After the police killing of George Floyd last year, the nation erupted in protest with renewed demands for justice and reform. But now that right to assembly is under attack.
In the year since Floyd's death, GOP lawmakers have been pushing measures to deter protesting and toughen penalties for offenders. Nearly 100 such anti-protesting bills have been proposed across 35 states — four times the numbers introduced in the year prior.
This wave of bills parallels another effort by Republicans to roll back voting rights and access following the 2020 election. Opponents claim both legislative trends disproportionately impact communities of color who have been actively involved in protests over the last year and are more likely to face barriers to the ballot box.
The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law has been tracking federal and state initiatives aimed at restricting the right to peaceably assemble since 2016. In the last year, nine new measures have been signed into law across seven states. While this is a slight uptick from the year before, the sheer volume of anti-protesting bills being considered in state legislatures is much higher than the usual amount.
"These bills are part of a broader trend over the past four years of state legislatures moving to repress peaceful demonstrations," the ICNL said in a January report. The trend began around 2017 when fossil fuel companies encouraged legislation that deterred environmental protests against oil pipelines. Now, anti-protesting bills have a new target: racial justice advocates.
Of the recently enacted laws, Florida's is among the most broad and severe. It expands the definition of riot to include "imminent danger" of property or persons so individuals could be charged with a felony without having committed any actual damage or injury. Peaceful protesters in the vicinity of those considered to be inciting a riot could be lumped together and all charged with a felony offense. If the group is 25 or more people, it's automatically considered an "aggravated riot" and participants could face up to 15 years in prison.
Florida's new law also makes it easier for anyone who injures a protester, such as by driving through a crowd, to avoid civil liability. Another provision of the law toughens penalties for people who deface, take down or otherwise damage a monument or memorial, including Confederate ones.
Oklahoma also recently enacted a law that grants immunity to drivers who "unintentionally" strike and injure protestors on public streets, while also imposing stricter penalties for people who obstruct traffic while participating in a "riot."
The measure was prompted in part by an incident last June when a man drove his pickup truck through a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, injuring several and leaving one person paralyzed from the waist down. Ultimately, the driver was not charged because he said he feared for the safety of his family, who was in the truck with him.
Many of the proposed and enacted measures use broad definitions that appear to conflate largely peaceful protests with instances of violent rioting and looting. However, an analysis by The Washington Post last October found that 96 percent of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer were peaceful, and when violence did occur, it was often police officers who instigated it.
There's also concern the laws could infringe on First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Clément Voule, United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, released a statement last month expressing concern that these new rules may violate the U.S. Constitution as well as international law.
"Vague definitions of 'riot,' 'mob intimidation' and 'obstruction' as set out in these laws provide excessive discretion to law enforcement authorities to intimidate and criminalize legitimate protest activities," Voule said. "Any restrictions on this fundamental freedom must be narrowly and clearly defined."
Over the last decade, American democracy has been in a steady decline, according to studies by the nonpartisan research organization Freedom House. In March, the group pinpointed three main issues that have driven this long-term decline: unequal treatment of people of color, special-interest influence in politics and partisan polarization.
Despite these concerning trends, there is still evidence of the resiliency of democracy, said Shannon Hiller, co-director of the nonpartisan Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University.
"The widespread demonstrations in support of racial justice last year are also a really incredible story about the willingness of so many Americans to go out and use their First Amendment rights to stand up together on issues that they care about," said Hiller, whose organization works to track and mitigate instances of political violence in the United States.
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Molineaux is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and President/CEO of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
The Tulsa Race Massacre happened 100 years ago today. Before last year and the kerfuffle over a campaign rally in Tulsa, I had not heard about it. Neither had my friends who grew up without a tradition of oral history. Our history books are devoid of stories centered by those who were oppressed, victimized or marginalized. This is critical to understand as we reckon today with all of our nation's history.
A family member asked me on Memorial Day if I'd ever heard about the Tulsa massacre, because they had not learned it in their history class. I heard in the question an opening to hear these stories, an opening that wasn't present last year. Where previously my family member has dismissed the idea that our government or military would commit atrocities or genocide, there was curiosity about why these stories have been suppressed for 100 years.
