the voice of the people is heard. In a time where the influence of money in politics has overshadowed the will of the populace, the right to protest is arguably the last defense left to us.
But it’s effectiveness hasn’t gone unnoticed by the powers that be and measures have been introduced in states across the nation that seek to reclassify certain acts as “riots”. Placing stiff penalties on those who participate, essentially narrowing the definition of protesting by labeling certain actions as dangerous thus giving way for more police intervention. An interaction that has become increasingly more violent when the nature of any given protest stands to upend the power structure that holds the status quo for the top one percent.
As reported by Fortune, North Dakota introduced a new proposal on February 16, 2017, that states those convicted of participating in a riot involving more than 100 people could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine — double the current penalties for a lower-end felony. Participation in smaller riots, currently a misdemeanor, would be upgraded to a felony carrying up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. That same week Oregonlive.com reported GOP Senator Kim Thatcher as the chief sponsor of SB 540. A bill that would require Oregon’s public universities and community colleges to expel students convicted of rioting. Under the statute, riots are defined as a group of six or more people who engage “in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly create a grave risk of causing public alarm.” In May of 2016, Louisiana Governor Edwards signed the Blue Lives Matter law and it went into effect in August of 2016. The bill upgrades resisting arrest to hate crime and felony. On the national level, the Rap Back program has been around since the later part of 2014 and is being used to allow employers the ability to track the actions of their employees “real time” and gives the Federal Bureau of Investigation leeway to keep gathered data on file indefinitely.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) February 22, 2017
People are also demanding more protection from threats, real and imagined. This demand for more security has opened the floodgates for increased Big Brother-like activity and invites authoritarian rule to take hold on a scale this republic can’t imagine. We have become so inured by the cries of Hitler, Nazi, and Fascist it has rendered us nearly incapable of the reality of those things in our present situation.
We must stay aware and vigilant. We must #RESIST.