The following article by Sarah Lazare was posted on the Alternet website February 24, 2017:
Draconian bills are advancing at state level under cover of Trump’s “law and order” platform.
The rise of right-wing populism in the United States—from the White House to state legislatures—has been met with public resistance on a stunning scale. Millions have taken to the streets, staged direct actions and flooded airports to resist a flurry of presidential decrees targeting undocumented, black, refugee, LGBTQ and poor communities. And long before Trump took the White House, the Black Lives Matter movement and indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock were leading the way with sustained mobilizations in the face of staggering repression.
Now, under cover of the Trump administration’s “law and order” platform, Republican lawmakers at the state level—often with the backing of police unions—are advancing a spate of bills aimed at crushing this groundswell. The proposed legislation would impose draconian penalties on protest organizers and participants, expanding local powers to put demonstrators in jail, seize their assets and further criminalize property destruction.
In recent weeks and months, politicians in at least 11 states—Minnesota, Washington, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, Indiana, Virginia, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina and Arizona—have either introduced or threatened to introduce bills that make it more dangerous or costly to attend protests, or be anywhere near them. One bill recently proposed in North Dakota, and clearly aimed at Standing Rock resistance, would have expanded protections for drivers who “accidentally” hit and kill protesters. While the legislation failed earlier this month, it nonetheless reflects a troubling political push to snuff out dissent.
Using racketeering laws to go after protesters’ assets
A bill that just passed through the Arizona State Senate would expand the state’s racketeering laws on organized crime to “rioting,” broadly defined to include acts that result in property destruction. This move would broaden the powers of authorities to target protest organizers and participants—and even seize their assets.
Backed by the Arizona Police Association, Senate Bill 1142 “[e]xpands the definition of riot to include immediate power of execution which results in damage to the property of another person,” according to an Arizona State Senate fact sheet.
“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,” the bill states.
According to Steve Kilar, spokesperson for the ACLU of Arizona, the proposed legislation’s definition of rioting is “fuzzy and incredibly vague.” This law “would allow police and prosecutors to go after anyone who is at a protest” that authorities claim turned into a riot, he explained.
The Senate fact sheet notes that including “rioting” under racketeering statutes would provide prosecutors with “options that are generally not available under other types of criminal statutes, such as forfeitures, including the ability to confiscate the fruits of criminal activity from those convicted of racketeering offenses.”
The legislation itself emanates from false conspiracy theories. “Sen. Sonny Borrelli has said this is in response to unverified claims that protesters are being paid,” Kilar said. “He is using this false paid-protesters argument to connect his bill to anti-racketeering laws, which are targeting the financial incentives of criminal enterprises.”
The bill, which is headed to the Arizona House, also aims to blur the line between rioting and terrorism. According to Kilar, “If this bill were to pass, riots would join terrorism as the only racketeering crimes under Arizona state law that would not require financial incentive.”
The legislation appears to be aimed at mass mobilizations to oppose deportations. Earlier this month, ICE was met with a 15-hour, direct-action protest when it tried, with the help of Phoenix police, to deport Guadalupe García de Rayos. Protesters, including her own son and daughter, sat in the street holding hands to stop an ICE vehicle from taking away Guadalupe, who has lived in the United States for 21 years. After an hours-long stand-off, which was captured on live-stream, the mother of two was eventually deported to Mexico. By then, images of resistance against her expulsion had spread across the country.
“It appears that the state legislature wants to silence people’s voices by passing these laws,” said Ernesto Lopez, an organizer with Puente Arizona, which mobilized the opposition to Guadalupe’s deportation. “This seems to be really extreme and aimed at silencing small organizations and people’s movements in a very negative way.”