In short, stories that make the victors of a conflict look bad are always repressed in the immediate aftermath. Because winners write history. Let us not take 100 years to self-reflect or look for the stories of those who were not victorious, who were marginalized and, possibly, victimized by the winners.
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The House recently passed legislation to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Senate is now considering the bill.
R Street Institute's Jonathan Bydlak joined the "Jim Bohannan Show" to discuss why conservatives (and all Americans) should support the commission.
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Brossard is a senior vice president and Ivey is a senior director at Global Strategy Group, where their polling practice focuses on underserved communities of color, with a particular emphasis on the African American community.
When the sun rose across America on the morning of May 25, 2020, Joe Biden had effectively won the Democratic presidential nomination, President Trump was taking hydroxychloroquine to protect himself from Covid-19, and the country had never heard of George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minn. What a difference a year makes.
For African-Americans however, the reality across the country remains much the same one year after Floyd's murder. Last month, two Virginia police officers assaulted Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario for missing license plates on his new car. Last week, The Associated Press published footage showing two Louisiana state police officers killing Ronald Greene as he begged for his life. Earlier this month residents of Elizabeth City, N.C., renewed their protests over the district attorney's refusal to hold police accountable for shooting Andrew Brown in the back of the head.
On the grim anniversary of Floyd's murder, as the Justice in Policing Act named in his honor languishes in the Senate, the nation (and the Democratic Party) stands at a crossroads. Our collective lack of action raises serious questions: Will this be a battle that Black America continues to fight essentially on its own, or will white allies join the quest for racial justice? And more importantly, will policymakers in Washington – most notably Democrats whom Black voters overwhelmingly support each Election Day – suit up and make the battle for racial justice their own?
As Black political consultants working on campaigns across the United States, we know that Black Americans have continued to believe in America and love this country – even when that same sentiment isn't requited. We hear this in small focus group sessions from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale, in polls of Georgia and Michigan. It's why Black political participation has grown since 1968, to the point where it is now at parity with white voters. And largely thanks to Black voters, it's why we have President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. In the face of persistent voter disenfranchisement, Black voters keep showing up, hoping they can finally make Black Lives Matter throughout all of America.
The political establishment, namely the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress, cannot be complacent because Black voters keep voting. Polling has shown that Black America's ties to the party of FDR and LBJ have been weakening in recent years. Barack Obama's history-making election temporarily assuaged the growing disillusionment Black voters have been feeling toward politics and toward the seemingly never-ending effort to align white liberalism with racial egalitarianism.
It's why months after record turnout resulted in Democratic control of Washington, a plurality (48 percent) of respondents in a new Global Strategy Group poll of Black voters believe that "the Democratic Party takes Black votes for granted and does not do enough to help the Black community" – only 29 percent disagree. As a typically low-turnout midterm campaign cycle kicks off, Democrats need to do everything they can to incent Black voters – their most loyal voter segment – to show up again in 2022.
The good news is this is simple to do: Deliver on campaign promises. Three in four Black voters say they are more likely to vote in the midterms if Biden does just that. Being a party that keeps its promises to Black folks will be much more effective than expanding early and mail-in voting, making voter registration automatic, or ending state voter ID laws.
As the administration's first 100 days recede into the rear-view mirror, the Biden White House should take heart that Black voters believe they're on the right track: Biden's favorability rating among Black voters in GSG's poll is 86 percent; Vice President Kamala Harris' is 84 percent. For context, Black Lives Matter is viewed favorably by 84 percent of Black voters nationally.
Time is of the essence, and what a difference a year can make. If 2020 is any indication, the political environment can change very rapidly. November 2022 is a political lifetime away, and to retain its majorities, Democratic policymakers must finally begin to deliver transformation to Black America.
This is no time to think small or be satisfied with narrow victories. We cannot let this moment of Democratic control be a blip on the political radar. America must renew its fragile and fraying social contract now, in a way that says to Black Americans: "We hear you. We love you back. And Black Lives do Matter."
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