The Arizona Senate approved a bill Wednesday that makes organizing or merely participating in a protest that ends up violent, regardless of who perpetrated the violence, an offense that could lead to the seizure of property.
The measure would essentially mandate that anyone involved in a protest in which others ultimately engage in violence can be charged with criminal conspiracy or racketeering, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The bill reads:
A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which either disturbs the public peace or results in damage to the property of another person.
Racketeering, in general, is the crime of conducting business in a fraudulent or dishonest manner. By incorporating rioting into racketeering laws, police can presumably arrest those planning the events.
The 17 Republicans in the Senate supported the bill, while all of the 13 Democrats voted no.
“I have been heartsick at what is going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do,” Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen, told U.S. News & World Report. “And there’s a difference between a protest and a riot. And what we have been watching is riots.”
Democrats in the Arizona Senate reportedly feel that the current laws against rioting and property destruction are comprehensive enough and don’t need added laws that can be inappropriately enforced or abused. (RELATED: DC Police Order Facebook Give Up Inauguration Protesters’ Social Media Data)
“I’m fearful that ‘riot’ is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard,” Democratic Sen. Andrea Dalessandro told the Arizona Capitol Times.
Democratic Sen. Steve Farley points out what he sees as a number of inherent problems with such legislation. If a person breaks a window during a once-peaceful demonstration, it may not be easy to prove if the perpetrator was a member of the protesting group, or actually on the opposing side trying to make the protest look bad.
Farley says such a measure would allow the targeting of peaceful protests, and provides an example of how this would be bad for all Americans, no matter the political affiliation.
Specifically, he describes how a Tea Party group could lawfully organize a protest against a property tax hike by obtaining permits and publicizing the event.
“And one person, possibly from the other side, starts breaking the windows of a car. And all of a sudden the organizers of that march, the local Tea Party, are going to be under indictment from the county attorney in the county that raised those property taxes,” Farley said, according to the Arizona Capitol Times. “That will have a chilling effect on anybody, right or left, who wants to protest something the government has done.”
Republican lawmakers say that the bill is meant to be focused on a certain type of protesters, like ones who are paid and don’t actually care about the cause or ideology being represented. (RELATED: Tucker Exposes Paid Protest Hoaxer Who Fooled The Washington Times [VIDEO])
“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. But this stuff is all planned.”
The pending legislation seems to allow police to arrest those who are planning events and protests, even if violent action is not part of the plan.
“Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts? Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix? Kavanagh continued, essentially inferring that he wants people to be held legally liable during the planning stages of a demonstration.
The bill is now headed to the House to be debated and voted on.
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