A federal lawsuit just filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) claims that North Carolina’s new anti-rioting law is unconstitutional.
House Bill 40, titled “Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder,” increases criminal penalties for property damage during a protest and also allows police to charge protesters with a felony if they speak at a rally that later turns violent – even if they take no part in any of the violence or property destruction.
The ACLU-NC’s lawsuit targets several parts of the law and points out that previous rulings by other courts have found similar rules to be unconstitutional.
“North Carolinians could be arrested and prosecuted under the act even if their own actions were entirely peaceful,” the group’s lawsuit states.
The legislation was right-wing Republicans’ response to the Black Lives Matter protests in North Carolina and across the world that followed the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.
Protesters in Raleigh marched daily throughout the summer, with two of those protests leading to property destruction and heavy-handed responses from Raleigh police and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.
Republicans wrote the legislation in intentionally vague terms because the true goal of it is to prevent people from protesting at all in the first place. Additionally, we have seen in the past that vague laws are discriminatory laws – when laws are left up for interpretation it often results in Black and brown communities feeling its impacts the hardest.
According to the ACLU-NC’s lawsuit, the vague language in the law will allow police to arrest nearly anyone they want to during protests. One of the most frightening aspects of this new law is that anyone arrested at a protest will be required to spend at least 24 hours in jail before they will have the possibility to bond out.
“This bill forces North Carolinians to risk the immediate and long-term loss of their freedom when exercising their right to protest,” the ACLU-NC said in a press release. “This suit is an effort to protect the right to protest and advances our continued support and defense of the Black Lives Matter movement and activists.”
House Bill 40 won’t stop any potential violence or rioting, but instead will only serve to stifle constitutionally guaranteed free speech and criminalize protest. This legislation was just one part of a larger Republican agenda of gaining power, silencing dissent and taking away North Carolinians’ freedoms.
What might make this law even worse is that House Speaker Tim Moore pushed for its passage with exaggerations and lies. He couldn’t even be honest with the people of North Carolina.
While appearing on the “Tying it Together with Tim Boyum” podcast, which was recorded at the legislature on Feb. 7, Moore claimed he supports people’s right to protest and said, “What we do have to rein in, though, is when it becomes violent, and when it becomes destructive. We saw the riots that happened just blocks from this building a few years ago.”
Instead of sticking to the facts, Moore continued, saying that “people were injured” at the protests and “I think someone was actually shot and killed, where there was significant property damage.”
According to WRAL, Moore made similar comments in legislative meetings the next day, on Feb. 8. He told the House Rules Committee that the 2020 protests in downtown Raleigh included “those who want to engage in violence, engage in destruction of property, and turn it into that. People — one man — was actually killed. You had folks who were severely injured. I saw some of this myself.”
In a legislative Judiciary Committee meeting, Moore claimed to have seen the supposed violence “up close and personal,” adding that “We saw people die. We saw folks get seriously injured.”
Raleigh police confirmed that Moore’s reports were false – they noted several incidents of property damage, and some looting and burglary, but no serious physical violence or deaths.
The bill passed both chambers of the legislature and became law in March.