The Arizona state Senate passed a bill that would criminally charge people and seize their assets if they’re believed to be associated with, planning, or participating in a demonstration that ends up becoming violent.
The bill, SB1142, adds rioting to Arizona’s existing racketeering laws, which are meant to target organized crime. The measure would allow law enforcement to levy felony charges on anyone suspected of planning a riot — even if they’re not directly involved or the demonstration hasn’t happened yet.
The bill also redefines a “riot” as any demonstration that uses or threatens violence that “disturbs the public peace or results in damage to the property of another person.”
Republicans said the bill was necessary to combat outside actors planning to commit chaos and violence. If SB1142 becomes law, it essentially gives police greater jurisdiction to shut down protests before they begin and arrest a wider swath of people than just the individuals actively committing violence.
“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,’’ Republican Sen. John Kavanagh told the Arizona Capitol Times. “A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists,’’ he continued. “But this stuff is all planned.’’
The law, however, could be seen as a crackdown on the First Amendment right to protest and potentially create a chilling effect on free speech.
“The sponsor’s purported purpose for this bill isn’t based in reality,” ACLU of Arizona’s policy director Will Gaona told the Phoenix New Times. “It’s a myth that protesters are being paid. No one but rioters need to be held accountable for riot [sic].”
The bill has the support of members of Arizona’s law enforcement community. Levi Bolton, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, told Arizona Central that the measure would not infringe on people’s “precious” constitutional right of free assembly.
The vote split cleanly along party lines in Arizona’s Senate with all 17 Republicans supporting it and all 13 Democrats voting no. After passing the Senate on Wednesday, the bill now heads to a vote in the House.
SB1142 comes at a time when political demonstrations against President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are taking place almost daily around the country. In the last two weeks, angry voters have descended on Republican representatives’ town halls to protest plans to repeal Obamacare, deport undocumented immigrants, ban refugees, and much of Trump and the GOP’s policy agenda.
Trump dismissed the demonstrators as “paid protesters,” despite offering no evidence to support that theory. Other Republicans have expressed similar sentiments. The vast majority of protests in the last month have been peaceful, including the Women’s March, the biggest mobilization in U.S. history, one day after the inauguration.
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