Leave it up to Republican lawmakers to do whatever they can to suppress the voice of those who they do not agree with. GOP legislators in multiple states want to revoke the rights of people convicted of protesting, including their access to student loans, food stamps, unemployment, benefits, and health care.
According to The New York Times, at least 34 states have introduced legislation against protesters who are convicted of crimes. Between the 34 states, there is a total of about 81 anti-protest bills that have been proposed during the 2021 legislative session alone, more than twice as many proposals compared to any previous year.
One of the first states to introduce the proposed legislation is Minnesota. In that bill, Republicans noted that those convicted for protesting would not be eligible "for any type of state loan, grant, or assistance, including but not limited to college student loans and grants, rent and mortgage assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance, unemployment benefits and other employment assistance, Minnesota supplemental aid programs, business grants, medical assistance, general assistance, and energy assistance.”
The proposal followed a series of protests against police brutality and racial injustice last year in the wake of the brutal police killing of George Floyd. The bill faces opposition and a difficult path because while the Senate is controlled by the GOP, the House is majority Democratic and the governor is a Democrat, NBC News reported.
On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed similar legislation into law. He called the bill “the strongest anti-looting, anti-rioting, pro-law-enforcement piece of legislation in the country.” The measure looks to increase criminal penalties for crimes committed during protests, including turning misdemeanor offenses into felonies. In addition to protests, the law also increases penalties associated with taking down Confederate monuments, with the consequence being a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
“We weren’t going to allow Florida to become Seattle,” said Chris Sprowls, the Republican speaker of the Florida House, in favor of the measure. Sprowls referenced protests in which police and individuals clashed as reasons why stricter laws were needed. “We were not going to allow Florida to become Portland.”
Multiple Republican-majority states have considered such legislation as a response to Black Lives Matter protests. While they claim it is for the safety of state residents, it is a clear attempt to silence and target Black and brown populations.
“This is consistent with the general trend of legislators’ responding to powerful and persuasive protests by seeking to silence them rather than engaging with the message of the protests,” said Vera Eidelman, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. “If anything, the lesson from the last year, and decades, is not that we need to give more tools to police and prosecutors, it’s that they abuse the tools they already have.”
GOP officials are attempting to revoke individuals' First Amendment right to protest without directly doing so. The measures all follow Black Lives Matter protests and come amid the verdict declaring former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all three charges of murder in the killing of George Floyd.
While Republican officials are arguing that these “anti-riot” bills will encourage peaceful protesting, they fail to acknowledge that more than 93% of racial justice protests in the U.S. since Floyd’s death have been peaceful, with no harm to people or property.
But targeting protesters directly is not the only approach GOP officials are taking to harm protestors. Republican legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed bills that grant immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters in public streets. Meaning that instead of holding these individuals accountable for their actions, these state lawmakers think it is okay to promote violence as a response to protests.
In Indiana, those who are convicted during protests are unable to hold state employment positions, including elected office. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, where protests after the police killing of Breonna Taylor lasted for months, the state Senate passed a bill that would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer with “offensive or derisive” words or gestures that would have “a direct tendency to provoke a violent response.” Those arrested on such charges would be held in jail for at least 48 hours; the same provision does not apply to those arrested for murder or rape in the state. Basically, Republicans are doing whatever they can do to disempower those who do not agree with them.
“We all know that over the last four years that we saw white supremacy, bigotry and racism show its ugly head in so many forms,” Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, whose twin brother Terence Crutcher was shot and killed in 2016 by a Tulsa police officer, told the Times. “This is the continuation of the Trump administration that showed us every day that Black lives didn’t matter.”
While at least 34 states have proposed such legislation, three bills have been signed into law in Florida, Arkansas, and Kansas. While these bills will likely not stand up to legal challenges, the fact that Republicans are even wasting time and money to fight for them says a lot. Some GOP officials will do anything to push their conservative and xenophobic agenda. Bills and proposals like these showcase the reality that some officials do not care about anyone’s lives.