Governor Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma signed a bill on Wednesday that protects drivers from being prosecuted in case they hit rioters while attempting to run away from attack or injury.
HR 1674 “protects drivers who fear for their safety while fleeing from a riot,” as reported by The Oklahoman.
The bill has updated the state law of misdemeanor as well, “the unlawful obstruction of a road or highway,” which is now classified as a misdemeanor. This would be punishable with a $5,000 fine or a year in prison.
Sen. Rob Standridge R-Norman and Rep. Kevin West R-Moore sponsored this bill. There are many more bills in Oklahoma that are in process which will target rioters.
After the bill was signed, Gov. Stitt shared with CNN that, “We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law-abiding citizens’ safety will not be tolerated. I remain unequivocally committed to protecting every Oklahoman’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest as well as their right to feel safe in their community.”
The Oklahoman was told by Kevin West, “I certainly support the right to peacefully protest and assemble. I will not, however, endorse rioters that spill onto city or state streets, blocking traffic and even harming property of vehicle operators who are simply trying to move freely. This law gives clarity to those motorists that they are in fact within their rights to seek safety. When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face the threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families, or their property.”
Rob Standridge told KFOR, a TV station that this bill was not related to people who wanted to protest peacefully. He said, “You can protest all you want, I encourage that, but once you start throwing things at people’s cars, and trying to break their windows and pull them out of the car, it’s no longer a protest, that’s what you call a riot.”
Adriana Laws who is the founder of Collegiate Freedom and Justice Coalition responded to this law by saying, “They are targeting groups of protestors who are just wanting to use their freedom of speech, passing bills that will intimidate them in the hopes of keeping people from using their First Amendment rights, passing bills that decriminalize the murder of protestors, which is absolutely insane.”
Nicole McAfee, ACLU of Oklahoma Director of Policy and Advocacy responded to the bill with, “The power of protest belongs with the people, and we will not tolerate these attempts to silence Oklahomans.” She believes it is time to have “serious conversations with others” to “protect Oklahomans’ right to free speech.”
Oklahoma is not the only state that is looking to protect drivers during riots. Iowa, Utah, Missouri, and a dozen more states have similar legislation that is pending.
Democrat Leader State Rep. Emily Virgin shared that she would like politicians to focus more on issues related to racism and police brutality instead of punishing protesters. She said, “It seems that some of my colleagues took the wrong lesson from the demonstrations we saw this summer.”