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NCGOP Fast-Tracks Racist, Vague ‘Anti-Riot’ Bill In Attempt To Stifle Free Speech

Source: Editorial Board

The Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature has fast-tracked a racist and undemocratic “anti-rioting” bill that is meant to stifle free speech and allow protesters to be punished with mandatory jail time just for being arrested.

House Bill 40, known as the “Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder” bill, is the NCGOP’s second attempt at a bill meant to deter peaceful protests in the state. A similar bill that passed the legislature in the previous session was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, who is expected to veto this bill if it passes both chambers of the legislature.

The bill was introduced in the House on Feb. 1, referred to committee on Feb. 2, passed the House on Feb. 8 and was then sent to the Senate where it passed the first reading on the same day.

The bill passed the House by a 75-43 vote, including support from six Democrats, and was then sent to the state Senate where it passed a first reading before being referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.

The bill is being rushed through without adequate debate and without supporters providing clear legal definitions for what actions are considered punishable by arrest and jail time. By being so intentionally vague, the bill is meant to discourage protests of any kind.

As we’ve seen countless other times, vague laws are discriminatory laws. Leaving a law up for interpretation means that Black and brown communities will feel its impact the hardest. This bill will not stop violence at protests, it will only serve to stifle free speech, and criminalize and erode our First Amendment freedoms – specifically within Black and brown communities.

What isn’t vague is the fact that Moore and the NCGOP are intent on making sure that anyone arrested during a protest spends at least 24 hours behind bars.

Democratic lawmakers and activists raised issues with a section of the legislation that would require anyone accused of violating the anti-rioting bill to be held behind bars, with no possibility of bail, for at least 48 hours. Democrats were later able to amend the bill to lower that from 48 to 24 hours. Moore, according to WRAL, “was adamant that being arrested had to come with at least some mandatory jail time.”

The intent of such a requirement is glaringly obvious – it’s meant to scare people away from going to protests out of fear of being caught in the net of overzealous police committed to arresting as many protesters as possible and then being sent to jail, potentially costing people their jobs or worse.

“No one is in favor of riots, property damage or loss of life,” said Democratic Rep. Amos Quick of Greensboro. “But we also have to be sure that we don’t chill the rights for people to assemble peacefully and to protest. I have a feeling that this bill will chill that in the minds of people, thinking that they can’t assemble. Thinking that they will be charged for rioting, for peaceful assembly.”

HB 40 is part of a larger Republican agenda of gaining power, silencing dissent, and taking away our freedoms. Republican leaders have made their agenda clear on restricting our freedom to vote, to be safe from gun violence, for our children to learn, and to decide if and when to start a family. By starting with a bill that restricts our First Amendment freedoms, they are hoping to silence dissent on their future actions.

The fact that Moore even introduced an anti-riot bill is the height of irony and totally disingenuous considering his past actions. The most significant riot our country has seen in recent years resulted from lies he helped spread about the 2020 election. Moore and fellow House Republican Kelly Hastings traveled to Pennsylvania to push the Big Lie that Joe Biden had lost. Another fellow Republican, Rep. Donnie Loftis, was at the insurrection. None of this stopped the Republican House caucus from recruiting candidates for the last election that they knew to be involved in the attack on our country.

Moore’s obsession with legislation meant to shut down protests is nothing new.

“This bill is N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore’s second attempt to pass anti-protest legislation,” Sailor Jones, Associate Director of Common Cause North Carolina, wrote in The Charlotte Observer. “He readily admits it is in response to Black Lives Matter protests, including one near his downtown Raleigh condominium in June 2020.”

North Carolina Republicans have spent years doing their best to weaken the rights of the people they represent and this is just another example. Our state is strongest when everyone gets to have their voices heard on important policies that impact our lives.

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