The Oklahoma Senate voted House Bill 1674 through its chamber Wednesday. The bill criminalizes protesters "rioting" and provides legal protections for drivers who accidentally run over a protestor in a riot.
The bill now goes to Governor Kevin Stitt's desk. If Stitt signs the bill into law, it will go into effect on Nov. 1.
"We just magnify the problems with this type of legislation," Senator Kevin Matthews of (D) Tulsa said.
"There are other ways to get attention besides impeding on the freedoms of others," Representative Kevin McDugle of (R) Broken Arrow, Okla. said.
HB 1674 makes any rioter who obstructs traffic subject to a misdemeanor, punishment of up to one year of jail time, and a fine between $100 and $5,000.
Oklahoma State Statute defines "riot" as "any use of force or violence, or any threat to use force or violence if accompanied by immediate power of execution, by three or more persons acting together and without authority of law."
"That's when you get outside the bounds of where you're supposed to have your protest, or you start blocking roads, or you stop allowing people to get to and from their business," McDugle said.
McDugle is a co-author of the bill. He said peaceful protests are not prohibited by the legislation.
He pointed to an incident at a protest in Tulsa on May 31, 2020. A large group of people protesting the death of George Floyd veered off the designated route, according to Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, and made its way on to Interstate 244 above Detroit Ave.
The driver of a red pickup truck, hitched with a horse trailer, drove through a crowd of protesters.
Video showed protesters surround the truck and trailer and slam the sides of the vehicle. Witnesses said the driver showed a gun before accelerating into the crowd, injuring a handful of people. One person fell off the bridge in the chaos and was paralyzed.
No charges were filed against the driver by the District Attorney's office.
"When you're in that kind of a situation and people are purposely stopping you from going where you're going or wanting to go, that person, if they're in fear for their life, they have the right to drive out of that situation," McDugle said.
Distinguishing a riot from a peaceful protest is in the hands of law enforcement on scene and the courts in the aftermath. Two legal bodies Matthews said some protesters cannot trust.
He said, "When people don't get justice in the courts and they don't get justice with law enforcement…what else are they to do?"
McDugle said a driver can still be charged with a crime if a judge determines they purposely drove into a crowd of protesters.
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