Oklahoma lawmaker Introduces ‘anti-riot’ law in response to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests

January 19, 2021 by G.W. Schulz

A Republican State lawmaker from Norman has submitted a new bill ahead of Oklahoma’s upcoming legislative session that would toughen penalties for people who engage in “rioting.”

Senator Rob Standridge said that Senate Bill 15 would lead to one year in prison for rioting and beef up consequences for protestors who destroy property by making them pay restitution for the damage. It would also expand protections for paramedics and firefighters, not just police, during events that are deemed riots.

The bill is a reaction to reported instances of property damage that occurred during spring Black Lives Matter protests in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. More than 20 million people across the United States are estimated to have turned out nationwide for protests reacting to the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Tens of thousands have been arrested since then for charges ranging from the petty to the gravely serious.

Oklahoma witnessed its own swell in protests and arrests as reactions to Floyd’s killing grew. Many of the protestor arrests in Oklahoma were for minor violations, such as failure to disperse following a police order or violating curfew restrictions. Others faced charges for looting and burglary.

But several Oklahoma protestors have been charged with serious crimes, such as felony terrorism and rioting. In Oklahoma City, authorities charged three protestors with felony terrorism, one with assaulting a police officer, and several more with rioting in late May. Two were accused of terrorism for setting a police vehicle on fire and attacking a bail bonds office. A third terrorism charge was for urging other protestors to participate in destruction.

There were multiple arrests after businesses were damaged during protests in Tulsa. The Oklahoma National Guard was embedded within Tulsa Police and tear gas was deployed against demonstrators. In response to news of the terrorism charges, some activist organizations accused the Oklahoma County District Attorney of playing politics by pursuing intentionally provocative accusations.

Oklahoma had already passed two new laws in 2017 that the national branch of the American Civil Liberties Union considered to be “anti-protest” measures. The laws boost penalties for protestors and protest organizations who trespass where so-called “critical infrastructure facilities” are located. This list of facilities includes railways, chemical manufacturing plants, gas production plants, and radio and TV stations.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma says to keep these things in mind if you wish to participate in a protest:

  • Your rights are strongest in “traditional public forums” generally considered public property, such as streets, sidewalks, parks, and near government buildings.
  • Private property owners can determine speech rules for themselves.
  • Police must treat protesters and counter protesters equally.
  • On private property, the owner can decide photography or video rules.
  • If you don’t have a permit, police officers can ask you to move to the side of a street or sidewalk to let others pass or for safety reasons.

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