Breaking: Oklahoma Gov. signs bill protecting drivers who kill or injure protesters
Oklahoma’s Republican governor has signed a controversial bill that protects drivers who hit protesters but subjects demonstrators who block roadways to prison time and hefty fines.
House Bill 1674 signed by Kevin Stitt late Wednesday gives civil and criminal protection to motorists who injure or kill protestors.
After it was signed, some staged a protest interrupting the session of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, shouting slogans against the bill.
Protester Jess Eddy told reporters the bill seeks “to oppress and silence” demonstrators.
The bill authored by Republican state Representatives Kevin West and Kevin McDugle passed the Oklahoma House 79-18 in March and the Oklahoma Senate 38-10 last week, mostly along party lines.
“We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law abiding citizens’ safety will not be tolerated,” Stitt said in a written statement. “I remain unequivocally committed to protecting every Oklahoman’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest as well as their right to feel safe in their community.”
However, critics accused Oklahoma Republicans of targeting legal demonstrators in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last year and the ensuing nationwide protests. Former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder Tuesday for Floyd’s death.
Cars have, in the past, been used as a weapon by those who sought to disrupt demonstrations. People drove their vehicles into demonstrations over 100 times last summer, and at least two protesters were fatally struck, according to USA Today.
In 2017, the white supremacist James Fields Jr killed Heather Heyer by ramming into anti-racism demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“This law is dangerous and meant to discourage Oklahomans from exercising their constitutional right to peaceful protest,” said Lani R Habrock, government affairs director for the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Also, Adriana Laws, founder of the Collegiate Freedom and Justice Coalition, argued that the bill targets people who simply want to use their freedom of speech.
“They are targeting groups of protesters who are just wanting to use their freedom of speech, passing bills that will intimidate them in the hopes of keeping people from using their first amendment rights, passing bills that decriminalize the murder of protesters, which is absolutely insane,” Laws said.