Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) signed into law on Wednesday a bill that would protect drivers from prosecution if they unintentionally hit rioters while trying to escape possible injury or attack.
According to a report in The Oklahoman, HR 1674 “protects drivers who fear for their safety while fleeing from a riot.”
The bill also updates state law that would classify as misdemeanor, “the unlawful obstruction of a road or highway.” This would be punishable by up to one year in prison or a $5,000 fine.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Kevin West R-Moore and Sen. Rob Standridge R-Norman, and is just one of several bills making their way through the Oklahoma Legislature designed to crack down on rioters.
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Gov. Stitt told CNN after signing the bill that, “We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law-abiding citizens’ safety will not be tolerated. 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.”
Co-Sponsor of the bill Kevin West told The Oklahoman:
“I certainly support the right to peacefully protest and assemble. I will not, however, endorse rioters that spill onto city or state streets, blocking traffic and even harming property of vehicle operators who are simply trying to move freely. This law gives clarity to those motorists that they are in fact within their rights to seek safety.”
West added, “When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families or their property.”
Rob Standridge stated that the bill has nothing to do with those who want to peacefully protest. He told TV station KFOR:
“You can protest all you want, I encourage that, but once you start throwing things at people’s cars, and trying to break their windows and pull them out of the car, it’s no longer a protest, that’s what you call a riot.”
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Collegiate Freedom and Justice Coalition Founder Adriana Laws reacted to the new law:
“They are targeting groups of protestors 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 protestors, which is absolutely insane.”
ACLU of Oklahoma Director of Policy and Advocacy Nicole McAfee stated, “The power of protest belongs with the people, and we will not tolerate these attempts to silence Oklahomans.”
The ACLU of Oklahoma also says that it is in “serious conversations with others” about what the next step they might take to “protect Oklahomans’ right to free speech.”
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Oklahoma is not alone in wanting to protect drivers from rioters. Similar legislation is pending in Iowa, Missouri, Utah, and roughly a dozen other states.
In Iowa, laws carrying stiff fines and possible prison time were passed in March which also exempt drivers from prosecution if they are attempting to flee a dangerous situation.
Missouri’s pending bill would make obstruction of streets and highways a felony punishable with fines and up to four years in prison, and also protects drivers from prosecution if they run over someone in the street blocking traffic.
In Utah, the law does not extend to protesters obstructing traffic or rioters on streets and highways. However fines and jail time can be imposed.
Activists claim they must resort to difficult tactics such as blocking roadways to get people’s attention.
Back in Oklahoma, Democrat Leader State Rep. Emily Virgin says she would like her Republican colleagues to focus on underlying issues of police brutality and systemic racism instead of trying to punish protesters.
She stated, “It seems that some of my colleagues took the wrong lesson from the demonstrations we saw this summer.”
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