This segment originally aired March 14, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO
Since the beginning of 2017, Republicans in over 18 states have proposed bills that would criminalize certain protest tactics. In Missouri, lawmakers want to make it illegal to wear masks, and in Tennessee, lawmakers want to give legal protections to drivers who hit demonstrators with their car.
Minnesota State congressman Nick Zerwas thinks protests have gotten out of control and has written two bills to control them. The first would effectively ban demonstrations on highways and at airports. The second would allow the state to sue anyone who attended a protest that was deemed illegal.
While the bills were debated not long after protests erupted at airports across the country in opposition to President Trumps travel ban, opponents believe the legislation was designed to target Black Lives Matter activists, who have effectively shut down highways in almost every major city with protests over the past two years.
Zerwas’ bill increases the penalties to a fine of up to $1,000 dollars, and a jail sentence of up to one year. “If you close down the freeway that is not protected First Amendment rights.” Zerwas told VICE News. “That is an illegal activity. You’ve drawn in extra resources and you deserve to go to jail. Cut and dry.”
Mica Grimm, an organizer for Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, is helping lead the opposition against Zerwas’ bill. “Protest is meant to disrupt” she said, “we have to have these things because otherwise we’d be shouting at a wall.”