Apparently, Republican state legislators in Arizona are believing the lie that people are being paid to protest against government policies, and are doing what lawmakers in Arizona do best — passing sweeping laws that infringe on citizen’s constitutional rights before learning all the facts.
Arizona residents who want to exercise their right to peaceful assembly might get more than they bargained for if a single rock is thrown during the protest.
The Arizona Capital Times reported on Wednesday that the state’s Senate has sent a bill to the House after a “17-13 party-line vote” that, among other things, allows for assets to be seized from those involved in any protest in which violence occurs.
According to the newspaper:
“SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others.”
The bill is extremely broad in scope, and doesn’t apply only to protesters who damage property. but to anyone involved in any way with a protest in which damage occurs. Anyone at a protest in which a single window is broken — perhaps even those who speak out against any violent activities — could find themselves at risk under this legislation.
Democratic lawmakers find serious problems with the legislation.
“But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association — and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated. And what’s worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side.”
As you might imagine, Republican lawmakers see it a little differently.
“But Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that chilling effect is aimed at a very specific group of protesters.
“‘You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,’ he said.
“‘A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists,’ Kavanagh continued. ‘But this stuff is all planned.'”
Allegations from the right that political demonstrations are filled with paid “agitators” have dogged those seeking to excercise their right to protest at least since the civil rights and antiwar protests of the 1950s.
Including “rioting” under the state’s racketeering laws enables the police to arrest and charge people who were involved in planning a protest if a single act of property damage occurs, and would also make protest organizers subject to asset forfeiture..
Since the Republicans also have a majority in the Arizona House of Representatives, it’s likely the vote will also pass in the House. Republican governor Doug Ducey has not indicated whether he would sign the legislation if approved. If the bill is enacted into law, however, it’s certain to face constitutional scrutiny by the courts.
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