Oklahoma lawmakers have passed a bill that they’re pretending is about protecting citizens when it’s really about their contempt for anti-racism protesters. The legislation that passed in the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday increases penalties for protesters who block streets while granting blanket immunity for drivers who injure or even kill protesters. To the GOP legislators in Oklahoma, I say: If you hate Black Lives Matter so much that you want to run it over in your Honda Pilot, just say so.
Anyway, the Associated Press reports that the bill, which is now on its way to be signed by the governor, passed in the state Senate mostly along party lines with a 38-10 vote. The bill makes blocking public streets during a protest a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
As AP noted: “Blocking roadways is a longtime tactic of nonviolent protesters dating back to even before the civil rights movement in the 1960s.” A protest isn’t really a protest if no one is being disturbed or inconvenienced, but whatever: Let’s just say for the sake of argument that locking up nonviolent protesters for a year for blocking a street is in the interest of public safety and it’s not being done because conservatives view police brutality as negro extermination porn, and they’re mad people are protesting against it.
There’s still the issue of motorists being allowed to plow through demonstrators without suffering consequences.
Sen. Rob Standridge, a Republican from Norman who wrote the bill, said it was prompted mostly by an incident in Tulsa last summer in which a pickup truck drove through a crowd gathered on a Tulsa interstate while protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several people were injured, including one who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from an overpass, but the driver, whose family was in the car, was not charged.
“The kids cowered in the back seat because they feared for their lives,” Standridge said. “That’s what this bill is about.”
So, let me see if I have this right: A driver hit and injured protesters and wasn’t charged with a crime, and in response to that incident, Standridge pushed a bill that ensures no one will ever be charged with a crime for hitting protesters in the future. No, no, that sounds qu-white reasonable.
What about all the ways this bill could go wrong?
What if during a chaotic protest, a participant ends up blocking a street unknowingly or by accident? That’s worth taking their freedom away for up to a year?
What if motorists take this new law to mean that it’s open season on protesters once they get behind the wheel? Last year, we saw report after report after report involving drivers purposely attacking protesters with their vehicles. Once this bill is signed into law, motorists in Oklahoma can go mowing down protesters knowing all they have to do is tell authorities, “I was in fear for my life.”
One would hope that lawmakers in Oklahoma would have the same energy for bills aimed at curbing the police violence and the systemic racism that necessitates these protests in the first place.
More from AP:
Sen. Kevin Matthews, a Democrat from Tulsa and the chairman of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, said he was particularly troubled to see legislation targeting protesters but not the underlying issues of police brutality and systemic racism.
“In my community, people were bombed from the air, people had cannons shot into our churches, by some accounts 300 people dead and businesses burned down,” Matthews said, referring to the 1921 attack by a white mob on the city’s Black community. “And it was said my people were rioting when it was not true.”
I guess it’s true what they say: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”