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.
Proponents of these laws often conflate peaceful demonstrations with violent riots that only rarely emerge after protests. 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 against 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 several of these anti-protest efforts, including a Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 19, 2021. The law carries harsher penalties for crimes carried out in relation to protests. It also bans demonstrators from blocking roadways, while shielding drivers from criminal liability if they hit protesters. Another driver liability shield was signed into law in Oklahoma on April 21.
We’re also investigating legislation in Missouri, Iowa, and other states. The Missouri bill, which has passed both chambers of the state legislature, 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.
In Iowa, we’re requesting communications from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office about a law enforcement package she backs that includes anti-protest provisions and a liability shield for drivers who hit demonstrators. The legislation has also passed both chambers of the Iowa legislature.