TULSA, Okla. — The Black Wall Street Times hosted a town hall Tuesday night to discuss several bills it said are “anti-freedom.” However, one legislator said it’s about protecting the public.
Those in the town hall said multiple bills would hinder Oklahomans ability to peacefully protest for any purpose, including House Bill 1674. The bill would protect drivers fleeing a riot who believe their actions are necessary to protect themselves from serious injury or death.
Those in the town hall are taking issue with that, saying it lets drivers get away and is harmful to protesters.
“While also putting them at greater risk of harm from drivers because it removes those elements of liability and discretion from prosecutors and choosing whether or not to proceed with charges," said Nicole McAfee, director of policy and advocacy at ACLU of Oklahoma.
Representative Kevin West said last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in Tulsa prompted him to author the bill. Specifically, the protest on I-244 when a driver pushed through the crowd to get away after protesters beat on and threw things at the truck. The truck injured some as it drove away. No charges were filed.
Rep. West said the drivers would still be investigated.
“That doesn’t mean that people can just expect to get off without anything," West said. "I mean, it’s just like if you use a firearm in self-defense. There’s still going to be an investigation and then it will be determined if it was justified or if it wasn’t justified.”
The bill would also increase punishment for protesters, saying if someone is unlawfully blocking the use of a public street, they could face a misdemeanor as well as jail time or a fine, or both.
Those in the town hall said this bill, and similar ones are pointed at people wanting to speak up.
“It’s very possible to pick and choose when these laws would be deployed or who will be impacted," said Tamya Cox-Toure, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. "We truly believe Black and Brown Oklahomans will definitely have the most impact if these bills were to become law.”
Rep. West said it’s not taking away the right to peacefully assemble.
“There’s been a lot of talk that this is an effort to cut down on protests," West said. "And it’s absolutely not. It is 100 percent about public safety.”
HB 1674 passed the house and is now onto the Senate.
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