State Proposals to Restrict Protests

American Oversight is investigating state-level efforts aimed at curtailing protests, including bills that contain harsher punishments for crimes committed during demonstrations and or that provide criminal liability shields to drivers who hit protesters.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality that swept the nation in recent years, multiple state legislatures have considered — or have already enacted — efforts aimed at curtailing protest rights.

This push has only ramped up since 2020, and some conservative leaders have even used the violence carried out by Trump supporters and far-right extremists — including the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — to justify legislation that would crack down on civil disobedience. 

Proposals have included increasing penalties on common protest tactics, such as the toppling of monuments to the Confederacy, and essentially criminalizing demonstrations that bother bystanders. Many also provide legal protections for police — or even private citizens — who respond to protests with violence, such as civil and criminal liability shields for those who hit protesters with their cars.  

Vehicular attacks on protesters are an increasingly common tactic for those seeking to disrupt anti-racist protests. In some cases, these attacks have been deadly. Heather Heyer was murdered in 2017 while protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and Summer Taylor was run over on a closed Seattle highway in the summer of 2020. 

American Oversight is investigating a proposal backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that would impose harsher penalties for crimes carried out during demonstrations. It would also ban protesters from blocking roadways while shielding drivers from criminal liability if they hit protesters. The legislation passed the Florida House of Representatives on March 26, 2021. 

We’re also investigating proposed legislation in Missouri that would similarly protect drivers who hit demonstrators. We’ve requested communications about the proposal from its legislative sponsors, Missouri state Sen. Rick Brattin and Rep. Adam Schnelting.